Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why I Moved to New England

Is that news to you? It's probably the worst kept secret in my tiny niche of the Interwebs, but I moved to Vermont late summer of last year.

I know this has been confusing for some people, especially as my profile (such as it is) has risen with the publication of my first book last summer. At the time of publication I was still the pastor of Element, a missional community planted by some friends and I a couple of years ago in Nashville, and that's what my little bio says on the back of the book. As I was getting inquiries about Element and invites to lunch/coffee in Nash Vegas, I was packing to move to the great green north. But I couldn't really tell anybody, at least not publicly.

In one of the weirdest experiences of my life, my family has had to basically keep my move off the public radar (for the most part) because my wife works/worked in the tumultuous world of Christian retail, and word of her impending vacancy would have caused some headaches for her and her superiors. Complicating matters was that we still needed her income until our house sold. And our house hasn't sold. But we wanted our daughters to start the school year in their new home so they and I moved up and Becky stayed behind, and we have been painfully separated for going on 8 months. It sucks.

But that doesn't tell you where I went and why. In the summer of 2008 I began searching God's will on a variety of things that all seemed to have a common thread. I loved Element and the people in it, but I was becoming more and more disillusioned with ministry in the Bible Belt. I grew up in Southeast Texas and have lived in Nashville for the last 13 years, so the Bible Belt is in my blood. And I believe gospel-centered missional churches are the answer to the inoculation to the gospel that is systemic there. But I also began to sense that I was losing heart for the culture there. It wasn't them, and it wasn't me: it was both of us. At the same time, I was pastoring Element for free, scraping up some income with my writing work, but my dream and Becky's since the beginning of our romance was for her to be a stay-at-home mom. I couldn't give her that gift in Nashville.

Those were two big reasons to make a radical move, but the biggest was just trying to sort out where to go and what to do. I am called to preach and minister the gospel; I know this. Despite having planted a church and being passionate about church planting movements, I know I am not a church planter. I'm a pastor. I don't have the wiring to plant. But I love planters and want to encourage and edify them however I can and I want to attract them and raise them up in my church and support them because church planting is vital and necessary and becoming more so every day.

But in any event I knew I was looking for an existing church that was in need of a senior or teaching pastor. But I don't see myself as a product to be marketed, so in the end I sent my resume to only two churches. One in Michigan and one in Vermont. You should know that I had never been to Michigan. And not only had I never been to Vermont, I had never been to New England. The furthest "northeast" I had ever been was Chicago. But I don't think it was a coincidence that as I was praying and thinking about where to seek out ministry, religious research was emerging showing New England as the least churched and least religious region of the U.S. And coming in dead last in nearly every survey was the state of Vermont. And that's why I wanted to go there.

A friend told me I was going to kill my career doing this. That kind of emboldened me. :-) There was something about the little ad from the little church that intrigued me, but I'm not quite sure what. Turns out that a hundred resumes had already reached Middletown Springs Community Church before mine showed up, but something about mine intrigued my friend Betty, who was charged by the search committee with screening incoming applications. In the fall of 2008 I got a phone call. That turned into multiple phone calls over a series of months. Lots of prayer. In February 2009 I took a weekend off of Element to fly to Vermont and preach and answer questions -- the leadership of Element knew all about this -- and a couple of weeks later I was told the vote had been voted unanimous (with one abstention) to call me as pastor.

It was tough to leave Element, especially knowing that my departure basically meant shutting the doors on it as an organization. But I believe together we built each other up into potent little gospel missionaries, and I am grateful most of them are now in other gospel-centered church plants in the area (Immanuel Church pastored by Ray Ortlund, who was exceedingly good to us, Journey Church pastored by Jamie George, and others). But I know God was calling me north, to a mission field difficult in ways different from the Bible Belt.

They wanted me. I wanted them. And God didn't tell me not to do it.
So here I am.

Oh, also: My wife put in her notice at work and will be moving up in May. It's a long time coming. If you don't mind, you could pray that our house sells before then, so we are not a burden to our church family, despite their joyful initiative and willingness to bear this burden to reunite our family.

