Stories are important. As we share our stories, we are like the stars that shine in the night sky. The spiritual realm of darkness is cast out as we praise our God in the heavenly realms. As those stories multiply, the light becomes brighter and penetrates the hearts of mankind. As each one shares and hears these stories, God's people become stronger and unification of the Church occurs. Multiplication has incredible potential: Every person, every church, intentionally and aggressively advancing the Kingdom of God. That's why we are asking you to share your stories. Tell us how God has moved and is moving. Let's cast out the darkness.
Contact Janie Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your story.
By Josh and Jodi Garber, (Pastor at North-Mar Church, Warren, OH)
Good question, one we’ve been asked a lot since we stepped out in faith in this adoption journey.
Haiti is not a country to which Josh or I have any connection. When we thought of the possibility of international adoption, we assumed it would most likely be a country in Africa because we both have connections in different countries there.
I had been asking God to have an adoption agency contact us and within 24 hours of my latest prayer, I received an email from an agency we had contacted a couple years ago when we lived in Pennsylvania. They needed families for some of their international programs. I began emailing back and forth, trying to figure out the eligible programs for us. It came down to Haiti or India.
So, I began praying over these 2 countries asking God which one… it didn’t seem like either one could be a wrong choice.
As I was praying and waiting for an answer, God began to remind me of some of the ways He had answered our questions about where and when to adopt.
When we lived in Pennsylvania, I had asked God who we should adopt and He said, “The least of these.” I asked Him what that meant. Who were the least of these in the context of my prayer?
As we talked with the international adoption agency, the case manager told us that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The phrase “the least of these” came back to my mind. Then one day while I was driving the song “Kings and Queens” by Audio Adrenaline came on the radio. When I got home I looked up the song and watched the music video. It is filmed in Haiti and the focus is precious Haitian children. The words “When we love, when we love the least of these” reaffirmed what God was telling me.
I knew what God was asking and I thought it was too hard. Adopting from Haiti is very expensive. Josh is a pastor and I am primarily a stay at home mom with some side gigs. Haiti is a 2-trip country, and I do not like that. The wait to adopt a child from Haiti is long, and I do not like waiting. I wanted to bring another child into our family years ago. But God had a different plan.
I went to talk to Josh about adopting from Haiti after our kids had gone to bed one night. I thought Josh would see things like I did and see it was too hard. But do you know what he said? He said, “If this is what God wants us to do, we’ll do it.” And so I cried…a lot. I went over all my reasons with Josh as to why this was impossible. Josh was being so chill. He said, “If God wants us to do this, He will provide.” I was reminded how the previous summer at the end of one of our pastor’s sermons he had said, “Ask God to do something you think is impossible in your life.” I had asked God to make an impossible adoption possible.
I was so afraid to take the first step, and so I asked God for one more sign that we should start the path to adopt from Haiti (I know I was being like Gideon here). I did not know how long we would wait for His answer. But I had asked for Haiti to be seen or heard in a big way. Within 48 hours, it was all over the news…. a (alleged) comment had been made about Haiti by someone pretty high up in the U.S. government. I heard and saw HAITI in a big way.
The next day we submitted our application and the first of many payments. We are now a little over a year into the process since submitting the application. Every time a payment has been due, God has provided through family, friends, church family, or friends of friends. He has given me a friend also adopting from Haiti! She has been a tremendous emotional support during this season.
Now we wait…some days patiently, some days not so patiently, praying for God to make the impossible possible!
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Embracing the Uniqueness of a Calling
By Rev. Eric White, Pastor at Venture Church, Austintown, OH
Sometimes my path into ministry seems accidental. My faith knows better. I pastor Venture Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which I lovingly and simply call Venture. When I tell people I pastor a small church in Austintown, they often ask if I’m an associate pastor, youth pastor, worship pastor, etc, to which I reply, “I’m the only pastor.” The context where I’m usually asked about my pastoral work leads people to think I’m probably not a senior or lead pastor. Thus they ask what kind of pastor I am. That context is within my full-time career as the Director of Command Information for a local Air Force Reserve base. I’m bivocational.
Bivocational is a word that implies more than it ought. It seems the common perception is that bivocational people work half of one vocation and half of another, equalling one full vocation. Something like a 20 hours/20 hours split on the workweek. My Air Force career is not half of a vocation. I’m also convinced that there is no such thing as a part-time pastor, and perhaps that’s especially true for one whose most accurate title is “the only pastor.”
When I first stepped into ministry—and by stepped I mean tripped backward over my own heels down a rocky slope while blindfolded with little experience and only half a year of Bible college education at the nudge of a God who knows far more about His ways than I do—there was a question that often bothered me. Many brothers and sisters in Christ asked it, and they meant no harm, but it sometimes grated on me for reasons I didn’t understand. It had many iterations but generally went something like this: “So when do you think you’ll transition into full-time ministry?” Young in my calling, I often interpreted the question as, “So when are you going to grow up and fully commit yourself to the church?” I know my interpretation was woefully unfair, but it has caused me to consider why we often, whether consciously or unconsciously, pigeonhole the call of ministry into traditional patterns.
