Eight years ago, a few friends and I sat in a small office and dreamed out loud about what it would look like to plant and pastor a local church in Albany, Georgia. We thought about the potential of a church where truth was taught, worship was pure, and accountability was high. A year later, we were parked in the driveway of my parents’ home in Leesburg when we prayed for a “yes” or “no”. The answer from the Lord was “Yes.” And, as it related to Greenbriar Church, that has been the answer every day of my life ever since.
Every single day, learning what it means to follow Christ with more than just my head but with my heart, my actions, my thoughts, my words and my prayers. Learning what it means to receive real accountability for my attitude and actions and to be a part of creating and nurturing a safe atmosphere for confession of sin, real repentance, and a striving after holiness unlike anything I’ve experienced before. For these things, I’m extremely grateful.
I’ve seen leaders, partners and attendees carousel through the doors of our church family, some of which I still consider dear friends in spite of the lack of their physical presence. Somewhat more near to my heart, I’ve seen many others show up at Greenbriar who’ve found this place to be “home”.
And that’s what Greenbriar honestly feels like to me. It feels like home. In many ways, it is home. This place – these people – they’ve seen me grow. They’ve seen me change. They’ve seen me learn to teach better and handle the Scriptures more carefully. They’ve seen me learn to treasure Christ more and continually find Him better than whatever else I may hold up to Him in comparison. They’ve seen me learn what it means to be generous with not only my time, but also my money. They’ve seen me mess up – a lot – and they’ve seen me learn from those mistakes. They’ve seen me make great leadership decisions and they’ve stuck around even when I made really poor ones. Greenbriar has seen me confront my introverted nature and learn to love messy, dirty, imperfect people. Greenbriar has also seen me contend with the day-to-day realization that I am one of these types of people myself. And on a truly personal level, Greenbriar has seen me struggle with sin, endure fair amounts of hardship, and through it all, has seen me fall back in the only real safe place I’ll ever have and that is in Christ alone.
Greenbriar has also walked beside me as I changed from a boy into a man who’s learning to lead his wife well. This place – these people – have seen me meet the woman who would become my wife and many crowded around us on August 18th three years ago to celebrate the next step in God’s great plan for us as we were married and we’ve been covered in the prayers of precious saints every day since. In just three years we’ve experienced as many ups and downs as one can imagine and even still, one thing has remained constant. Greenbriar Church. God’s people gathered in God’s church, always helping us to remember His heart and redemptive purposes through the triumph and pain of each moment of this beautiful union we call marriage. Our hearts are completely full when we consider the ties at Greenbriar that bind us together in ways we could never have imagined.
Which brings us to this…
For the past two years, I’ve wrestled with thoughts of “what’s next” for Paige and myself. I tell people all the time that I feel like my leap into ministry was somewhat backwards – that most people go to school for years for training then jump into a pastoral position to toil for years, carrying the burden that God has called them to shoulder. As for me? I jumped in at 21 years old. With both feet. And have felt for 7 years like I’ve been swimming in the deep end with God, unsure of how to pull this thing off but confident that in many ways He would do great things in and through me, and sometimes in spite of me. And He has been unspeakably faithful.
Thoughts of moving on have come during darker seasons, when things were tough or I have disagreed with our direction or a decision. But none of these thoughts prevail today. In fact, the confirmation we are feeling in our current season has landed while things are surprisingly bright. We enjoy deep fellowship and community with many we are close to here and the ministry areas I’m directly responsible for are fruitful by whatever accounts we choose to measure them by. Our staff relationships and feelings about where Greenbriar is headed are stronger and more sure than ever. Things are just plain and simply going well. And yet the Lord has impressed it upon us that the timing is still right to leave.
For a few years now the call to plant a church has been heavy on my heart – a feeling I’ve shared with our church leadership and that, for all intents and purposes, has been confirmed. However, the timing has never felt right. Through prayer and a few conversations, we’ve decided it to be best to seek out opportunities for training and equipping to prepare for future endeavors that God may lead us into pursuing. Our main goal has always been to find an environment that pairs leadership training with academics and we’ve settled on what feels like the best fit. This January, Paige and I will be moving to Kansas City, Missouri to begin work on my Master’s degree at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Later in the spring, we will be applying for a spot in the ThreeFourteen residency program, a ministry training residency at The Journey Church, an Acts 29 church in St. Louis led by A29 board member Darrin Patrick. The residency program will last two years, finishing up in the Winter of 2018.
We would greatly appreciate your prayers and support throughout the transition and during our time away. Unsure of what the future holds, I do know one thing – that our time at Greenbriar has been nothing short of exactly what we have needed it to be throughout these seven years. I tell people all the time that, apart from marriage, my time spent at Greenbriar Church has been the single most sanctifying experience of my entire life and for that I’m forever grateful. Beyond the feelings of indebtedness to Christ we continually feel, Paige and I are overwhelmed with gratefulness for the people who make up Greenbriar Church. We are completely indebted to our Pastor, Tim Bice, for the life-shaping influence he and Jaye have both had on our lives for the past decade. We are indebted to the staff team for putting up with years of cynicism that I hope has become more constructive as I age and mature. We’re indebted to our elders and their wives for their listening ear, love, support, and stern words when needed. And we are indebted to the people of Greenbriar for the unfathomable gifts of love and grace they probably never knew they were handing out. Thank you for helping us to see the gospel made visible in your willingness to speak truth without forsaking your relationships and friendships with us. Thanks for all the smiles, the laughs, the hugs, the calls, the texts, the emails, the kind words, the love and support we were unsure we needed. But let me be clear, we needed it and are unsure how we could have ever lived without it.
As a write, I can absolutely stand alongside the Apostle Paul and make his words in Philippians 1:3 my forever refrain: To the Elders, Staff, and Partners of Greenbriar Church, I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. And I pray God’s grace on you for the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. May His Spirit pour out here unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed and may we continually give back praise to the One who so richly deserves it.
We love you deeply, Greenbriar, and honestly may have never have known that we loved you so until it was time to leave.
Mike and Paige