Category: Leadership

How I Discerned a New Calling

The decision to retire as lead pastor of City Life Church wasn’t my decision; it included numerous voices. Because the decision would impact people beyond me, I took deliberate steps to evaluate my motives and sense of call.

Clarity from God

Many things influence a pastors’s doubt of calling. A bad Sunday can send a pastor reeling: a scathing critique of his sermon, conflict with staff members, a persistent void of encouragement, low church attendance, menacing self-doubt, and Satanic accusation. While these are not adequate reasons to abandon a call, they can pile up over a time and break a pastor’s spirit. Forty-three percent church leaders certainly thought so in 2021.

I hit an emotional breaking point at the end of 2021 and had to take a couple months off to process the pain and difficulty of the prior two to three years. However, because I knew I’d be tempted to return and announce my resignation, I removed that option from my mind. Instead, I focused on seeking God through lament, restoration, and renewal. It was a tear-filled yet transformative time. In fact, it put me in a great place to return rested and lead my church in lamenting their own sorrows and sufferings. Clarity from God clarified the needs of others.

After leading the church through that season, I noticed an increased interest in helping pastors and a diminished vision for my own church. I asked the Lord to provide vision for our church. We had been kicked out of our downtown building, where we gathered for a decade. We were a gospel-centered, city-renewing church, but we found ourselves north of downtown, in a neighborhood, meeting at 4pm in the afternoons. While it was a soft place to land, it didn’t fit our vision to renew cities socially, spiritually, and culturally with the gospel of Jesus.

That vision never returned. While I still believe in it, I feel led to champion it in others. I found myself disinterested in urban apologetics, and drawn to counseling pastors through their own challenges. I was reluctant to return to the city centre, and yet city-renewing vision had fueled me for sixteen years! I met a mentor at Walton’s, a deli/flowershop owned by Sandra Bullock. When David plopped down in his seat, he asked me: “Where are you going to be in ten years?” Shocked by his opener, I paused for a minute then, without hesitation said, “Writing, teaching, and mentoring pastors somewhere.” It became clear God was moving me in a new direction.

Confirmation from Mentors

As I pressed into this sense of call, I asked my mentors for feedback. I wanted to know if they thought my sense of call was misguided, or if I had unhealthy motivations. They were able to look at my history of ministry, personal gifting, and spiritual health to evaluate if I am suited for this new call. Here are some of the questions they asked me.

  • Are you running from something or called to something else? If you’re running from pain, unresolved grief and bitterness will follow you into your next job.
  • Will the church be better or worse when you leave? Did you give it your best? Strive to leave your church with godly leadership, healthy, gospel culture, reconciled relationships, and a decent budget.
  • What is the Spirit (not the flesh) saying? Do you need some counseling before making such a big decision? Heed the adage, “Never quit on a bad day.”

Pastor, you can finish but don’t quit. A quitter leaves things undone and unresolved, but a finisher sees things through to the end. A finisher wrestles these questions, seeks the input of others, and puts the welfare of the church above his own interest. A finisher listens to the Holy Spirit, and is willing to wait until he or she has clarity from God. A finisher seeks confirmation of the call from trusted mentors and spiritual guides. A quitter throws caution to the wind and follows feeling. A finisher leads by faith and with character.

Affirmation of Elders

This final step was the most important. I wanted our elders input. Although it would be difficult for them to hear, and hard to share, I knew I had to tell them what I sensed God doing. I needed to explain it throughly and wait for a response. This is difficult when if you have clarity. When your heart starts migrating to a new place, it can be difficult to slow it down. But it’s important to remember they haven’t been processing this for months like you have. They haven’t exhausted the options, weighed the pros and cons, or considered the implications of your new call.

Perhaps the best thing I did was to process most the above with them in real time. I did not seal myself off from their counsel, questions, or support. They were instrumental in my healing, renewal, and discernment. They too sensed an increased focus on ministry to pastors, so the new calling wasn’t a shock. But it was still difficult.

My certainty was hard to hear, yet they celebrated the call and saw the fruit in my ministry. The following week, I felt like I’d been run over by an eighteen-wheeler. I had opened a door that had been closed for sixteen years. I lacked motivation to minister, write a sermon, and do even light work. Questions came flooding in: What will the church do? When should this happen? What will it look like? Will I have income for the family next year? How will this marriage do, and that single persevere, and that community group take it?

Then God spoke: “The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd. He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). I could trust the Lamb, their true shepherd, to guide them into flourishing and comfort them in sorrow.


*I address the difference between finishing and quitting in The Unwavering Pastor.


Ending Our Church, Beginning a New Call

I didn’t start a church to end a church, but yesterday the elders of City Life Church announced the end of our chapter in the grand, Gospel story. On December 18, 2022 we will gather for the final time as City Life Church. It’s strange to type those words, like downing a discomforting elixir that brings relief.

Several months ago it became clear that God was calling me into a different season of ministry—one dedicated to writing, teaching, and mentoring pastors. I’m truly excited about it. However, living in the tension between the joy of the call and its secrecy has been difficult. It’s hard to shepherd people you love, knowing you won’t be their pastor in a matter of months.

I kept thinking, “I won’t be here for their marriage, their next step, their spiritual needs.” But Jesus will. Always. It was never about me meeting their needs, but pointing them to him. Wanting to love the flock well—to finish not quit—I doubled down on my pastoral responsibilities.

