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.