A Letter to Hilltop Lakes Chapel
Dear Hilltop Lakes Chapel family,
Sara and I are heartbroken that we will not be able to say goodbye to you all as we planned. It is painful, but I am so thankful to Pastor Tony for doing what is necessary to protect the congregation during this frightening time. Please continue to pray for your church and its leadership in the days to come.
In the beginning of his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you… because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now… It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart” (Phil. 1:3-7). While Paul was fond of all of his congregations, Philippi was particularly special to him, as is clear in his heartfelt prayer for the congregation. Many ministers today have trouble resonating with how Paul felt about this church, but not me. Truly, I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, Hilltop Lakes Chapel.
This church has been a place of warmth, welcome, and wonder. Warmth. No one has ever been cold toward me here. Even before being on staff, Hilltop has been a hospitable place, welcoming my entire family to their community from our very first visit. When I began dating Sara, I could not invite her to my church soon enough. I was proud when Hilltop received her just as warmly as they received me. Welcome. You all did more than receive us into your community. You welcomed me as a member of pastoral staff, as a leader, a responsibility for which I am eternally grateful. Many congregations have trouble welcoming young leadership, much less entrusting them with significant responsibilities. I cannot relate to leaders who have experienced those hardships. You all embraced my calling to the ministry, and entrusted the development of your youth ministry to my very raw leadership. What’s more, I was welcomed to our church’s pulpit, to adult teaching responsibilities, to hospital rooms, funerals, and board meetings. Many churches want their young leaders to stay in “their lane,” but you all welcomed me into the broader pastoral ministries of the church. I only hope to pay that welcome forward over the course of my ministry. Wonder. I along with many of you wonder and marvel at what God has done in our church over the last six years. We created an identity as the place involved in youth “outreach,” providing food and hospitality to our community’s at-risk children and teenagers. We touched the lives of young people who are not often included in any kind of organization. We enjoyed camps in places like Arlington, Texas and Glorieta, New Mexico. We sowed the seeds of the kingdom, the love of Christ, among many who had never heard. I’ll never forget our ministry together.
Now a new chapter is beginning in both of our lives. You as a church are being asked to do something very difficult: send one of your own to a new place. In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit said to the church at Antioch, “set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13:2). Now the Holy Spirit speaks once more, asking you to set Sara and I apart for the work to which he has called us in Newton, North Carolina. This is hard, especially given the cancellation of our June 28th reception. Antioch was able to lay hands on their apostles and send them on their way. We have to settle for a letter. What we must confide in is the joy of what awaits, what God is going to do in Hilltop Lakes and in Newton. While we are no longer co-laboring in the same area, we nonetheless remain partners in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I know we each have questions about the future, but any confusion about what is to come ought to be superseded by our confidence that “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion” (Phil. 1:6). God is beginning an exciting new work for Sara and I; one that he has been preparing us for since before we were born (Gal. 1:15-16). I know that it is painful to see us off, but I hope that you may find happiness in knowing that whatever God does through us in North Carolina, you – Hilltop Lakes Chapel – were crucial in preparing us for that ministry. To quote Paul once more, "I hold you in my heart," Hilltop.