Have you ever had to make a weighty decision on your own?
It can be agonizing, wondering if you are going about it in the right way or not. Unfortunately, this is how most people make decisions in our culture of individualism. Yet, we see a different paradigm in the New Testament. The early church made decisions in community.
Being faced with how to integrate new believers into the new church of Jesus, the first apostles met and prayed together, concluding that, “it seemed as good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” that the new Gentile believers follow a few basic guidelines for life because of their new faith (Acts 15:28). Point being, they talked, prayed, and listened to the themes among them, believing that the Spirit was speaking in community. Have you ever done this? Within a missional community, we too can benefit from making decisions this way.
Last July, only seven months after moving to San Clemente to plant a new church, we got a phone call that changed everything. My mother’s cancer had progressed rapidly and she had become too weak to live alone. Someone would have to become her caregiver. That someone was me. I knew I had an obligation to take care of my mother. Still, my mind was flooded with questions: “What about the church plant?”, “How could I care for my mom with everything I had going on?”, “What about my coaching work?”. These were just a few of the questions that our missional community helped us discern.
Long story short—after going to Tennessee to see my mom and assess the situation, I stayed to care for her while Amy returned to California with the kids. All in all, from the time I left California till the time I would return, I ended up being gone six months with only three short trips home, totaling 15 days.
Five months after I arrived to care for her, my mother died. Watching cancer take her health was painful, yet our last months together were some of the most amazing of my life. I learned so much during that time that I am writing a book about it. I describe the experience like stepping through the wardrobe and entering into Narnia. It was in that special world of suffering that I experienced the presence of God and the unique lessons that only suffering can provide.
Returning to California in January of this year was surreal. After months of stress and sleepless nights, my mind was a wreck. I was 10 pounds lighter. I got lost walking in the neighborhood. I missed at least half of what people were saying to me. I couldn’t remember where the plates were in my own kitchen. I didn’t even know where my kids classrooms were at their school or their teachers’ names. I’d missed half a year of life in California while I’d walked through the valley of the shadow of death with my mother.
Trusted friends encouraged me to take at least six weeks off to reconnect with my wife and children and to begin to grieve, which I processed actively through writing about my time and experiences with my mom. During that time I began going to counseling, joined a grief recovery group and took a few solitary trips. That time was a good beginning to healing. But once that time came to a close, the question remained, “How should we re-engage in life here in San Clemente?”
My wife and I both wondered about leading a new church plant with our hearts being all twisted up and confused. We lacked the clarity to make important decisions on our own. In our weary and broken state, if we made ourselves vulnerable or initiated something with others relationally that didn’t get the response we wanted or expected, it seemed to hurt twice as bad. An image came to mind of a boxer going into the ring with a stab wound—every hit hurt worse and seemed to set us back more than it should. Add to that, I didn’t have the same outward thrust that I had before, rather I felt a massive inward pull. Writing was all I could do to calm my mind. In light of this, we began to submit our concerns to our missional community and other Soma Family leaders.
“How ought we move forward from here,” was where we began. A few weeks in, we found that our prayers changed to, “What does our family need right now to be healthy and whole?” Through counsel, conversation with our missional community, and our own personal convictions, we began to feel the weight of our reality. Four years of moving from place to place while being equipped to church plant, then the upheaval of the previous year of caring for my mom, amounted to five years of difficult transitions.
One day, a friend pointed out that one of the requirements in scripture for a man who wants to lead a spiritual family is that he lead his own family well (1 Tim. 3:5). After talking with him I saw the themes becoming clearer. We desperately needed a season of stability for personal and family health. We had an opportunity to do this in Tennessee (I inherited my mom’s house and land and we had been wrestling through what to do with it). This would put us in close proximity to our biological family and life-long friends, as well as a new Soma church plant. We knew we had to bring all this first to our community in San Clemente and second to the elders from our sending church in Tacoma.
As we poured out our hearts and prayed together, they began to affirm that our convictions were Spirit led. Together we set aside weeks of prayer to seek the Spirit and gain unity and clarity on a decision. By submitting our requests to the community, we gained a clear answer, while being encouraged and reaffirmed. We would step down from leading the church plant here in California and move to Tennessee.
Here are a few of the blessings we gained while making our decision in community:
Submission is good—Psalm 15:4 tells us that the righteous man swears, even to his own hurt. This means that when you make a commitment, you stick with it. We’d made a commitment to many people to be in San Clemente. Unforeseen circumstances affected us and our work here. Therefore, we needed to involve everyone who helped us get here. Submitting decisions to godly people took away our doubting questions and confirmed our convictions.
Confirmation of the Holy Spirit—I now see how the early Apostles could say that it seemed good to them and to the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28). By making decisions in community, we got to experience the Spirit speaking through the church and we were reminded of God’s great love for us, personally.
A fuller picture of what’s going on—Like a diamond, an important decision has many sides. By making our decision in community, it became less ambiguous and we were able to see other reasons why we needed to take a season for personal and family health. This has revealed how our upcoming move is part of the mission and that God will use it in many ways we still do not know. We now have more clarity as to how we should be using our time and we are expectantly waiting to see what our next season holds.
In conclusion, let me ask; are you facing a weighty decision? I beg you, do not make your decision on your own. Submit it to your community and listen for the confirmation of the Spirit. If you do, your doubts will be addressed and your direction will be made clear. Proverbs 11:14 tells us there is safety in an abundance of many counselors. We’ve found this to be true and we pray this for you, too.