It’s early, before five. I get up and start my morning routine—brewing coffee, grabbing food. Usually it’s eggs and an apple, but today, that cupboard bare, I wolf down chicken salad, pour coffee and settle in my chair to start the routine that has sustained me for forty years—prayer, meditation, journalling, the Scriptures.I get quiet, settling into Jesus’ presence, surrendering. Today is unusual. Friday morning mostly finds us at the Ranger, Room 36, but today we’re at the house. I turn 61 today and Diane and I want time together. I am just back from South Africa, feeling like we have not connected in weeks.Turning 61 finds me reflective, especially on the odd journey of the last few years, leaving a large church in a wealthy suburb, a church I led for over a quarter of a century, coming here to East Colfax to serve amidst poverty.Four years ago, the move would have been unthinkable. Our church, while imperfect, was beautiful and thriving, impacting many. I had enormous support from the church body and leadership and planned on staying until close to retirement.That changed. In the middle of a change process, my high-octane pace of 25 years coupled with health issues led me to crash. Burned out and depressed, I stepped away for a couple of months, unsure whether I would be able to come back. But I got help, significant help, and was making progress, ready to get back to the work I loved in a church I loved.I came back, nervous, but ready to roll. However, something had changed. The leadership was treating me differently. I left as a beloved leader; I returned to the message that I was only an employee. It took several months for them to be clear with me, but finally I understood that in my absence they decided to start a transition process, fearful that my age and health were limiting my ability to lead.In fairness, the situation they faced was very difficult.
In churches like ours, with a long-term leader that the church has grown up around, any shakiness in the leader makes the whole church feel shaky.Though some thought otherwise, they didn’t fire me. Their plan was to take a year to find my successor, have the two of us serve side-by-side for a year and then have him step into my role and have me step out of the way. Details were murky. I was not really a part of their discussion or decision.From where I sat, the process was very bumpy, leaving me and Diane and our four youngest daughters—all active at church, all serving, all giving our lives away—pretty damaged.When I finally understood their plan, it became clear I had no control over the situation, no voice to say anything. What was happening was happening to me; it was out of my hands.That, by itself, was an odd feeling. For 25 years I had a great say in my life and ministry and in what we did as a church. We had a fabulous run doing that. Now, that was gone.What do you do in moments like that, moments where you feel helpless? I still remember the moment. I didn’t fight the decision, I simply let go. I surrendered myself to God and whatever he wanted to do with what was a difficult situation, simply asking Jesus to lead me.I asked for a couple weeks to pray. Twice, I heard Jesus clearly: “I release you from that call. Your work is done. I have someone else to lead the church and I have other work for you.” My job was to finish graciously, being truthful about the basics—their decision and my own prayerful conviction to step away. The pain of the process I was to leave silent.Those days were dark, confusing and painful. I stayed close to Jesus, surrendering to Him, letting go, letting go, letting go . . .Thankfully, the leadership continued paying me for a year, giving me space to figure out a next chapter.
That said, it is hard to express what it was like to step out of my high-octane role into what seemed like a void. I went from being at the center of church life, people always wanting my time, into what seemed a vast sea of nothing, formless and confusing.Months on end, I just kept letting go, slowly healing. Then, one day, I felt a nudge to ride my motorcycle down East Colfax. Doing that, I immediately felt like I had come home, that Jesus now whispered, “here.” So I surrendered and we came “here,” not knowing what we were to do or how to survive financially. Then Jesus pointed to those in the motels and said, “Go love them.” So we did. We let go and followed.I just kept letting go, surrendering. Jesus supplied the money and partners we needed. Over time He provided other Colfax ministry opportunities, other places to serve. He has provided a building to be used as a ministry center. One day at a time, letting go, coming with open hands, Jesus has provided.
Now, our life is clear, full and rich. My calendar is full—loving our friends and tackling broader needs. Once again, I have the chance to share with other leaders, not talking about what it is like to lead a big suburban church but now talking about what it means to serve in urban poverty. I couldn’t imagine a better chapter for us; we love it.Four years ago, I could not have imagined being here. Yet here we are and it is beautiful. While grateful for my former life, I am deeply grateful to be here now. But we only got here by letting go.That is, I expect, a lesson for all of us. Do not be afraid to let go, especially in the dark days, days when it seems like things are happening to you over which you have no control. Just let go. Placing your future in the hands of Jesus is the wisest and safest thing you could ever do. We have learned that.Here I sit, early on my 61st birthday. Once again, I surrender to Jesus, letting go of my attempts to make things work, simply trusting His plan, excited about what is ahead.