Over the past few months as I have gotten ready to venture farther west and farther up I have been asked time and again, “Why this?” Such a simple question cannot be answered in kind. For the answer is not a simple statement over which I have read or a place in which I wish to live. The answer to this question is a story. It is my story. And these next few years in Oregon are the next chapter. But as with any story it cannot be started in the middle with answers to question you know not. So this is my answer to the question, this is the story of how such a thing came to pass.
When I was 19 years old I moved to Cork City, Ireland to intern at Donnybrook Pentecostal Church, now Cork Church. While there I lived in a rundown old blue house that dated older that the country which issued my passport to live there. It was a time in which God broke and mended my soul like no other. One evening, as was the case with many evening there, a few of us sat around the dinner table after the meal was long done and the dishes put away. We sat and talked. During the discussion my dear friend Ruth asked me if I had ever heard of a pastor by the name of Mark Driscoll, a man who would become and still is a hero of mine. My answer was that I had not and we proceeded to watch a sermon of his and I was captivated. Something about the way that this man preached drew me in and made me want to love Jesus more and love more like Jesus. As I listened to him more often I felt as though a crushing blow was cast upon my soul, for this man was a Calvinist. At this point n my life I did not know what a Calvinist was, only that they were bad and not to be trusted. But as I looked into why these men who appeared to love Christ so much were so wrong I found that the things that they said were grounded in Scripture. I read things like Romans 8:28-31 not just Romans 8:28 and 31. I continued to Romans 9, Ephesians 1, the words of Matthew 1:21 which promised not that Christ would make salvation possible but that He would actually save His people. I was torn.
The more I looked into the Scripture and the more I looked at arguments on both sides of the theological spectrum I found that Reformed Theology, or Calvinism as it has become nicknamed, gave hard answers to hard questions. I felt as though these people took serious the command of Christ to worship God with all their minds. I felt as though they took the study of God as seriously as a newlywed studies their partner. Not to answer questions on a test but to know and love better. But again I was torn.
I had grown up in a home where I saw that Christ calls us not just to love Him greatly but to love others as well. And if I can be honest, as a now Calvinist, that was something I saw greatly lacking in the Reformed camp. Many of them acted like Thomas Jefferson cutting out the parts of Scripture that call us to be people who not only understand but walk in the supernatural (and I in no way advocate craziness in the name of Christ, but there should be a Holy Spirit power that we have as Christians). I had seen Jesus tell a paralyzed man that he was no longer allowed to stay seated, I saw Christ command a blind woman to stop walking around in the dark. I had people prophesy over me (and I mean prophesy, not try and give me heavenly fortune cookies, there is a large difference). I had been in a prayer meeting where a word was given in tongues and interpreted, and I say ‘a’ on purpose for I have been in hundreds where something was done which does not line up with the Scriptural mandate for such a thing and the weightiness of God was not there. So with all this I again felt torn. I felt as though the Holy Spirit not only invited us to walk in a supernatural way but Christ commanded it of His people as seen in most Pentecostal or Charismatic Churches.. But I also believe that those people are His elect people predestined before the foundations of the world for adoption as found in the teaching of the Reformed tradition.
I was someone who valued missions as a vital tool used by God to advance His church but I saw the Church as the primary tool so much so that someone working outside the bounds and accountability of a local church seams sinful. I believed that every Christian was called to be on mission but that if we do not go across out street, our town then we do not have the right to travel across the world to get a new facebook profile picture holding some small orphan child. I believed that the Holy Spirit was calling us to use the gifts that He bestows upon the people of Christ but I believed that rolling on the floor in ‘worship’ and ‘prophesy’ on demand is not something I found in the New Testament Church. I believed that God had a people who He chose not a people who chose Him first but I believed that such a radical idea of love should produce a radical love and not a people know for being angry, unloving, and stuck up. I felt as though the Church should be governed and led by men but that a church where women are not equipped and active in the mission is not a church that lines up with what we see in the book of Acts. I felt as though I know who God was calling me to be but I saw no one else who I felt to be in the same place as me. I felt as though I would be called to be a vagabond in the world alone in my ideals.
It was in this mindset that I first heard of Acts29 (A29). I was mesmerized. These were people who were like me. They seemed to believe the things that I held dear. They were tough where Jesus was tough but they seemed to be tender where our King was tender. As soon as I began to look more closely at this network and podcast all their boot-camps, what they called their conferences, I felt as though this was where I belonged. I felt as though this was my tribe, these were my people. I was only 20 at the time I first felt this but it was a feeling that never died. With each new A29 pastor I listened to or met my heart felt as though I was with family. My heart yearned for a time that I could truly be a part of these people with whom I felt such a strong connection. But time went by, 20 years old rolled onto 21 and 22. Time went further on and I became part of a church-plant in Alabama and in doing so a relationship was rekindled from my childhood. A man who was once my babysitter had a number of years prior moved to Albany, Oregon to plant a church. And between the time in which the church was started and our rekindled friendship the church had joined the A29 Network. We spoke and more often than not he would give me gospel-centered advice and just spoke to me as a peer not as a child running around in shoes too big for my feet.
As I continued to work in Alabama 22 years flowed into 23 and I began to feel as though I was being called to start the next chapter of my life but knew not what it would be. As I prayed and searched and looked and desired to know what path lay before me I once again sought the advice of Neal, my friend in Oregon. As we spoke he talked to me about the chance to move to Oregon and go through an internship and pastoral residency (church planter/pastor training) and I felt as though an old dream long forgotten had been remembered. As we continued to speak, I sought the advice of a few men I trusted and I felt more and more that this was where I needed to be.
So at the start of the summer I flew up to Oregon and spent a few weeks with Neal and the community that made up The Shift Church in Albany. As I was there I felt a peace that only the Holy Spirit could give about a move across the country with no intention on ever living back down south.
There was no voice that boomed from Heaven to tell me to go, there was no Scripture I read that said, “Go to Albany, work at the Shift Church, get trained from Neal.” But I knew that Scripture did command that young men be trained by older and wiser men. And Neal and the other two pastors there seemed wiser and looked a bit older. I knew that Scripture commanded that the gospel go forth and that the church should be the main tool in which it would do such. I knew that the cost of the gospel was worth more than anything this earth could offer and that the pursuit or God was worth more than gaining anything else.
So, why this? Why now? Why Acts29? Because I feel as though my entire life has led me to this point. I feel as though it has all had me leading up to a few years in Oregon to be trained by both God and man. I feel as though one day I’ll gather a team and move to a city and pour out everything I am to try and see a new church started. Ephesians 2:10 says that God saved us for good works which He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. And I feel as though these steps were laid out before the world began. Now the only question is what lays upon the path which lies before me.