Friday, July 27, 2007

called to tuscaloosa

Wow...I guess it has been quite a while since the last post. We just returned from Alabama and it has been hard to catch a few minutes to write. I'd love to go into great detail on the all the happenings of the last week. But for now, let me just update you on our final decision.

As of the last writing we were still out on the limb, uncertain of what God's future had in store for the Gorveatte family. We were completely confident in taking each step in faith, and have felt a complete peace through it all. We had resigned from Faith Church, but had no idea how the visit and vote from the membership at First Wesleyan Church in Tuscaloosa might turn out.

Long story short, it was fantastic! We had sensed God leading in that direction(and the immediate sale of our home seemed to affirm that)...but the people of First Wesleyan double-confirmed it. The offer to become Senior Pastor was extended and we have accepted.

It was a blessing to be received so warmly and enthusiastically! We felt that even if the vote had been less than encouraging, obedience to God meant going there anyway. Fortunately that is not how it turned out. God is developing a new sense of unity within the church at First Wesleyan...and that is exciting! The challenges are huge and there are many unanswered questions, but there have been far too many "godly coincidences" for us to even entertain any doubts.

I guess you could say that the amazing support of the people from Faith Church triple-confirms the whole thing. We have received so many notes and words of encouragement from people at Faith who say, "We can't understand why God would lead you away. But it must be because he has something great in store for both Lansing and Tuscaloosa!"

Things are moving forward here in Lansing. The board has developed a visionary leadership profile and the evaluation of candidates is beginning. Whoever ends up here is in for the most amazing journey of their life. This place is awesome and God has huges plans to use Faith Church to change Greater Lansing for Jesus Christ. I can't wait to see who the Spirit has been prepping for this job.

Maybe next week I can tell you more about the whole house-hunting experience in Tuscaloosa. It was pretty cool...another example of God's great timing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

house story it's time for an update.

So much has happened in the last week. Probably the most significant and hard to believe event has been the near miraculous sale of our home! A real estate agent told us last week that the residential market in Lansing is down 38% in sales this year. It has been brutal. So many of our friends in town have had their homes on the market for many months without even a single offer.

Well, upon the announcement of our resignation from Faith Church we scheduled an appointment with the real estate agent who had been so helpful to us in our last sale and purchase. We called her on that Friday (I think that was the day) and she said she could come to meet with us on Wednesday with the papers for listing.

So Friday afternoon Tracy and I kind of joked around about putting a "For Sale by Owner" sign in the window over the weekend. That evening Lanny, a friend from the church, and his wife were walking through the neighborhood. I was out in the front yard trimming the trees. They stopped and we began to chat. We mentioned the idea about sticking a sign in the yard just for fun until our meeting with the real estate agent. I laughed, "The problem putting a sign out to find a buyer would be like a dog chasing a car. If I caught one I wouldn't know what to do with it." Lanny said, "You forget, I do real estate stuff all the time. If you get a buyer, you can just call me and I'll consult with you. Go buy the sign and put it in the yard. What's it going to hurt?"

That's what we did. Tracy ran to WalMart and Saturday she got a sharpie marker to put our phone number on the sign and stuck it out in the yard. By the end of the weekend we had our first showing scheduled. We told our real estate agent what was going on and that we should probably postpone our meeting with her. She was really helpful and gracious. Wednesday the young couple came to look at the house. They asked to come with some "experts" to walk through again on Saturday. Upon their departure Saturday, they told us to expect a call on Sunday afternoon. Sunday afternoon they called us with the official offer. Wow!

After about 3 or 4 negotiation calls back and forth, we arrived at a deal. Yesterday afternoon (Monday) we both signed the papers for a buy/sell agreement. The closing can be scheduled any time between August 17 and 30. Can you imagine any arrangement or sequence of events that could have been more perfect?

Of course, like any deal, we wish we could have made a little more profit. But when something like this happens, it is no time to be greedy. I can imagine us holding out for some more money and then being upset with God 3 months from now about Him not taking care of our housing issues.

So Joel...what's the point?

For many of our friends and family at Faith Church they immediately saw this as a sign that the Gorveattes have in fact heard from God and are following his will. Tracy and I don't exactly see it that way. We know many people who have answered the same kind of calling, only to deal with months or years of financial complications because their homes did not sell. I don't think that those people were being any more or less obedient than we are being. Three months from now, if our home had not sold, it would not have changed our conviction that we have been faithful to God's leading.

