When we announced our church plant plans to our church I provided a “Church Plant Info Packet” with information about church planting in general and Austin in particular. This “prelude” was included in the packet.
I love this church. I love the familiarity and blessing of my friendships here. I love being on a pastoral team of humble, gifted men who love God’s Word, preach the gospel, care for God’s people, and give themselves away for the kingdom. I love singing together on Sunday morning, encouraging each other over lunches, gathering together for youth nights and family nights, small group nights and early morning coffee. I love this church. So, why in the world would I propose that we plant a church in Austin, Texas? The most important answer is that I want our church to fulfill our role in the great commission task of planting churches for God’s glory and the expansion of the gospel. But a little personal background might also be helpful…
I still remember it clearly. I was ten or eleven years old. I was playing basketball with new friends—friends I had made when my family was welcomed into a new church. The church was Southside church of Virginia Beach, a church that had been planted a few years before by Steve Shank and a team from Cleveland, Ohio. A number of families had left jobs, homes, and the church they loved—all to start a new church in a different state, with the hope of reaching people with the gospel and a culture of New Testament, Biblical community. During the basketball game some conflict occurred between two of my new young friends from the church. It was a normal kind of fight, started in a normal kind of way. But what happened next wasn’t normal at all, at least not to me. The boys were marched inside, and under the guidance of their mothers, reconciled with each other, complete with full repentance and tears. Before that moment, I thought I was a godly young man. After that moment, I realized I had a lot to learn. Over the next few years I began to experience the joys of living in a gospel-centered church—hearing teaching about the grace of God, engaging in passionate, theologically-rich worship, enjoying the welcome of servant-hearted friendships. Our family life changed, my knowledge of the gospel expanded, and my vision for the value of the local church exploded. All because a courageous church sent out a courageous group of people to plant a church to reach people—and God allowed them to reach me. I was feeling the benefit of church planting.
A few years later my dad had joined the staff of the church in Virginia Beach and, even as we grew more deeply entrenched in the life of the church, he and my mom came to our family with an announcement. We were going to participate in a church plant team heading to Denver, Colorado, with a vision for joining and supporting Sovereign Grace Ministry churches in the western states. The move meant that my dad would have to leave his staff role as a pastor for a season. It meant leaving close friends that I had known for years. But it also meant we would be participating in an adventure of traveling across the country to reach others with the gospel and a vision for a Biblical, New Testament community. A number of our close friends would be going with us. We couldn’t wait. When we arrived in Colorado I experienced the overwhelming spiritual adrenaline rush of participating on a church plant team. My teenage friends and I had real ministry responsibilities. We were really meeting real needs in a real church plant advancing the real Kingdom of God—and we were loving it! This time I was the one welcoming new friends into our community. I was feeling the joy-filled, risky, breathless, exhilarating adventure of church planting.
Flash forward a few years later. The Lord had brought Lory and me together in marriage over a long distance relationship. When I was in Denver, Lory lived in Juarez, Mexico where her dad was a pastor at a Sovereign Grace Church. She had already experienced her own opportunity to sacrifice for God’s kingdom, following her Dad across the country to receive pastoral training and then literally across the international border to serve in a new language and culture. We may have been separated by distance, but we shared a passion for the local church and for the gospel. That shared passion meant that Lory was willing to travel across the country with me to receive training for the purpose of future ministry.
After an internship and a year at the Pastor’s College, Lory and I moved to Phoenix to join you—then only distant partners sharing the same vision in a different state. Very quickly we felt that we were home. Now, you are our spiritual family, our brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles in the faith. You are our partners in gospel ministry in the East Valley together. I can’t believe how much God has done among us! Conversions witnessed and suffering endured and ministry expanded and memories made—all gifts from the Lord. He has been good to us.
Certainly one of the highlights—in privilege and in sacrifice—was in sending out some of our dearest friends, Chris and Tara Daukas, to plant the church in Peoria and in releasing a spiritual pillar, Glynn McKenzie and his family, to serve our sister church in Denver. Grace Church of Peoria and Grace Community Church of Westminster are flourishing through the pain of our investment in church planting and kingdom priorities. We felt the pain and privilege of investing in the Kingdom through the planting and preservation of local churches. I love that we were given the honor of sowing sacrificially for the kingdom together.
Now, three years later, the next chapter is unfolding before us. It seems that God is calling me to plant a church in Austin, Texas. Lory and I are thrilled at the vision God has laid in front of us in Austin, but aware of the cost of that vision as well. The pain of the call is obvious—dear friends, dear mentors, dear partners in gospel ministry will be called to send, and not to go. But over the years the whisper of God’s call to me to lead a gospel-centered, New testament community, a local church, has grown louder and louder. Over the years Rich and I have discussed the potential of a future call on my life to lead a church. However, the timing never seemed right for our church to take up the task of sending me and a church plant team. Over the last two years the season of waiting seemed to be drawing to a close as God began to confirm to our pastoral team that the time had come.
It seems that this next chapter for me involves a new role, but not a new theme. Lory and I desire to respond to the call and go, even though the familiar ache of kingdom sacrifice is there in our hearts again. But our church is called, too. Our church is called to invest, to send, and some of us, to go. Somewhere in Austin, Texas there are people who need to encounter a gospel-centered, New Testament church. Their future encounter is our present call. I believed that we should answer. I don’t want to leave. But I can’t wait to go. Somewhere out there in the future there’s another young man and his family who need to encounter a gospel-centered Biblical community—a community like Sovereign Grace Church of Gilbert. And maybe he’ll be called to preach the gospel to yet another city far into the future. I can’t wait to meet him.
I love our church. I love it so much that I want to share all that we experience here with a new community of people. Lory and I want to give our lives away for God’s kingdom, despite the cost and risk and uncertainty involved in this adventure. God will be faithful. May the Church continue be built for God’s glory, through the sacrifice and joy of God’s people sending and God’s people going, for the sake of His name.