Coming soon:
Why I Love My Church
Why You (Maybe) Should Move to New England


Jason said...

I will definitely be praying for you, bro. If my wife and I weren't broke I'd buy the house from you. :)

Fusion! said...

Thanks for your honesty sir. I know we've only talked on twitter, but I am glad to know you, and who knows, maybe one day we can work together. I too feel how you do about planting. I'm a teacher, not a pastor, not a planter etc... and the call to that is a bit more difficult to fulfill (not too many books on teaching as a ministry!) So I shall be keeping you in prayer. Best wishes sir.

Brian said...

"kill my career"

You would have killed your career if you done your own thing while ignoring God in the process.

Apparently, being Jesus-shaped means going against the grain...even in the Christian subculture.

Keep it up. You are an encouragement to me and to many others.

TK said...

Hey Jared--Welcome to New England. It is indeed a different place. I grew up and swore I would never raise my kids here. God had different plans and put a burden on me for this place.

It so good to hear that godly folks are being called here. We see far too much of the reverse; people heading south for what they call an "easier" life.
Peace and prayers to you, your family and your ministry.


Jacob Vanhorn said...

Love this story bro. Love, love, love it. Except that thebecky had to stay in Nash Vegas. Hate that. Praying for you and your family in VT.

salguod said...

If I were suddenly able to move wherever I wanted, there are two churches that immediately come to mind that I'd want to be a part of (assuming that I felt the need to leave my congregation, which I don't).

The first is Patrick Mead's Rochester Church of Christ because of the amazing ways they embrace their CoC heritage while still engaging with other Christians and the world.

The second is yours because of the profound impact your writing has had on me.

If able, I'd gladly and eagerly join either of you. I hope one day we can meet for real. If you need a stopping point in Columbus in your last trips between VT and Nash Vegas, look me up.

I'm sad as you are that Element is no more, but glad that what you began there lives on in other congregations.

I hope the house sells soon so that you can enjoy your family free from concern.

Kyle Bushre said...

Hi Jared,
Thanks for sharing this story. I too was a church planter who realized he wasn't a church planter and then moved to the East Coast last year. I'm sure our stories are quite different in detail, but I found your explanation encouraging. When I left my plant we had to close the doors. It was a really hard time, but it was the right thing to do. Now I'm in just the right place doing what God wants me to do. Thanks for the encouragement bro.

Jared said...

Thanks for the comments, all. I appreciate it.

Doug: Wow. Thanks, brother. It's been a pleasure to "know" you over the years. It's really awesome how enduring the Thinklings community has been.


Kyle: Thanks for *your* encouragement, as well.
I knew I wasn't a planter back when we did it, but our community was in a position where we *had* to plant. That's a story in of itself (and I share the gist of it in my next book). But we did it because we had to.

Bob said...

Chicago! Heh. That's a good one. Southerners don't often settle down up here I've noticed. Might be the weather. Might be no one saying y'all. Might be the lack of megachurches. But I'm pleased as punch to have you in my neck of the woods . . . roughly speaking.

How bout them Pats!

nhe said...

Hi Jared

Thanks for telling your story - I have been wondering what was up - I look forward to hearing the rest of it.

Long before I found the Thinklings, I have been wanting to move up north - ever since hearing Tim Keller speak in NYC in 1995 to a small group of Campus Crusade City Directors that I was a part of.

I have had the same angst here in Atlanta that you had in Nashville (albeit as a lay-person now). I'm still trying to work through it - some positive signs for grassroots ministry here lately.

I'm always encouraged by your writing - you're a big part of my considering recently that God is leading my wife and I back into full-time ministry.

C. Holland said...

Our story is so similar to planting in California until we felt called to become missionaries in Western Europe, quite the unchurched (and uncool in the missionary scene) place. Heard the "you'll kill your career" speech, too. But we're happier here than if we had followed some so-called "Christian" counsel instead of God.

BTW, California needs church plants too, and we were even raised there. But God has given us a love for the culture and people of our mission field. We're cut out for this, not church planting in the States. You gotta go where God leads, even if it doesn't make sense to others. God bless you for going against the Christian culture grain to an unchurched area, and praise God that your family will be soon reunited. :)

Anonymous said...