Tracy thinks that perhaps the immediate sale of our home is not as much about providing affirmation in our hearts (we've had that for the last few weeks)... perhaps this is what God needed to do to give assurance to His people. Perhaps this is to calm the fears of those who wonder what might happen at Faith Church. Perhaps this is a tangible reminder that God is in control and that He fully intends to bless the future of this church.

On the other hand, for Tracy and me it also marks a point of no returning. I remind you again that we have not received the official invitation from the members of First Wesleyan Church in Tuscaloosa, AL. I have been receiving emails from and hearing rumors of many people who aren't so sure about "this Joel-guy". It must seem strange for them to hear about all this stuff going on in Michigan, when they have not even yet had the chance to cast their vote.

My main prayer is just that all of God's children would listen for His guidance. There seems to be a method behind all of this madness. And even if the people of First Wesleyan decide they don't want us, there is a peace in our hearts. I keep repeating the phrase over and again: "Following God is seldom easy, but it is always worth it."

We are anxiously anticipating our visit to Alabama this weekend. And I have to admit... even though it feels like a blind date and we know that we'll be poked, prodded, questioned, and evaluated while spending a few intense days under the spotlight... there is also a growing sense of excitement.

Would God shake us up and turn our whole world upside down for no good reason? I don't think so. We're trusting that years from now everyone will look back and say, "What an amazing God we serve, who knows how to do things greatly in his own perfect time!"

Can you imagine what possibilities the future might hold?

Monday, July 09, 2007

different feelings

This is such a strange feeling. Tracy and I have never before been in this position. I've never resigned as a senior pastor (I've also never been fired, which I guess is a good thing!)

The people of Faith Church have raised us. I was 21 and Tracy was 19 when we began here with a small group that mostly consisted of retirees and older folks. For the most part, the fears of people being angry or hurt have not been as a drastic as I perhaps anticipated. In fact, it is comforting to know that people don't want you to sure beats the alternative of people rejoicing to get rid of you.

And while it is a strange feeling, it also "feels right". We have no idea whether the people in Tuscaloosa will welcome us with open arms. But we have this deep peace and an abiding assurance that we are acting in obedience to the Spirit's leading.

Some people seem to have a direct pipeline from God. They often claim that God has spoken to them in a clear and audible voice. I can't claim to always be that certain. I believe that God often reveals his will through the Word and the community of discerning believers. But this is definitely one of those times when I feel a very strong sense of direction (even compulsion) from God.

If you are reading this today, and you are a praying person, I would really appreciate your intercession. Would you join Tracy and me in praying for these 3 things:

1) Our family visit to Tuscaloosa on July 22nd. May God prepare the way and make His will crystal clear to both us and the people of First Wesleyan Church.

2) The sale of our home. The market for real estate is rough in Lansing. But God owns it all, and we trust that He will work it out in His own perfect timing.

3) The future of Faith Church. There are some great prospects for senior pastoral leadership who might be very interested. This is the most amazing church and it deserves nothing less than the best. We trust that God has even greater plans than could be imagined. May God's Spirit bolster the spirit of His people at Faith and may our optimism be undying.

Thank you for your prayers! We'll keep you in the loop.

Monday, July 02, 2007

written june 29, 2007

Much of the detail from the last few weeks is found here in this letter. It was read to the entire church this past Sunday morning (July 1st). This has all happened so fast that everyone's head is spinning. But we have a deep and abiding sense of peace over this, in a way that I could never have imagined. Please read this letter and pray with us that God will be glorified in and through the great faith of His people.

To Our Dear Family at Faith Church,

Twelve years ago Tracy and I began this journey together with you. God made it clear that he had great plans for this church. We shared a passionate conviction that we were to become a major force for Christ, both in Greater Lansing and around the World.

God has changed lives. We’ve seen miracles and God’s Spirit at work. Our priorities have been realigned. Families have been restored. Hurts and wounds have been healed. We’ve experienced how great God’s church can be. We’ve even had the privilege of partnering with new church plants and investing in other churches to help them become more effective in their mission. And most importantly, people have come to Christ and believers have been intentionally equipped to become world-changers.

