An Open Letter to My Congregation
There is no easy way to say goodbye to a group of people whom you sincerely love. With a great deal of sadness a meaningful chapter in my life closes and with a great deal of anticipation a new one begins. Since October 27 of 2002 I have faithfully served as pastor for the people of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Trussville, AL. On February 22, 2012 I will begin a new assignment as pastor for the people of Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton, GA.
In times like these we feel an array of emotions. Shannon and I, from the time we realized this move was immanent, have experienced a range of feelings from anxiety to excitement, from sadness to joy. Birmingham is very much home for us. Until recently, even through some of our most difficult struggles, we never considered leaving Ridgecrest. It took a great deal of convincing through prayer for us to accept this move. We did not approach anyone at any time about going anywhere. Yet the whole thing has been very providential and God’s call for us is unmistakable. We love this area and its people. We think its funny that you talk college football 365 days a year and that the sports guy on the news shares stats from practice. Only in Birmingham will people have their homes destroyed by a tornado, but still be sure to have plenty of Milo’s sweet tea on hand. We will miss living in a town with a 1:1 ratio of BBQ joints to Baptist churches. We will miss your gigantic iron statue of a guy in desperate need of shorts and your milk jug yard torch things at Christmas. Indeed there will be some in our congregation who are simply saddened while others may feel angry and betrayed. However you feel, I assure you of this. Shannon, the girls, and I love all of you and I count it a great honor to say that I have served you as pastor.
Vision and leadership is not only about seeing where you are going, it is also about being honest about the end. The worst mistake a leader can make is to continue leading past his vision. While I see many great things ahead for Ridgecrest, God has made it clear to me and to my family that our assignment here has ended. Over these past 9+ years, together, we have experienced no small changes. Our path to where we are now was no easy one. We have bought and sold property. We have made difficult decisions and taken responsibility for the consequences. We have dared to do something most people thought would not work in purchasing a warehouse on less than two acres of property and making it a launch pad of missions and ministry. None of it has been easy and everything we have done has come in rapid succession. There is yet more to do in finishing the final phase of our current campus and in realizing the financial vision for missions and ministry God has given us. The vision itself is not over, but God has shown me clearly that it is time for another voice of leadership at Ridgecrest.
In recent years God has blessed Ridgecrest and it has become a growing congregation once again. It is difficult to leave those of you who are new to RBC, especially those of you who are rising up to leadership. We have some promising men and women in our church that I believe will become crucial to the church continuing to increase. To these I charge you to keep your hand to the plow and don’t look back. Yet I want to also express how difficult it is to leave another group of people, those who did not quit. No matter how long God gives me to serve Him, no matter where I serve, there will always be a special place in my heart for those of you who never gave up, who endured the days before our relocation, who submitted themselves to the crucible of change God put us through, and remained faithful to the end. You did what you said you would do and I love you dearly for what you have done.
Certainly this has been a difficult week for all of us, and my announcement does not help. The timing of all of this is unfortunate but beyond my control. As much as I would like to delay this announcement, it has been made known to me that the news is out. Therefore, it was necessary for me to go ahead and share this with you. I would much rather tell my story than have it told for me. As I say often, if you are going to read my mind, please allow me to write the script. I shared the story with the church on Wednesday night, and I will do so again on Sunday. In hearing our story I hope you will agree with me that for us to stay in leadership at Ridgecrest would be blatant disobedience to what God is calling us to do in going to Liberty. Knowing then, that this is the call of God for us, please realize, it is also God’s call for you. We should not see this merely as an end, but as a dawning of expectation. What does God have for us next? In our prayers about this, Shannon and I sought to know clearly from God that if we left, Ridgecrest would have a great future ahead. God has shown us that indeed this is true, our call away is no mistake, and it is necessary for us to move on so that Ridgecrest may grab hold of what is next. Yet change is never easy and we are tempted to listen to the voice of fear rather than faith. You may wonder, what if things do not go well? We have wondered the same. What if the people of Liberty do not accept our leadership there, what if we fail, what if it all goes wrong? This is not the voice of faith, this is the voice of the enemy using fear to quench vision.
To encourage our faith it is important for us to place markers in our past, altars of blessing that remind us of God’s faithfulness in difficult times. When I left Lantana Road and came to you, it was a difficult decision. God called a godly man to be their next pastor and the church has continued to grow. The church is now a leading church in Cumberland County, TN and they have built a great facility on the acreage we purchased just before I left. I left there knowing I would not be the man that built the next building because God was calling me to you. Even in that certainty I experienced fear. What if things go wrong in Birmingham? Ridgecrest was a hurting church with an almost non-existent vision when I came. The Ridgecrest that we are leaving is not the same church we came to. God has done a great work here. There is a great vision now that you and the next pastor can continue to build upon together. I trust that you will. I am following a godly pastor at Liberty. It is a great church with a wonderful vision - we will work to continue what God is doing there. It is not about what is ending, it is about what is next. For all of us, Ridgecrest, Liberty, and the Branams we must not allow fear to be the dominant voice, but rather the voice of faith and vision; for such is the Kingdom of God.
Please feel free to call us. If you have questions I will gladly answer them for you. May God be glorified, His Son lifted up, and the church be edified in the days ahead.