"Pulling Back" from church

About 16 months ago, I began my relationship with Abundant Life Fellowship.
Though some would say that it was luck or chance that I even heard of the church, I know that it was God’s providence, and looking back to June of 2006, I see His fingerprints all over the time since then.

When I found out about Abundant Life and started spending time with Pastor Ted and hearing him talk about his heart and vision for the fellowship, I got really excited. Having been overseas for the previous year, I had a lot of new thoughts about what ‘church’ should be like. The thought of coming back to the tradition heavy, religious ‘south’, and leaving the small, Acts 2-esque experience of a third world was discouraging to me. After spending some time with the folks from Abundant Life, I was truly blown away by the uniqueness and effectiveness of the whole experience. This is a fellowship that is personal, committed, involved, vulnerable, and free in many ways that other groups are not.

After enduring four years of high school in Oxford without a good church home, and praying the whole time that God would raise up a good church where I could grow and see lives changed, it was amazing to have the opportunity to be involved with the very answer to that prayer.

I dove in head-first. I had lists of all the stuff I wanted to do and to plan. I started listening to a lot of teaching about church planting and youth ministry. I began spending my Tuesday nights getting ready to teach the youth on Wednesday. I got to church an hour early on Wednesday nights so that some of the youth could come learn how to play instruments, and even though it was off in the distance, I saw the possibility to have an awesome worship team of teenagers who could bless people all over Granville county. It was a really fun and exciting kick-start back into ministry after being overseas and away from everything for a year.

So of course the question is, “What changed?”

The answer is, “Everything.”

Though I didn’t know it from the beginning, this season of time with Abundant Life was only a temporary learning experience for me. From the very beginning, God has lead me away from settling in at this stage of life. Once I began serving the church, I prayed and prayed for a job that would be compatible — something near the church that was only part-time. Weeks went by and I got deeper in debt, and the only opportunities were full-time positions far away. So I bit the bullet and took a job in Durham — 50 hours less to work with.

My family situation got more intense. I came home to a world of changes in my family, and lots of opportunity to serve them, given that I make time for it.

Then God gave me Stephanie, and soon I had very little time to invest in the church.
Even with all the commitments and changes, I tried to force the time to do everything I wanted with the church. Even while courting my wife 200 miles away, I planned events and used our ‘date time’ to do ‘church stuff’.

Even after she had moved to Creedmoor and was living alone in an apartment, and trying to cooperate with her mom and plan a huge wedding, I was still busy and asked her to be busy with me.

Even after we were married and bought a house with grass that needed cutting and boxes that needed to be un-packed, I asked her to wait for me while I took the youth to camp.
‘Righteousness’ is the act of valuing1 rightly. My pride has led me to treat my church responsibilities unrighteously. I communicated to everyone around me that ‘my ministry’ is more important than anything else. I taught my wife that I love her and appreciate her, but she’ll have to take my word for it because I have these other important obligations. I watched my sister get married to someone who I couldn’t make the time to disciple.

On top of all this, we have really suffered for lack of fellowship our age. We rarely get to spend time with other young married couples, and it has really made our adjustment to married life stressful. Even when Stephanie asked me if we could start going to events at other churches to meet people, I asked her to ‘grin and bear it’ a little longer. I asked her to sacrifice her own walk with the Lord so that I could feel like something special.

So our decision to move on has been a long time coming, and it has nothing to do with Abundant Life. Really, more than anything, we need to be free from responsibility for a season so that we can give unlimited attention to our marriage — to each other.

Through hard times of prayer together and apart, and even weeping at the high cost of this decision, we have learned a lot. In fact, I am certain that God planned this season in our life to teach us. In the past year and half I have become almost certain that I want to devote my life to building the Church — in America and abroad, and I have also become confident that I’m not ready to that. I have a lot to learn. We have a lot to learn. And thanks to our time here at Abundant Life, we have a better understanding of what we have to learn.

They say that 80% of pastors don’t make it. I believe that God, in His grace, is forcing the brakes in our lives so that we will make it, in His time.

So we’re going to take a break. Take some trips. Get some rest. And then, prayerfully, we’re going to look at the possibility of me going to school for an extended season of learning.

We love the youth here. It has been a heart-breaking decision to step back from teaching them, and learning from them. And we hope that God will give us creative ways to stay involved in your lives…