It all starts with an ache.
This last Sunday we had the opportunity to talk to our church family and let them know some big changes that were happening in our life. We’ve had big news before…babies and stuff like that, but this was definitely different. Our big news was that we felt like God was inviting us into a new season of life and inviting us to plant a church near Emily’s home town Atlanta, Georgia.
Which means that Jesus was asking us to consider leaving.
This has been such a wild season. I have had several people who’ve asked me, “How did you decide this? Why Atlanta? When did you know you were going to plant a church?” Good questions…the problem is that the answer isn’t as quick and easy as the question itself was. This has been a long journey and an even longer conversation where it feels like a series of dominoes fell into each other and until the last one really fell we really didn’t what God was saying.
It all started with an ache. It’s hard to explain really, just an ache for something I didn’t know how to fix. It’s almost like one day my heart recognized a puzzle piece was missing, so it went on a long adventure to find out what it was. As time went on I realize what this ache was, it was an ache to lead and to give my life to the gospel in a new way. I told my church yesterday how hard this was, because I’ve never had an ache to leave, just to lead and it hurts like hell that in this decision leading means leaving.
Here is ache in art form. Things were definitely stirring when we filmed this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2SpYJoq0_g
So in these last 6 months Emily and I have prayed…and talked…and prayed…and talked. Our emotions and ideas have swung the pendulum on what we felt was right and what it all meant. Everything was on the table and everything was possible. There were times that we 99% on staying and committing to Mill Creek in a brand new season, times that we really felt like we were supposed to make ourselves available to transition and lead a church. Then about 5 weeks ago we finally saw it.
All along we were waiting for that supernatural moment. We were waiting for that defining moment that meant we didn’t even need to think…we just needed to say yes. And we’ve waited for good reasons because in many ways God has always guided our lives in such ways.
I remember sitting on a field in Montana experiencing a supernatural moment where in a vision a map unfolded and Thailand began to glow hot red and pop out of the map. It slowly went back into the map and rolled up and went away. About two months later I was staring at this vision of a woman in an ice skating rink in Chiang Mai Thailand knowing she was going to be my wife. I remember sitting (maybe this is a repeated theme…if I want to hear God’s voice I should just sit somewhere random) on the bookstore floor of Powell’s and hearing God speak direction into my confused life. The voice of “do not hand your generation over” still rings louder than almost anything in my life. Every move and every step has had these beautiful moments with Jesus and clarity was overwhelming.
All along I was waiting for this. I was waiting for God’s supernatural presence to speak from the clouds and say, “Phil…plant a church in Atlanta. PS: You make bald look so good.” Instead God took me all the way around and showed me that he had been speaking. He had been speaking a lot and he was taking me on a journey of personal discovery. He led me to see that church planting was the only way for me to be obedient to the things he had been speaking about. Church planting wasn’t the direct call of obedience, but the only vehicle that I could possibly feel obedient within. It was the culmination of a long conversation, and now I see with that same clarity as before.
Some of you might ask, “Why Atlanta, that seems random.” And my response would be that it is and it isn’t. Atlanta is Emily’s home, it’s where much of her family lives and always held a very sacred place in her heart. That’s a huge part of this, but it isn’t the only part of this. When we really knew that God was inviting us to plant a church we set out every city we would consider. We landed on several places like Washington DC, Virginia, Denver, Seattle and Atlanta. We met with leaders, had very specific conversations and over time knew that Atlanta was the only right choice. It’s as if in this process every other city was in black and white and Atlanta was in color. It had a different substance that Emily and I both couldn’t ignore. Jesus had his finger on Atlanta.
So…this is our new story. Church planting in Atlanta. I’m believing for everything and prepared for anything. I close my eyes and see a passionate movement and incredible things and yet at the same time I am soberly aware that failure is an option. We don’t know all the details yet…but we plan to move our family some point in early 2013.
To MC4…I love you more than I can explain. I would die for our church, it is the most beautiful community of people I have ever known. Thank you for allowing me and my family to grow up in your midst. I believe the best days of our church are in front of us and I have never known a pastor like my brother. I’m 29 and I can still say with confidence I just want to be like Chris Manginelli.
To my students…you’re spiritual powerhouses. I’m not arrogant enough to feel like Paul very often but I feel like him in this one way when he says in Ephesians 3 (Phil’s amazing paraphrase), “I wish you believed me. I wish you believed me when I told you Jesus was this good and in Him you have everything you need. I pray you see HIs immense love and start living in the confidence and freedom that he bought for you.” I will give you these 6 next months to continue to show you everything that Jesus has done for you.
To my friends…thank you for believing in us. We need you more now than ever.
And so the adventure begins…