My answer to the question has always been the same. I don’t know. I don’t know when God will transition me into having ministry as my only vocation. Frankly, I’m not remotely convinced He’s ever going to transition me (reference my earlier statement about God knowing far more about His ways than I do). I would not suggest to my monovocational (if bivocational is a word, surely monovocational is acceptable) pastor friends that they pick up another job. That decision should be made in the wisdom of the Father. But I do want to offer a few of the benefits I experience in the call God has given me in the hope that it might encourage others who are living a unique Kingdom call (and isn't that all of us?).
1. The Body as the Body
When I assumed a leadership role at Venture, it was ready to close. We were 20 or so faithful folks in a sanctuary built for 300. The church avoided closure only through the very generous giving of a few people. The church could not afford a full-time pastor. The only way to sustain the church’s ministry was to find someone who had other means to pay his bills. I can’t explain why, but that person was me. God knows more about His ways than I do, remember? From my first days of leadership, I made it very clear that I could not and would not do everything that needed done. For this undertaking to succeed, the church would have to be the church, the Body of Christ, operating in unity to advance God’s Kingdom. That remains a significant tenet of the vision I cast today. I will lead, but I will not attempt to be a ministerial superman. The church must be the church. No excuses. No finger pointing. The great thing about this is that it's working. We're still growing, but we're seeing the body step out as the body in powerful ways.
2. Access to Missional Platforms
I admire our district's focus on missional living. It's modeled after Jesus. As a bivocational pastor, I spend at least 40 hours a week in the workplace connecting with people who need Jesus. I love spending so much time in a local mission field. Early in my pastorate, I often talked about the benefit of being in the mission field rather than the church office every day. The words sounded good, but an examination of my life would have revealed that I wasn't practicing missional living in my career (or anywhere else). The Holy Spirit challenged me. In repenting and trusting Jesus, I've enjoyed considerable progress. I've been able to share the Gospel with several people and have developed some powerful discipleship relationships. The beauty is that the developing relationships part of missional living is handed to me daily through my work relations. God leading me through this transformation has given me a platform for discipling the flock with which I'm entrusted in how to live missionally by leveraging their existing circumstances to build Kingdom-centric relationships.
3. Called to Depend
Ministry is hard. I should scarcely think anyone will read this who thinks otherwise. I do not think the difficulty increases for bivocational pastors, but the reason may be a paradox. What is often different for a bivocational pastor is time. When planning each week, begin by subtracting 47.5 hours (including commute and lunch breaks in my case) from the amount of time you can devote directly to the church. I specify church ministry, because under these circumstances there is abundant time for missional living and relational ministry. Even so, I've often said that none of us is as busy as we say we are. It’s more likely that we don't manage our energy very well. This reduced time forces me nearer the reality that I am woefully inadequate for the mantle I wear. Jesus is the only hope I have of doing anything meaningful for the Kingdom of God.
I’ve come to find that the less I am able to depend upon myself or my circumstances, the more I must depend upon Jesus. The more I depend upon Jesus, the more success I see in ministry. This is the paradox I mentioned earlier. It is precisely because time is so limited that ministry, in a strange sense, is no more difficult as a bivocational pastor. Matthew 11:28-30 helps illuminate this. Of course, none of this is to say people who don't have two jobs or aren't very busy can’t depend on Jesus equally or to a greater degree. I’m merely speaking of a personal correlation between an ample supply of time and an ignorance to my need to depend fully on Jesus. Perhaps you’ve noticed a similar one. Only when there is less of me can there be more of Him. I struggle with self-dependency enough even with these time restrictions. I can't imagine the malady it'd be for me if I had more time. Lord, I need thee every hour, especially because the hours are so few!
Embracing the Call
I struggled with my call early on. I felt caught in limbo between two worlds, my career and my calling. God eventually showed me that they're both part of my calling, for a calling is not constrained to a particular platform, time, or place. My call is to serve God's Kingdom by empowering people to experience the full measure of Christ's love and life, whether at work, Church, home, my neighborhood, or the dairy aisle. Who am I to say that can or should only happen in the context of full-time, vocational, pastoral ministry? A mentor, perceiving my tension between career and calling, liberated my thinking with a powerful challenge. He encouraged me to consider how Venture would function with 1000 people if I was still serving bivocationally and to begin laying the groundwork for that now. Will God do it? I don't know. Will He bring a harvest and call me to leave my career behind? I don't know. Will He have me continue serving this way, and perhaps, one day, mentor young pastors in balancing bivocational ministry? I don't know.
What I do know is that God is faithful, and I am embracing His call.