I remember not being able to sleep.
A few months before these restless nights began, my wife and I accepted a call to move back to my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, to plant a new church. We had prayed through the opportunity, talked with close friends and mentors, and believed that God was leading us to help start a new congregation. Neither of us had thought about church planting before. Some people, with more adventurous and entrepreneurial spirits than us, would tell us they would literally dream of pastoring a brand-new congregation. One confessed to “coveting” our call and prayed for a similar opportunity to come their way. However, neither Beth nor I had ever held such aspirations. At the time we were both ordained pastors in the PC(USA), with two daughters under the age of 2, and the call had come completely out of the blue.
But we soon came to the harsh reality, which all pastors and church leaders experience at some point or another, that we had no idea what we were doing. We were lost and we were scared. Our church was composed of five unchurched friends who agreed to stop by our home at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoons to see what this was all about. Our Children’s Ministry consisted of my mother driving over to watch Veggie Tales videos with my two daughters in their bedroom while the adults met downstairs. We felt lost and completely unprepared for how to move ahead.
So my solution was to stay awake at night and worry. I would try to pray. But mostly I would worry. My wife and Co-Pastor would talk, pray, and think with me. But she was sleeping better than I. Eventually I told a mentor and spiritual advisor that I could not sleep well because I had no idea how we could make this church plant work. We must have misunderstood God’s call. The advice of my mentor, however, was that he believed Beth and I were exactly where God wanted us to be. What we were lacking was neither a call nor the gifts to faithfully engage the task before us. Rather what we needed was a “philosophy of ministry”. A clear sense of how we thought about formation and a path to invite people to walk together towards Jesus and his claim upon our lives. Together, we began to look at the Scriptures and to talk about what a biblical, and missional, philosophy of ministry might look like for our little congregation in Atlanta, Georgia. He hammered away at the idea that there is no formula for all churches but that we needed to discern and clearly articulate what God’s call on our particular community would look like. What was our unique place in the Body of Christ?
Those sleepless nights took place over a decade ago. Our church plant developed into a chartered congregation and my wife and I are now serving another congregation, Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Austin, Texas. Our daughters are in middle school and are no longer willing to sit down for Veggie Tales videos. And if they did we would need to stream them rather than use our old combo VHS/DVD player. So much has changed for us, but not the idea of a philosophy of ministry. That has continued to guide our ministry here at Covenant.
There is the difference in being busy and in being productively faithful. In both cases you will have moments where you grow tired and burdened but only with the latter is there a sense of purpose to it all. When this purpose is present, it is experienced by the entire congregation and offers a sense of momentum that unifies and inspires. I am most grateful to have a sense not just that God has called me to serve…but how God has called me to serve the Church and the world.
Contributor: Thomas Daniel
PODCAST The Distillery, Season 1
Senior Pastor since 2014, was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Davidson College and taught English in Japan for two years, where he met his wife Beth. Post-Japan, Thomas attended Columbia Theological Seminary. He graduated with an MDiv. in 2003 and a D.Min. in 2011. While in seminary, Thomas was the Director of College Ministry at North Avenue Presbyterian. Upon graduation, he served as their Associate Pastor for Evangelism. Next, he served as co-pastor and head of staff at First Presbyterian, Evanston, Illinois. Prior to Covenant, Thomas was the organizing co-pastor of a new church plant, Kairos Church, in Atlanta, Georgia. Thomas and Beth have two daughters, Miriam Grace and Hannah Joy.