From Austin to…Dallas?

Discerning a call away from lead pastor to being a pastor of pastors was one thing, but when we were called away from Austin to Dallas, I had to stare my new calling in the face. Austin was home for almost two decades, where we gave our prime years to renew the city socially, spiritually, and culturally with the gospel of Jesus. We baptized souls in the chilly, swirling currents of Barton Springs, made friends on the Eastside, downtown, and in the foothills of the Hill Country, and poured out our hearts, with dear partners at City Life, to love and serve Austin in all its weirdness, beauty, and creativity. Leave Austin, really Lord, for…Dallas?

While living in Austin, I mocked Dallas for all its concrete, superficiality, and blandness, and yet here I am, typing from my home office in McKinney, which has mature oaks, a quirky downtown, and some good food. It’s not quite “Dallas,” and it’s certainly not Austin, but it’s home. Last Saturday morning I was sipping the crema off a home-brewed Americano, and glanced out the living room windows into the backyard. A fiery red tree caught my eye, the quiet of our neighborhood beckoned to me, and I lurched forward, choking back tears of gratitude. I am not only at home; I am at peace.

Another reason I’m so content is that I’m working with humble, gifted, Jesusy people who love his church, warts and all. They consistently shepherd, counsel, encourage, preach and teach in ways that remind me of the Son of God, the one who placed his hands on the hurting and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God. I get to support them.

I’m also in a role that suits me perfectly, “Theologian-in-Residence,” in which I’m helping guard and promote doctrine that makes people flourish. I write, preach, and teach, meet with staff members to encourage them. I am slowly getting to know the people of the church. I do wish our sense of community could accelerate, but that is something that is grown over time, like that fiery red tree. It will come, and by God’s grace, it will glow. They call me Dodson here, a first, but it’s more endearing than, “Hey, Theologican-in-Residence!”

How to Know When It’s Time to Leave Pastoral Ministry

After five years of being a senior pastor, Brian Croft was a mess.

“There had been three different movements to get me fired,” he said. “There were threats of violence against me. The pastoral search team that led the committee to hire me was slandering my name all around the community. The church ran out of money. At the age of 34, I started having issues with my heart that doctors diagnosed as coming from accumulated stress.”

What did he do?

“I stayed,” he said. “And in year six, God turned the church around. It flourished for the next 10 years.”

And then, with a church that was financially and relationally stable, training interns, and running ministries, Croft felt it was time to leave.

In March 2022, 42 percent of surveyed pastors told Barna they’d considered quitting full-time ministry within the last year. “I’ve talked to pastors who have been serving more than 50 years, who said the combination of COVID, race relations, volatile elections, and fights over shutting down and masks created an unprecedented situation,” said Croft, who now counsels pastors. “They’d never experienced something this radically hard, this expansive. Every pastor dealt with it.”

In hard seasons—or even in healthy seasons—how does a pastor know if he’s supposed to persevere or if it’s time to be done?

The Gospel Coalition asked three former pastors—all of whom now teach or counsel pastors—for their best advice.

Read the whole article, which I also contribute to.

My Favorite Books of 2022

This is, perhaps, the deepest and most satisfying book I read all year. Wiman, an award-winning poet, weaves reflections on life, suffering, meaning, and faith through his own brush with death, suffering through bone cancer. As an adult convert, he grapples with skepticism in a profoundly authentic way, delivering insights like:

“To admit that there may be some psychological need informing your return to faith does not preclude or diminish the spiritual im-perative, any more than acknowledging the chemical aspects of sexual attraction lessens the mystery of enduring human love.”

His poetic prose and deep insight drew me back to previously read pages, just to soak in their insights. My church heard quite a few quotes from Wiman this year!

This novel was a slog in McCarthy’s diatribes on mathematical and scientific theories. Apparently, he’s been living with a community of mathematicians in recent years. But everything else is golden. He’s at his best describing nature, reaching down into the soul to awaken wonder over Texas oil fields and rural dwellings.

But the storyline is intriguing. A salvage diver is implicated in the mystery of a missing passenger from submerged wreckage of a plane crash. But Bobby has even deeper internal problems. He’s plagued with guilt over his genius sister’s suicide, which surfaces over and over again as a prism through which to peer into the meaninglessness or meaning of life.

The title sounds pretentious, I know, but it’s really about engaging in a spiritually rich, personally virtuous, intellectually vibrant vocation. I’ve read the preface two times, which is worth the price of the book. It’s packed with aphoristic insight like, “At the bottom of the fear of God is the fear of self.” And, “Great men aren’t more ambitious; they are more obedient, and listen to the Sovereign voice.”

