Thank You, New Life Bible Fellowship
While driving to the Mexican restaurant Qdoba, I got my first phone call from Pastor Greg. I pulled over to take the call. He and I didn’t talk but a few minutes. I remember telling him that I wanted to make sure I answered to say hello, but also that I couldn’t talk because I was on a date with my wife. Brooke and I had just dropped off our three children at Megan and Allen’s house for babysitting.
That phone call was exactly 8 years ago, the Valentine’s Day of 2011, which simultaneously feels like yesterday but also like another lifetime ago.
At the time, we lived in St. Louis. But Pastor Greg was calling from Tucson, where a growing church called New Life Bible Fellowship was looking to hire a new pastor. And I was looking to be hired as a pastor, my first full-time job in ministry.
To be candid, the search process wasn’t going well for me. My lack of experience was part of the problem. Another factor was the recession; churches simply weren’t hiring. I’ve since learned many pastors had similar experiences during these years. If a church had three pastors and one left, they were learning to get by with two. And if a church was growing and needed to add staff, most didn’t.
At some point in this search process, I remember saying to my wife, “You know that list we made, the one with our dream job in the dream city? I’m throwing it in the trash. I just need to find a job—forget the right job.” That’s how bad it was.
But then Greg called, and a flicker of hope was kindled. It seemed like a long shot, though. I’d never been to the Southwest, let alone Tucson. And when I had first applied for the job, sending my cover letter and resume and references and recommendation letters, I called New Life to see how the process was going and to let them know I was interested. The kind woman who answered the phone—who I now know as the lovely Cindy Carpenter—said, “It’s so nice of you to call. The search is going great.” When I asked how many people had applied, Cindy replied, “Let me look . . . Oh, I think it’s up to three hundred.” See what I mean by a long shot.
Later in the interviewing process, Greg and John flew out to visit our home. When we gave them a tour of our house, I showed them my laundry room, which is a bizarre thing to do, but for some reason I did. We also took a walk around the block. John, the worship pastor of the church, was kind enough to give my young children piggyback rides as we walked through my neighborhood.
I know, I know, I know. I’m rambling. I’ll get to the point. The point is I’m really thankful to New Life Bible Fellowship. And I’m really thankful to God. My first job as a pastor didn’t come without a few bumps, even a few bumps in that interviewing process. But I’m glad for it—all the good and all the hard.
Today, 8 years after my first phone call with Pastor Greg, my book to help pastors in the job-search process comes out. On the dedication page I wrote:
To New Life Bible Fellowship
for taking a risk on a rookie pastor
whose calling was clear but gifts were raw
If you want to buy the book, that’s great I guess. But today I’m not so worried about getting more sales. I’m more concerned about saying “thank you” to everyone in Tucson who we met during the interview process and everyone who loved us while I pastored at New Life. There were many of you, far too many to name. (But if I were to mention just a few names, I’d be sure to say the Lavines, Grandma Sandy, all the Tramels, and Jordan Carpenter; they loved us beyond what could ever be asked.)
New Life was the perfect place for me to learn and struggle and grow. It was the perfect place to develop my gifts, which admittedly were very raw. It was a perfect place to give and receive love.
So thank you, New Life Bible Fellowship.
* Church photo from New Life’s welcome video.