This post is in a series about the season change that the Lord is calling my wife and I into in the summer of 2021. In this process, the Lord has called me to entrust future direction of School of Kingdom Ministry to the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois and set off on a new adventure. One of the common questions that I get when I talk with people about this is where I'm at emotionally regarding this SoKM transition. This post is my attempt to reveal a window into my emotional state and a reflection on laying things down when the Lord asks us to do that.
Is it an Idol?
As I shared in my article about the discernment process, the ultimate reason that I'm stepping away from SoKM and entrusting it to the Vineyard here in Urbana is because that is what God asked me to do. At first this was definitely the opposite of what I wanted to hear, and it provoked a lot of emotion. It just felt wrong for God to ask that. I had so much of myself in it; so much blood, sweat, tears, and prayer. So many relationships that would shift, so many of my dreams wrapped up with it. It felt like a tremendously high price to pay, and it was coming on the heels of the Lord asking me to give up the church community I loved and move out of the the city I had spent seventeen years in. The level of loss God was asking me to embrace was staggering.
This request from the Lord put me square in the middle of wrestling with an important question: what determines if something is an idol? The reason that it felt hard to give up is because I had put myself into SoKM, and I don't think that was a bad thing. In fact, I would argue that our calling cannot come without self-manifestation. What we are called to fundamentally is an extension of ourselves, and as such, moving into a new season of our calling where we lay something down will probably always feel like we are losing a part of ourselves. That feeling in and of itself is probably not a bad thing.
What does determine whether something is an idol is whether we are willing to give it up when God asks us to. Putting ourselves into what God calls us to do is great, but it needs to always be subject to our following of the Lord. The moment I can't put something in God's hands when he asks - even if it is a good, kingdom thing - we have an idol. Anything we build for the kingdom of God is for just that: the kingdom, not ourselves. If God chooses to have it give back to us in some way that's great, but that is ultimately his choice, not ours. It is a tricky thing to make sure that our own needs don't get caught up in the things we do with the Lord. God loves us and often makes our service to him rewarding, but at the end of the day, our trust is in the Lord, not in our service to him.
As I reflected on the Lord's asking me to put SoKM in his hands in a new way for this next season, I knew what I was really facing was whether SoKM would be an idol to me, and if it was, I knew that God's favor would not rest on it moving forwards.
What Makes Sense?
As I began to work through the emotions of what the Lord was asking of me, I began to see past the emotion and be able to see some objective elements that were really important to consider. I began to wrestle with these questions:
What is best for SoKM separate from me?
I've always believed the SoKM needed to be a local-church based program: from a local church to other local churches. This is why we've not run with online students - we have always reproduced classes in the host churches. In my thinking, this is a critical aspect of SoKM's DNA, and with where the Lord has me right now, I can't draw a clear line to reproducing that in the future. I'm fully committed to the local church - I have no plan to untether from that, but at this point I also don't know what precisely that looks like ahead, and that's a pretty big uncertainty for something that is so central to SoKM.
What is best for me separate from SoKM?
As I wrestled with what the Lord was asking of me, I realized that there was a part of me that felt freed by the idea of not running SoKM anymore. I realized that SoKM hasn't played to my strengths in a while. I've been able to keep growing and developing it, but at the core of my being, I am a pioneer, and that's not what SoKM needs at this point. Most of the pioneering has been over for years; what SoKM needs from leadership at this point is someone who can maintain, maximize, and scale SoKM to new places. I just don't have the enthusiasm around that I have when I consider the new pioneering God is calling me into. In fact, I realized that keeping SoKM going felt more like a burden that I was doing because it was the right thing to do than it was something that was playing to my sweet spot. Don't get me wrong; I've always loved it, but it hasn't been giving me life for a few years. I realized that what I need to be willing to do here is be a pioneer; build something up and pass it along.
When the Lord asks Us to Embrace Loss
So I guess as it comes to SoKM, I'm processing the loss that God has asked me to accept. In a way I feel proud in that I have been able to lay down SoKM at his request: I feel that is a test that I've passed, and there is a real peace to that. I do see how that choice does have some real advantages to it and that helps as well, but I would be lying if I said this hasn't been, and continues to be, and emotional process. Loss is like that though; it comes in layers. I'm sure the first class that kicks off without me this fall will prompt another wave of it, probably the first graduation as well. There is a journey to grieving and letting go, and I'm okay being on that journey. I do know I don't feel angry or bitter towards anyone (God included), and I think that is probably a good thing. Some days I feel hopeful for the adventure ahead - whatever it holds, and other days I mourn the end of this beautiful season. Many days share both intermingled.
Loss is never comfortable; grief rarely feels like a friend. Yet there are times when God asks us to accept that loss is a part of the kingdom journey at times. I've often thought of Paul saying goodbye to the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20, or one of my absolute favorite verses in moments like this:
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. Ecclesiastes 7:3
Loss is not fun, but it is part of life: even the kingdom life. As such, it isn't helpful to try and avoid it, but to walk through it well. To open our hearts to the Lord and to each other and let ourselves be where we're at. It doesn't last forever: sorrow may last through the night, but joy does come through the morning - as long as we let ourselves experience the sorrow first. I am committed to walking with God through this. Any sorrow and loss that we journey with God is a death that we invite God's resurrection into.
So where am I with this whole SoKM thing? I guess I'm a lot of places. I'm walking a road on which the Lord has asked a hard thing, but that is his prerogative, and I want to give God my full "yes", even with the hard things. I am okay being in process, and I am okay with the Lord asking for what he has of me. I am grateful for the past decade, celebrating a wonderful adventure with the Holy Spirit, and with many friends all across the globe. I am grieving with God together in the present, inviting him into my present moment as I journey this loss. Finally, I am greatly anticipating a wonderful future, both for myself and for SoKM.