I currently don’t know how this calling will crystalize. It is a step of faith and obedience for our family. However, I’ve been comforted by the frequent affirmation of this call from friends, mentors, and even church members.

Our elders responded to the call by saying: “Yes, we see this ministry already present in you, and the joy you receive from it, but we will miss you.” Yesterday a church member said, “We sensed the Holy Spirit telling us you were released from this role, even before you shared it.” “You’re going to be a teacher of teachers?—mind-blow emoji—I’ve learned so much from you.” I cherish these affirmations, especially from my church family.

And yet, there are tears. When I planted City Life with a group of nine people, I fell in love with the church all over again. I have experienced church as a family, something I hadn’t known deeply despite the many good churches I’ve been a part of. As with any family, we’ve gone through all kinds of seasons: the joy of new births, grief in deaths; praying for the kids and learning from the kids; staggering maturity, growing pains; the thrill of mission and perseverance in the plateaus; deep personal pain and ecstatic corporate joy.

And it was all worth it, every single bit, because the Lord of the family is worth it. He has pastored us so faithfully and delicately, through the desert and up the mountain. I love you, City Life. It has been an immense privilege to be your pastor. It’s hard to conceive of a life without you; it’s been almost two decades of our lives. But the great Shepherd has you, as he always has. There’s much more to share, and I hope to post more frequently as I continue to reflect on what God has done, is doing, and will do.

Christmas Confession & Assurance


Lord God,

We praise you for sending your light and love—Jesus the Messiah—into this world.

We confess that we often live like the light did not defeat the darkness.

We confess that we often live as though Jesus is not returning in glorious light.

We sometimes confine Christ to parts of our lives and our faith becomes small.

We do not joyfully serve and expectantly worship.

Forgive us for ignoring Jesus’ light.

Prepare us for His return.

Help us rejoice in the light,

So your grace illumines the dark places of our hearts, our city and our world.



The God who promised never to leave us or forsake us,

has come to us in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

He binds up the broken-hearted,

heals all our infirmities,

and relieves our burden of sin.

While it is true that we have sinned,

It is a greater truth that, in Christ Jesus, we are forgiven.

God has shown his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died and rose for us.

Arise, shine; for his light has come,

And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Thanks be to God!

*Taken from City Life Church Christmas Eve liturgy.

When Mission Gets in the Way of Counseling

Should we spend time counseling when we could be out evangelizing, building community, strategizing for mission or preaching? Isn’t counseling something missional leaders “refer,” not something we do?

Well, it depends on how we define the word counsel. If we mean specialized sessions devoted to psychological issues that can not be addressed by the gospel, then perhaps we shouldn’t counsel. However, if we mean discipling others with gospel wisdom in the full range of human thinking, feeling, and behaving, then perhaps we should reconsider our default practice of referring.

Overlooking Counseling

Mission-minded people tend to overlook or look down on counseling. We may see it as an obstacle to mission. Too often I’ve heard things like, “God called me to preach not to pastor.” “I’ll save ‘em, somebody else disciple ‘em.” Or “Counseling isn’t my gift.” But this simply doesn’t square with the Bible. Counseling might not be your gift but it is your responsibility.

Even the greatest church planter, the Apostle Paul, had time for counseling. His letters are charged with gospel-centered counsel that springs from an intimate knowledge of people’s everyday lives. Very often, his counsel is to counsel (Rom 15:14; Eph 5:25; Col 3:12-17; 3:12-13; 10:23). Peter, James, and the writer of Hebrews also counseled their churches and counseled them to counsel. If we’re biblically faithful, counseling is something that is required of all God’s people, even church planters!

Professionalizing Church Planting

Church planting has already become an industry. Just Google “church planting”(897,000 hits). A multitude of conferences and businesses have sprung up around church planting. Best practices and best venues dominate planting conversations. Church planters borrow business language and practice in order to “plant” churches. Consider this string of questions:

  • What are you running? What are your numbers like?
  • Are your groups multiplying?
  • When are you going to plant next?
  • How are you reproducing leaders?

We’re quick to talk numbers and slow to talk transformation. If we’re not careful, church planter will become another religious profession in an increasingly professionalized Church. Planters will share more in common with entrepreneurs than they do with apostles, elders, and pastors. Church planters will become disobedient to God and irrelevant to his Church. They will build buildings and launch services, not pastor people and cultivate community.

Pastoring while Planting

Missional people often reach unreached, unbelieving, and very broken people. As a result, pastoral wisdom and gospel-centered counseling quickly become important skills. For church planters, the biblical office we hold is not church planter but elder-pastor. How are you cultivating pastoral wisdom? How are you growing in your capacity to shepherd your flock with wisdom, truth, and grace?

In order to plant healthy missional churches, we must grow in gospel breadth and depth. It’s imperative we train others to think the gospel down into issues of the heart and back into the struggles of their past. This will enrich our sermons with pastoral application that grows from spending time with struggling sheep. The best application is mined not from homiletical brainstorming but from pastoral counseling.

Counseling on mission is critical. If we do not counsel while we are on mission, we will fail in planting missional churches, while succeeding in starting organizations and events. Gospel-centered counseling should be the overflow of gospel-centered church planting.