This Catholic intellectual writes as a priest and moral philosopher, but with a practical orientation. He wants to help his readers take practical steps in living a full, meaningful, reasonable, and vocationally rich life.

I’ve read four or five of Crouch’s books. I loved Black Matter, Recursion not so much, but Upgrade is great. It’s about a gene cop who investigates illegal gene editing and ends up getting delivered a gene package that enhances his intelligence, speed, strength (think Jason Bourne), which helps him solve the crime.

As an avid U2 fan, I was skeptical about this book. A cash grab? Hardly. I have the hard copy and the audiobook. The latter is truly unique, interspersed with new renditions of old songs, great sound effects, and Bono’s Irish accent. I was struck by Bono’s self-awareness, whether it’s his ego or the way his family and sufferings have shaped his career. After learning about his father’s love for opera and the arts, as a blue collar Dub, I struck up a conversation with my own father, to thank him for spontaneously playing the piano in our home, and frequently blasting our adolescent years with classical music.

The subtitle is a stretch but its a great take on the dwelling place of God. Volf & McAnnally-Linz trace the biblical theme from Genesis to Revelation, while engaging with our broken and aspirational concepts of home as a society. The theological and sociological reflection is grounded in Scripture, and Volf offers some great turns of phrases like new creation being a “planetary enactment of the gospel.” It charged my imagination while preaching through Revelation.

I’m trying to read everything Kierkegaard has written. It’s a slow but rewarding process. This volume contains the famous, “The Purity of Heart to Will One Thing,” which inspires the reader shave down excess and focus your life on devotion to God. However, it’s his reflection s on prayer that have truly stirred me lately: “A man does not become wise by reading many books but through prayer.” Why is prayer instrumental in obtaining wisdom? Because it’s before the face of God that we uncover insights about ourselves and him, that we rarely uncover any place else. Prayer insight also sticks better.

Here are my remaining top books for the year:



Emotional Challenges in Closing a Church

Since announcing the close of City Life Church, emotions swirl through my heart daily. The regular customers are sadness, relief, celebration.


I will no longer be church family with these precious people. What we have here is unique, without flash, but simple and biblical–brothers and sisters meaningfully and lovingly engaged in one another’s lives. A hunger for the word of God. Compassion for those around us. Grace flowing freely through the congregation. While this is a new beginning for all of us, it comes as the result of an ending. Endings call for grief over what’s lost.

The weeks following the announcement, elders met with people whose tears expressed their feelings about this ending. Others, understandably expressed frustration: “This is one of the healthiest churches I have ever been a part of. Why would God want it to close?”

City Groups created space for people to express how they were feeling. I told my City Group not to hold back, and they didn’t. One member shared that he had turned down a new job, in part, because they didnt want to leave the church. Another couple shared that, after a year they feel so closely knit to us they can’t imagine giving that up. Although it’s difficult to share and hear these things, it’s also honest. No pretending necessary. And in the honesty of grief, we have ministered to one another with truth and grace.


Once I knew God was calling me away from the church, it became very difficult to keep that bottled up while counseling, preaching, and leading others. Now we all know what God is doing, and expectations can adjust. Of course, there are different ways to adjust. Some leave immediately. Others choose to lean in. Some say goodbye with encouraging words and prayers. Others say good luck. Many don’t know what to say, and on occasion that includes me. Who  should I set up meetings with? How do I pastor people well to the end? How should application change in my sermons?

Yet, transitional space is a discipleship place. It is formative, either toward Christ or away from Christ. With just six weeks left as a church, how should we respond? My wife shared her hope for the church was like a child eating Halloween candy. The trickotreater plows through the bag of candy until they get to the last few pieces. Then, they slow down to savor each bite. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone savored our final weeks together? To reflect on God’s grace to us through the church, how we have changed, what we will miss.

Many are doing just that. But some will not. They are not inferior family members. Change is hard for all of us. Some cope with solutions, some with slow withdraw, and others with savoring. After Jesus’ crucifixion, many of his disciples hid in a room, afraid of Roman and Jewish backlash. Others prayed. Some ran to the empty tomb. We all deal with loss in different ways. But Jesus appeared to all of them. He will continue to appear to each one of us.


Endings are a time for reflection: the loss of a loved one, a big move, kids going off to college, and the end of a church. To help us reflect well and cherish what God has given us, my wife came up with a weekly question for our City Groups. They have stirred up good memories, gratitude, and even praise. A few examples:

  • Tell us how you found City LIfe church?
  • What have you learned about the gospel here?
  • What do you love about your City Group?

We will reflect and celebrate much more in the weeks to come. We are throwing a party, and many former members are coming back to celebrate with us. While every church has a sunset, there is no dusk for the glory of Christ. May we go out pointing to the Light.