Twelve years ago, I could never have dreamed that God could place such passion in my heart for a church and for a city. Our children have been born here. You have loved us, trusted us, cared for us, encouraged us, believed in us and treated us much better than any pastor could ever deserve. Together we have learned the beauty of true Christian community. We never imagined that God would ever want for us to be anywhere, but right here with you.

One thing we have learned is this: that God’s plan is seldom easy, but it is always worth it. That is why this week we believe we must say “Yes” to His calling, which means having to say “Good-Bye” to those whom we love so deeply.

About two weeks ago, I received a call from the District Superintendent of the South Coastal District of the Wesleyan Church. He said that they had been searching the nation for the right candidate to become the new Senior Pastor at First Wesleyan Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It is the city where I went to elementary school when I was growing up. He asked for Tracy and me to pray about it and get back with him. My immediate response was to say, “No”. I told him we had no interest in ever leaving Faith Church, but that Tracy and I would pray and consider it for 24 hours. As you know, it is dangerous to seek the will of God because His plans often do not line up with your own.

We felt God leading us to not shut the door on the possibility quite so quickly. We immediately shared this information with the appropriate leaders here at Faith Church, wanting for there to be full disclosure and no secrets. Over the last 2 weeks, the process of phone interviews and dialogue with the leaders of First Wesleyan left us with the impression that this might be what He wants for our family. However, this is not at all the answer I wanted from God. The challenges in Tuscaloosa are overwhelming. The culture of that church is so radically different. They need a leader who can help them transition to reach a new generation and a new culture with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. It is so far out of my comfort zone that, left to my own devices, I would not even consider it.

This Monday night, Tracy and I fell before God in prayer, asking for His clear direction. I wanted signs and wonders. I wanted His handwriting in the sky. I wanted that big, bold, undeniable fireworks kind of experience in order to confirm the voice of God. That was our final prayer before going to sleep.

The next morning (Tuesday) I woke up, and as I crawled out of bed there was a still, small voice repeating in my head, “You have to go, Joel. You have to go.” Again, this is not what I wanted to hear. In fact, I didn’t tell Tracy until Wednesday night. Somehow, speaking it out loud would make it real in a way that I did not yet want to acknowledge. Wednesday night I looked at Tracy and whispered, “We have to go, don’t we?” And she said, “Yes, I know we do.” We had not yet even been invited to come, but she had sensed it from that very first phone call. She had been waiting for God to confirm it in my heart. That very night, the board at First Wesleyan voted unanimously to recommend us to the church body. Now the ball was in our court.

So the next morning (Thursday), I told our District Superintendent what we were sensing in our hearts. He determined, along with our Vice Chairman Dave Shanks and our board, that the best thing for Faith Church is for me to resign in order for the leadership search process to begin here. I agreed to do so. This is all so brand new, that there is no transition plan yet in place. I don’t even have a new job. The church body in Tuscaloosa has not yet even extended the official invitation. To be clear, this act today is a total step of faith in our desire to be obedient to God.

I believe my most immediate responsibility is to finish well with this church and with you, whom we love so deeply. The Faith Church leadership board will be determining the best plan of action for a transition. This church has great leadership, and I encourage you to trust them implicitly. I will be teaching and serving here with you through the summer (don’t think you’re getting rid of us yet). But those details are in God’s hands. We just don’t know what the immediate future holds.

It is such an affirmation of God’s power at work to see what we have accomplished together. The purchase of the new property was the right decision. We believe in the value of Reaching Beyond, and we’re honored to complete our Capital Campaign commitment. Now we pray with great assurance that the greatest days for Faith Church are yet to come. Every single one of our partner churches in West Michigan who have experienced a similar change in leadership, have continued to grow to new heights of effectiveness. Things will be different, yes. But our God and your calling is still the same. This is a city that needs Jesus, and Faith Church must continue to grow in influence and impact.

We love you more than you will ever know. While our hearts are broken and sad, we are also confident in the deep and abiding peace that God has placed in our hearts. Please pray for us and support us in this time (we need you now more than ever before). And we promise to pray for you. I look forward to hearing your future stories of victory! We will always find great joy in knowing that the Gorveatte family played a role in the history of this, of one of the greatest churches in the world.