That's awesome. Been reading the blog for a while and enjoy your thoughts on things.
My wife has a brother that lives in northern Vermont and I've wrestled with the idea of going there too. Look forward to hearing you talk about doing life and ministry in New England.

Roberta said...

Glad to know God is moving in the Northeast. The western side of Washington state is unchurched but eastern Washington has more believers, I believe. I'm praying for the Church in the U.S. Many are teaching false doctrines. May God bless you with a steady income, a sold house, and your family together and stronger than ever.

Leslie M. Levy said...

I don't even remember how I found Thinklings, but I cut my writing teeth by discussing theology with you guys. I learned about the need to network for a blog to be successful (which wasn't possible then), and now I am finally putting that to use.

I admire you for following God's lead no matter what. My family is there right now. Our project is crazy, but he's made it clear to us. I am struggling right now with allowing my faith to sit just under the radar for now. I know God is calling us to do this, but I also feel pulled to reach the (try not to gag on the term) "unchurched." Only as a kind of covert magnet who will then point people to, well, people like you.

c.holland--Western Europe is a field of unripened wheat right now. We support a missionary in Paris with Avant ministries and have a couple of good online friends in the Netherlands. We know. Blessings to you.

The light shines brightest in the blackest night, brothers. Thank you for having the courage to do what makes other people uncomfortable. Isn't it funny how it feels like a second skin once you walk forward in what's been itching at you?

Jared, I would love to visit your new church when we come through the New England area this fall. And I will cover your family in prayer in the meantime. Glad to know Becky can finally join you. Love her well.

Alec T. Lichlyter said...

Any good seminaries up there?

Jared said...

In Vermont? Or New England?

Closest "good" one is Princeton, but it's obviously not evangelical.

sean patrick said...

Thank you.

I've lived my whole life in Connecticut. I've been thinking recently about how the Northeast is so neglected by nearly all of our favorite 'celebrity' pastors, theologians, and missiologists.

On one hand its discouraging and annoying. With the surge of "re-planting" gospel centered churches, everyone seems to have forgotten the need for pioneer planting, even on their own soil!

But on the other hand, it is emboldening, just like your friend's comment has emboldened you. So ignore us, large ministries. Don't send anyone our way. The Lord will raise us up.

Not meant to be divisive, but to help us rely on the Lord to do what only He can do.

Thanks again for this post.

zach hoag said...

Glad to have you in the 802 bro. We need to link up soon.

Chris said...


A blog post discussing the process whereby you realized you are not a church planter would be extremely helpful to many of us.


Randi Jo :) said...

oh WOW!!! how did I miss all this?!?!?!?!?!?! I got a lot of reading to do. This is wonderful! hate i missed reading more about this journey you are on

Molly @ Star Cottage said...

I just found your blog today so forgive me for commenting on a Wicked old post, but It involves New England, so I just had to. First off, you forgot to mention that New England is Wicked Awesome! ;)
We are currently trying to move back in that direction as well, (Maine) we have been for two years. My family lives there. We have had to keep it quiet as well, so my hubby doesn't loose his job.
He has a heart transplant and we need good health ins. And we have also encountered some naysayers from our church, saying things like "why would you want to move there with all those heathens?" "Don't you know New England is super liberal, what about your kids?" Oh and not to mention this gem, "Good luck finding any christians out there."
To wich I reply " there are to Christians in NE, but if there weren't, isn't that all the more reason to go, to reach the lost for Christ!"
I know I don't always think before opening my mouth, but seriously people!
So Jared, I'm glad you risked your "career" to save souls in NE ;)
And seeing that this post is old, I pray that by know you and your wife are happily settled in VT together and no longer owning a house in Nash.
Many blessings to you all for Listening to God's call on your life.

Jonathan Chechile said...

Forgive me for commenting on somethings that is as old as Methuselah, however, Gordon Conwell is rock solid, and pushing out it's fair share of gospel centered guys. Some of us even stay in NE. BTW, love that i can hit the GC app, and get you there.