“You cannot step in the same river twice.”
“The only two certainties in life are death and taxes.”
I hate moving. Yeah, most preachers and their families don’t like moving. We haven’t moved nearly as much as some have. After high school, I moved to Florence, Alabama, to attend International Bible College; I didn’t have an Alabama driver’s license but since I registered to vote in Florence, I was considered an Alabama citizen. Then, I moved to Pikeville, Kentucky, to work with a youth minister for the Main Street church; the 18 months I spent there were a blessing, for I picked up my helpmate there. We moved to Owingsville, Kentucky, where I began my first pulpit work; RJ was born while we lived there. After three years, our family of three moved to Alum Creek, West Virginia, where we would spend the next ten years and become a family of four with Wil’s birth. We would move to Florence, Alabama, for about 18 months, and we’ve lived in Roanoke, Virginia, for the past three years. We plan to stay in Roanoke until Wil graduates from Lord Botetourt High School (Wil loves being a part of the Marching Cavaliers). After Wil graduates high school, I’m not sure exactly what we’ll do; we’ll do one of three options: If my health permits me to reenter pulpit work, Tammy and I will move so that I can work with a congregation of God’s people; If my health doesn’t permit that move, we will likely move back to Florence, Alabama (RJ really wants to move back there once I get my disability); If we don’t move back to Florence, we’ll likely stay right here in Roanoke.
Every move has brought challenges and rewards. It’s always been hard to leave behind loved ones and friends and churches I have deeply loved. It’s always been rewarding to meet new people and to work in the Lord’s kingdom in new ways and to see the doors that God opens. I have seen the providence of God work in marvelous ways: Did I move to Pikeville so that I would find a woman who would stand by me through thick and thin and would help me deal with my health issues? Did I move to Roanoke, Virginia, so that I would find a movement disorders specialist who could really help me instead of just running tests on me? I know the mind of God only insofar as He has revealed Himself in Scripture, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer to both questions is “Yes.” Tammy has suggested that the transition I’m currently making may be part of God’s providence, and I think she might be right.
But, my current transition is the most painful one I’ve ever made. I’m still worshiping with the Dale Ridge church of Christ. Those folks still love me. I still minister to them in different ways. I still speak up in Bible class. But, I’m no longer their preacher. I no longer open God’s Word on Sundays and seek to help them walk in the ways of God. I’m no longer teaching about characters of the Old Testament on Wednesday nights. My Doctor of Ministry diploma no longer hangs on the wall in the preacher’s office. The office is no longer mind; all the books are off the shelf, all the pictures are packed away, and my desk will be cleaned out by tomorrow evening.
I have always found cleaning out the office as the most painful part of any transition. I’ll find notes of encouragement someone sent just when I needed it. I’ll find a sermon outline where I wrote down that a precious soul obeyed the gospel the Sunday morning it was preached. I might even find a few notes jotted down after a counseling session, and I thank God the marriage is still together. I’ll see my calendar where I’ve noted being at the hospital with a dear family, and, while I was seeking to minister to them, they blessed me far more than I could have ever blessed them. My office has always been a microcosm of my ministry, and I’m preparing over the next couple of days to finish the process of clearing my office out of the Dale Ridge building.
It’s the right time for me to step down because my physical limitations are becoming an issue in ministry: I can still proclaim God’s Word (I could do that sitting down if necessary: Jesus did give the Sermon on the Mount sitting while everyone else stood), I can still study, I can still pray, and I can still counsel. But, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to climb and descend steps, and that makes visiting in homes extremely troublesome (I certainly don’t want to be walking in to visit a shut-in and fall). It’s nearly impossible for me to visit the hospital without assistance; by the time I park in the garage and walk to the assistance desk, I could really use a hospital bed myself.
It’s painful to admit (and it’s taking all the courage I can muster to write this on the blog), but I have mental health problems because of the neurological wiring in my brain. I haven’t been right for a few months, and even some people very close to me (including my sweet wife) believe it’s time for me to come out of the pulpit for a while. I asked one of our godly shepherds a couple of weeks ago if he’d serve as a reference for a ministry role not far from here, and he very graciously said that he was concerned I’m still not quite “right.” I hate to admit that he is correct.
We’re hopeful that all of this can be corrected. While writing today’s post, I received a call to set up my genetic testing (unfortunately, the computers went down while we were on the phone, and I’m awaiting a call back to finish scheduling). If the genetic test reveals one of many mutations, Deep Brain Stimulation will, in all likelihood, correct all of my symptoms. What a glorious day that will be!
But, right now, I’m going through a transition. I’m still active in ministry. I’ve made a few visits. I’m attempting to set up some home Bible studies (it may be difficult to get in to some homes, but Jesus still said to go into all the world with His glorious gospel – I’ll just take someone with me). I’m still praying. I’m still checking on people through Facebook, texts, and phone calls. I’m still getting questions from members about how to live or what the Bible teaches, and I’m happy to help. Ministry doesn’t stop when you step down from a professional role.
I’m thankful that ministry doesn’t stop, for I’m finding new ways to minister. I have heard from several of you about how this blog touches your lives; some of you have said my posts have encouraged you to get help for problems or you have shared this with family members who needed encouragement. I’m honored that God can use me in that way. I’m in the process of starting my own publishing company, and I have about four books that will soon be published.
I’m looking forward to publishing my books – not so that my name can be on the spine, but so that I can minister through them. A lady who swims in the lane next to the lane I use had promised to come and hear me preach when she wasn’t singing in the choir where she attends church services; I was doing my backstroke as hard and fast as I could when Julia stopped by to say she was coming to hear me preach the next day. I was heartbroken to tell her that I wasn’t preaching anymore, and I feared that a chance to help this sweet lady was gone. This past Saturday a lifeguard was helping me get out of the pool with the chair lift, and she said, “You’re a preacher, aren’t you?” I told her that I am still ministering through writing and other avenues, but I wasn’t preaching in the pulpit anymore. She said, “Justin, I’d love to read one of your books.” It struck me: I can’t invite my friends at the gym to come and hear me preach, but I can hand them a book and say, “I pray this blesses you.” God, I believe, used that lifeguard to tell me that I can still minister, that I can still share His word, and that I still have work to be done in His vineyard.
I started today’s post telling you about a difficult transition I’m making. But, there’s more hope and opportunity than there is difficulty. I’m seeing how God can use all of us – if we allow Him – to make a difference in people’s lives. I’m seeing how God opens doors even when we think opportunities are gone. I’m seeing how God blesses congregations and its ministers in transitions neither really want to make.
Whatever your station in life, take heart: God can and will use you!! God has given you talents to be used in His service, and only the most cowardly will take those talents and make the grave mistake of burying them. Lift up your eyes, for the fields are white unto harvest. Go forth in the vineyard today with God’s blessings and serve Him and His people!
Get busy and go bless someone!