Caryn and I served for 20 years in the full-time ministry, starting in 1989 as interns in the Boston Church of Christ campus ministry. Appointed in 1994 by Randy and Kay McKean, we were sent out with a small team to plant the church in Bucharest, Romania. There we witnessed miracles—over 500 attended the first service, 200 came back the following night to study the Bible, and dozens were baptized in that first year! We lived Jehoshaphat’s prayer (“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you”, 2 Chronicles 20:12b). In those early years, ministry life was hard, chaotic, wonderful, and full. We felt God using us in great ways. The call to serve, the sacrifice, the work—it all made sense.
In the years to follow, we led ministries in Budapest, Boston, Virginia and Amsterdam. We saw more times of great miracles, but also periods of stagnation, upheaval, and God’s discipline on the church. We tried to fill the gap in places where faith and trust were breaking. Leading in the Kingdom became for us at times a lonely and uncertain calling. In 2009 we decided to step out of the ministry and move back to the U.S. to take care of some urgent family needs. It was as much a decision of faith and surrender as going into the ministry and going out to the mission field ever were. Times and seasons (Ecclesiastes 3).
It felt at the time like jumping out of a plane with only God as our parachute. The world economy was crashing, we had no jobs, no savings, nowhere to live, no Plan B. We landed back in Northern Virginia and started praying for new miracles. God answered many (some outrageously specific) prayers, providing us with home, family and fields/work (Mark 10:29-30). Over time, God strengthened our family, led us through tremendous professional opportunities, and helped us grow in our personal discipleship in exciting ways. We continued to serve the church as faith and circumstances allowed. We loved leading our house church. We enjoyed speaking to other churches from our life and faith experience. We saw God use us in times of pain and upheaval (see What I Preached in Charlottesville for more on that journey). We felt God was using us in dynamic ways.
Even as my career and income grew, Solomon echoed in my ears—“Meaningless! Meaningless!... What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 1:2-3. We had been asked from time to time. We thought about it from time to time. Would we consider going back into the full-time ministry? It was easy to say no, and we did. We found ourselves in a place of comfort and security that was hard to consider giving up.
We also began to wonder…what do we want the last chapter of our work lives to look like? When Randy McKean asked again this year, we felt the need to open ourselves up to the full-time ministry question. We considered (and asked) our family. We thought about how God has and can continue to use us in or out of the ministry. We thought about the needs of the church. We considered what we had invested in our career paths. We thought about why we would say ‘yes,’ and why we would say ‘no.’ We asked ourselves, what is our best and highest use? The math on this question is so different in our 50s then it was when we were in our 20s! It was a wonderful process that would have been a blessing regardless of the outcome. In the end we said ‘yes’ and are now serving on the NOVA church staff. We continue a small bit of “tent making” career work, which helped us in the decision process and enables us to stay connected to ‘real world’ life.
To be honest, it was not 100% clear to us until after we made the decision. If we waited to have absolute certainty, we would not have done it. Going forward, we don’t expect a smooth path—we’ve seen too much to be that naïve—but feel wonderfully blessed to lead a ministry of disciples with hearts of gold and a vision to grow. We ask for your prayers as we continue this journey. And may God bless yours!