An open letter to my church.
Dear Bethany Family:
As we drove out of Salem on Saturday, I was hit by another rush of emotion. I keep wondering how many of these wandering rushes I can be hit by. But as we left my parent’s house while friends and family stood by, waving through tears, I was hit by another. It’s the painfully good reality that God has blessed us beyond measure over the past twelve years.
On Sunday the 10th, Traci and I were completely overwhelmed by the gracious testimonies, fond memories and kind testimonies offered by so many of you. Some were spoken, some were written and some were expressed with neck-adjusting hugs without a single word being uttered. Truly we know that God is leading us to Michigan, or we would never leave such an amazing group of people.
THANK YOU Bethany for loving on our kids. Without question, the most painful part of our departure has been watching our children have to process it. AJ is in middle school, and having to watch him say goodbye to his new youth group friends, and his long-standing Bethany friends has been excruciating. At school he has been connected to the same group of pals since Kindergarten. Likewise BJ & CJ have only known Bethany (and Salem) for the full-length of their lives. Their closest friends, young and old, are at our church. And of course, the way this church has rallied to support Tati and her family has been an example of God’s grace administered in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10). Many tears have been shed by all of them, and it’s in large part because of how much you have loved them.
THANK YOU Bethany for giving me the opportunity to grow as a pastor, and to be imperfect in my shepherding, parenting and husbanding. Some pastors are held to a standard that makes transparency impossible — any flaw is fatal to his employment and calling. While Bethany strives to hold its pastors to biblically expressed standards, there is a freedom in that for us to be growing Christians, too. I’m so grateful for a church that has high expectations for its leaders, but still knows how to give grace. I’ve been the blessed recipient of that grace, more than my fair share.
THANK YOU Pastor Tim for being more than my boss. Few youth pastors get to work with a senior pastor for 12 years, but I’ve had that privilege because of you. You gently chided me when I needed it, encouraged me when I was struggling, went to bat for me when I was cornered and gave me advice when I asked. You gave me opportunities to learn and grow, and you provided coaching and instruction when things didn’t turn out as we planned. You have been a friend, brother, theologian, teacher, mentor and pastor to me (and my family), and it has been my privilege and honor to serve along side you for the past 12 years. You have set the bar very high for my future employer(s).
THANK YOU to so many of you who prayed for us, sent us cards, gave us gifts, brought us meals, visited us at home or in the hospital, came to our kids’ games, helped us clean, paint or process paperwork. THANK YOU for listening (enduring?) to my sermons, laughing at my stories (especially you, Terri Kersey. When no one else would laugh, I could count on you!), and oohing and ahhing at pictures of my kids. THANK YOU for coming to class when my wife and I taught, letting us come along side when you walked through hard times and for allowing us to share in your lives. THANK YOU for serving with us, sharing in the ministry side-by-side and for being willing to think “outside the box” as a church. In so many ways, you have lived out Hebrews 13 for us.
THANK YOU for helping us create so many wonderful friendships and memories. This church will always have a special place in our hearts, and we will always cherish the years we spent serving at Bethany. I know that whatever future ministry God will provide for our family, it will be shaped by the years we spent in Salem. Not because the past has been perfect, but because together we’ve been in process towards becoming who God wants each of us to be.
Finally, THANK YOU for following and supporting our journey. Whether it’s been youth ministry, family mission trips, fund raising, book writing, counseling or moving — you have been there for our family. We’ve been overwhelmed to the extent at which so many of you have stepped into our lives and encouraged us on our Overboard adventures. We wouldn’t be here today, without your support.
I feel confident our family isn’t done with the tears. I know there will be more than one Tuesday when I will want to be back in Salem with my students, or a Sunday where we will desire to be in the fellowship of our Bethany family. But we thank God for the opportunity before us, and for the opportunity before you. May God give you the grace to extend to Bethany’s next pastors the love, patience and friendship you extended to us. And we look forward to seeing how God will continue to use all of you to connect the community to Christ for the next 12 years, and beyond.
In His Service,