The Hard Part - We're Moving

[I shared this at our church's annual meeting October 21.  I announced our plans in the worship service today, October 28.  I'm posting it now so that anyone who missed the meeting can read the full explanation.]

I’ve saved the hard part of the meeting for the end.  There is no easy way to do this, so I’ll just get started.  After much prayer and consideration, our family has decided to move back to the USA.  I have accepted a position at a Nazarene church near Chicago.  I will be an associate pastor, with an emphasis on missions and missional communities.  We expect to leave in late February, and in the meantime, I’ll be helping our church here prepare for the transition.
After some of my teasing sermon illustrations in the past, I feel like I should take a moment now to say that this is not a joke or a clever lead-in for a point later.  This is real.  For the rest of this time, I want to talk about four basic points
  • Why we are moving at this time
  • Why we are moving to this place
  • Some confirmations I’ve experienced
  • What’s next for our KNU International English Church.
I hope these will answer most of your questions, but after I’m done we will take time for some questions as well.

So first - why this time?  There are three basic reasons why we feel like this is the right time for this move.
  1. My callings.  For several years, I have been feeling God call me to writing and teaching.  I have tried to pursue those callings here, but I haven’t been able to do that as a full-time senior pastor.  We feel like it is time to move into a season of transition.  For at least 5-6 years, we will resettle in the USA, and I will pursue a PhD - probably in leadership.  During this time, I will also try to write more articles and maybe a few books.  After I earn my doctorate, we expect that I will become a professor at a Nazarene school, where I can help to develop Christian leaders for God’s mission.
  2. Our Family.  We have felt a growing urge to live closer to our family.  We know that distance from family is one cost of being missionaries, but we feel like it is time for an extended season of closeness.  Also, Emma has been struggling over the past year.  It seems that as her classmates are getting older, they are more aware and more uncomfortable with her differences.  Also, we are experiencing “goodbye fatigue.”  Making friends from around the world is a wonderful blessing, but we are simply tired of saying goodbye to close friends.
  3. Church.  People have always asked us how long we are staying, and we’ve always felt one basic minimum criteria.  We knew we couldn’t leave until the church was strong enough to manage the transition to a new pastor and still thrive.  We are stronger than ever as a church - in terms of leadership, volunteers, participants, missional commitment, and finances.  Now we are fully financially independent from KNU, and yet we have a stronger and more stable relationship with KNU than ever before.  Although leaving will be painful for our family and for the church, we are confident that the church is now mature enough to handle this.

Next, why this place?  I won’t spend a lot of time on this, but some of you may be wondering why we chose to go to this particular church.
  • The easy answer is that we wanted to find a church as much like KNU International English Church as possible!  The church is called Duneland Community Church, and their mission is cultivating God’s wholeness in a broken world.  That sounds a lot like being a loving community that changes our world, and when we got into their vision points, we saw more similarities.  The lead pastor and I have so many similarities and connecting points that I told Sarah he’s my “brother from another mother.”  We obviously have deep agreement about theology and philosophy of ministry and how the church should go.
  • Also, I was specifically looking for a part-time assistant pastor position.  Because I want to get a doctorate and write, I will need a job that will allow me the freedom to do both of those.  And it’s not just time-based freedom.  As the lead pastor, I carry a heavy burden of responsibility for the health of the church, and I need to be able to let someone else carry that so I can focus more on my studies.
  • Lastly, it’s a nice bonus that the church is only 45 minutes from Chicago.  That puts us within reach of a wide range of schools for me and within driving distance from family.  Also, Sarah hopes to start a small business hosting international kids for English camps in America, and direct flights from Incheon to Chicago make that a lot easier.  

Next, our confirmations.  In the course of trying to make decisions and trying to figure out how God is leading us, we look for lots of different things.  Does it make sense?  Does it feel right?  Do we have peace about it?  But sometimes there are further, special signs that give confirmation that we are on the right track.  I have experienced four of these.  One of them alone might be a random chance, but all four together add up to weighty evidence.
  1. Without knowing that Sarah and I were talking about leaving, Tim Marvin read this passage to me in our Graybeards meeting: “But this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will certainly bring my people back again ... for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will ... replant them in this land” (Jeremiah 31:36-41).
  2. After some emails with the pastor in Indiana, we began to realize that this idea might actually happen.  The easiest thing in the world would be to stay right here, and moving back to the USA with only a part-time job and a few dreams seemed kind of crazy and risky.     The next day on my morning walk I listened to a sermon on Joshua and the battle of Jericho, which is actually in Joshua chapter 6.  But for some reason, the pastor started the sermon by having the whole congregation read a line from Joshua 1:6, “Do not be afraid.  Be strong and very courageous.”  This verse actually has special meaning to me because God led me to this verse in a unique way during a difficult time in high school.
  3. The next confirmation came from an unlikely source: John Grisham, an author of law and crime novels.  On the night of my first phone call to Indiana, my head was buzzing, and I couldn’t sleep.  I decided to read a little to try to quiet my mind.  The main character of this book is a pastor, which is very unusual for Grisham, and at the end of the book, he changes churches.  Yeah, that did not help me sleep.
  4. Last, just 10 days ago, without knowing that Sarah and I had already had a video-interview with the church board in Indiana, Terry Cave shared in our Graybeards meeting from the famous Ecclesiastes 3 that says “there is a time for everything.”  Terry said something like, “Since you are feeling a call to write more, maybe the time is coming soon for you to leave.”  
Now, like I said, any one of these alone could be a random accident, but all of them together, give me pretty strong confidence that God is actually leading us to return to the USA.
Last, what is next for KNU International English Church?  
  1. First, you can expect more of God’s blessings.  God is faithful and his blessings for our church are not tied to any one person.
  2. Next, you can expect maturation.  Growing up is not always easy, and this will be one of the more painful steps of growth that our church has gone through.  We have never chosen a pastor before.  Like all of the pastors before me, I was appointed by Bill Patch.  But now we are a real church, and you have the blessed difficulty of working together to discern who God is leading to join you as lead pastor.  
  3. Our family will be here with you for about four more months.  We have intentionally chosen a slow departure so that we can help to guide the transition process.
  4. Next weekend our new Advisory Council will meet for our annual retreat.  One of our main topics will be outlining a transition plan.  We will discuss forming a transition team, interim leadership, and the pastoral search process.  We will give you more information about this when it is ready.  Please pray for our leaders as they take on this important task.

I want to conclude with thanksgiving.  Thank you for your love and support for our family.  Thank you for your prayers and encouragement.  Thank you for your friendship and support.  Thank you for loving our kids.  Our time in this church has been some of the best years of our lives.  
Emma is not the only one who grew up in Korea.  In a very real sense, Sarah and I grew up here too.  We became adults here.  We learned how to be a pastoral family here.  You were patient with our mistakes and with my rookie excitement.  You have given me a wide range of freedom to experiment, to be prophetic, to challenge, and to follow God’s leading.  You have sacrificed your time for meetings.  You have cleaned dirty tables and held crying babies.  You have cooked and made coffee and built buildings.  You have been true partners in ministry.  We love you, and we are deeply and honestly grateful for you!  Thank you.

Now, we’ll open the meeting for questions, and after that we’ll take a time of prayer together.