It’s been a little while (6 months or so) since I’ve given an update on our new life here in Texas. Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind!
It all began with a phone call from a church in Dallas, TX called Fellowship Bible Church. They were looking for a pastor to be in charge of their newly implemented Life Group strategy. I admit, I was skeptical at first. The last thing that I really felt called to was the administration of an existing church system. My gifting is more in creatively building and growing contexts in which people come to a deeper understanding of their calling. God has continually shown this aspect this calling through the way people I trust have spoken into my life. So, I was, like I said, skeptical.
This scepticism, coupled with some pretty bad experiences of past church hurts, caused me to approach the intro Skype conversation with K and R, (the two guys that I have already grown to appreciate and love) with a measure of tentativeness. Most of all, I wanted to be truthful. I wanted to understand exactly what they were looking for in this position while being honest about my own shortcomings and ministry mindset.
It’s interesting how, in these circumstances, God can step into the picture and provide glimpses of a vision for the future. After my skype conversation, I felt a strange peace, one that I couldn’t really define or verbally communicate. I was “in the process” with several churches and a few non-profs, having gone through phone interviews and extensive questionnaires, but this felt different.
In the meantime, we were all living with my parents in North Carolina, a state I have never even had the privilege of visiting until our abrupt departure from the UK. I had wrapped up all the loose ends associated with my PhD thesis, been awarded my doctorate from the University of Aberdeen (UK), and received close to a million rejection letters for university posts. (Sadly, I had become a product of this messed-up system, one you can read more about in a blog by Peter Enns) We were really enjoying our mini-“vacation” from the crazy stress of the past few months (check this out here) but things were starting to get financially tight.
One beautiful aspect of our time in NC was being in close proximity to family. Watching the boys reconnect with my parents, their aunt and uncle, and their cousins filled Melodie and I (who also felt this same thing happening in our lives) with immense joy. Adding to this joy, was the fact that Melodie was experiencing a really great run of health. After several months of scary hospitalizations for her undiagnosed condition, it was great to see her experiencing life without fear. So, except for our financial situation, things were going pretty great. (I am immensely grateful for the people who prayerfully supported us during this difficult time.)
As a husband and father, the financial situations weighed heavily on me. I just could not understand how God had thought fit to put us through the extensive ridiculousness of having to leave to the UK, only to end up in a strange holding pattern, totally dependent on the generosity of family and friends. I called this time Limboland and you can read more about my in-the-moment-thoughts here.
In all honesty, I wasn’t really interested in looking for a church position. I never wanted to use church work as a fallback. I also assumed that God was heading me towards academia; given all the time, energy, mental resources, and eye-ruining research I put into the PhD. I also felt a deep sense of thriving as I explored scripture (and other related historical writings), engaged in high-level academic (aka. nerdy) discussion, and presented at conferences. I really thought that, in order to be faithful to my calling, this was the environment I was probably needed to end up in. You can read about my struggle with the concept of calling here.
Things changed when God spoke to us. It wasn’t one of those sky-cracking-thunder-and-lighting moments, but it had the same effect on Melodie, me, and (even) our kids. It progressed like this. On a Thursday, I received an email from a very close friend. This email held a mixture of loving encouragement and gentle admonishment. In this more than two page epistle, my friend strongly suggested that I was limiting the potential for God to use me in a pastoral capacity by not looking at church ministry.
I read it through once and then put it away. I really didn’t want to deal with it. My friend’s words cut me, in a good way, to the core. I needed time to think and it was pretty crazy around the house that weekend with nieces and nephews. I wanted some space to think, but God had other ideas. That Sunday, the pastor preached on an interesting topic. Yep, you guessed it, the main question of his sermon was: “Are you limiting your ability to be used by God?”
In this sermon, he discussed things like: being open to God’s will for your life despite your preconceived notions of vocation and calling, not turning a blind eye to circumstances, and letting people you trust speak into your life. Both Melodie and I looked at each other and were pretty much floored. It was so poignant a message that our (then 14-year-old) son turned to us after service and said: “Wow, it was like he was speaking right to us, huh guys?!” When your teenage kid discerns that the Spirit of God working through the pastor’s sermon, not only should you be shocked that he actually listened to the message, but you should also start taking things he notices a bit more seriously.
To top it all off, I hadn’t mentioned a word about the aforementioned email from my good friend to anyone. I talked about it later with Melodie and we agreed God was trying to get something significant through our thick heads. We listened and I began to engage in the search process that would eventually lead us to Fellowship Dallas.
Now, back to how we came to end up here in Dallas. After the Skype interview, we came down to this small Texas hamlet for a visit. Three weeks later I moved here and started work. A week or so later the family followed. Like I said before, this has been a whirlwind. I just passed the 6-month mark of serving here and, during this time, it has been very cool to see God working within our Life Groups. I’m also privileged to serve on several cross-strategy area committees and be a part of the sermon planning process. I’ve also had several opportunities to put the ol’ PhD into action by teaching through several areas of the Bible in a few different church contexts. Our ministry to men and a group called the Master’s Class (a more mature crowd of empty-nesters) both really love to soak in the word of God! They have also been very gracious to let me teach an initiate discussion around fun biblical and theological concepts.
Who would have thought that, a year ago, we would be serving in such a uniquely awesome setting in Dallas, TX. I’m still fighting the overwhelming urge to become a Cowboys fan, maybe if they start winning I’ll jump on the bandwagon.
If you would like a copy of our Christmas letter which includes an update on each family member, please let me know.
Merry Christmas from the Carroll Clan!