By Justin Alabata
A few months ago, I accepted the call to be a worship pastor at a church in Apopka, Florida. I was born and raised in Hinsdale, Illinois and had started my first call to full time worship ministry in Bolingbrook, Illinois.
This transition was extremely difficult for me. I had spent the last five years pouring my heart and soul into a church that I grew to love. It was intentional. It was excellent. It was growing. We watched God create what some have called a “dream church,” and there was so much more that we wanted to accomplish. On top of all of that, the church became my family. Saying goodbye to my church in Bolingbrook was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I even repeatedly told God and other people that I did not want to leave. However, I knew that this church belonged to God, and He was taking care of it long before I got there. It was time for God to take me to the next part of my story.
You may have gone through this experience in the past, or you may face this type of a change in the future. The following are five things I learned from this part of my journey that you may find helpful in your own journey.
1. Sometimes God will call you to leave and go where you don’t want to go.
Florida was one of the last places in the country I wanted to move to. I grew up in Illinois where we have seasons. I admit that I’m one of the few people who enjoys winter. In Florida, it is hot. Very hot. Like, most of the time. Florida is very different from what I was used to in Illinois.
This new church also looked very different from the church I spent over five years helping to rebuild. But, that was just it. The church I had grown accustomed to wasn’t the same church it had been five years before. If I’m honest with myself, I felt the same way about the church in Bolingbrook when I started there. Which leads me to my next point…
2. God has called you to be a catalyst of change.
Realizing this was very humbling for me. If you’re like me, you have dreams of leading out in contemporary worship music in front of large groups of singing people with awesome sound and lighting. In high school, I told my dad that I wanted to be the next Chris Tomlin. These churches looked nothing remotely like that. But, I learned that my desire stretched far beyond the dreams of big production. The desire that God had placed in my heart was for passionate and spirit-filled worship. I watched that desire turn into change in my previous church, and I am already seeing the beginnings of that in my new church.
3. God has called you to be a part of the work that He is already doing.
The call to be a catalyst for change is intimidating. Most of the time, the task is impossible. People don’t like change. Sometimes people will not like you for trying to change things. Sometimes people will tell you to your face that they don’t like you or “your changes.”
It is easy to feel like it is your responsibility to make drastic improvements at your church. You might even feel like you have the perfect formulas or solutions to take your church from “lame” to “amazing.” I’ve learned, however, that that is not how God works. He has a plan for His church, and has simply brought you on to experience the ride.
Know that God has called you to this. God has called you to be a part of His work. The work seems impossible because only He can do it. Our task is be obedient to His call and to see what He wants to show us.
4. Learn from your previous context, but do not compare.
I fall into the temptation of comparison more often than I should. It’s easy to compare your church to another church or even your previous “perfect” church and think that the solution will come from the “better” church. Although there will be many things that we will learn from other churches, each church community is different. God can and will do new things. It is okay to share your old story, but your church is writing their own. Join them for the ride.
5. Invest in people, and learn to receive when people invest in you.
Before I even moved to Florida, people at my new church already began to invest in me. My new church family helped me understand that they were willing to do whatever they could to help me do my job better. Whether or not this happens to you, choose to invest in people. The return will surprise you. As soon as I could, I did just this, and the support I’ve received has increased exponentially in the short time I have been here. When a community loves you, receive it well and love them right back. I’ve come to realize that God will show you His love through a community that loves each other.
My journey at my new church has just begun, and I still have much more to learn and experience. But, I want you to know that God has a plan for you and that He loves you very much. It will not be easy. There will many be obstacles, but I challenge you to follow Him in obedience. I challenge you to let Him overcome those obstacles. I challenge you let Him show you the great things He has in store for you. Because HE will.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6)