The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us


The End of Our Sojourn

I still remember the day back in late September of 2007–I remember it because it was the day we signed our names to two homes in the same day.  The first was our little home in New Albany.  The second was our covenant to partner in ministry and fellowship with Sojourn Community Church.  Though we’d been attending for several months, it was at that point that we became “Sojourners” and began trying to find specific ways to serve the body of Jesus.  That led to times of helping with children’s worship, PowerPoint for the service, playing in the band, leading a community group, mentoring, and finally becoming community group coaches.  And more importantly, during that time God used the ministry of our pastors and the saints around us to teach us about the Gospel of Jesus, and the fact that Jesus died for my sin and rose again to defeat death means so much more than a ticket into heaven–it was the key to living every moment of every day.  That’s been our sojourn for the past 3+ years and it has been a joyful one.

But now that sojourn has come to an end and we’re setting off on a new (and wildly unexpected) new path and new ministry.  To sum it up before giving some details, I’ve been called by Oak Park Baptist Church in Jeffersonville, IN (about 12 miles from our house) to serve as their worship pastor.  While we’ve made some vague references here on the blog and on Facebook to our activities at Oak Park, we’ve largely wanted to keep things on the DL till all of the “process” was complete, which it now is.

Back in August, our plans were to continue at Sojourn for the next few years, helping to build strong groups for Sojourners and helping ramp up for the Sojourn New Albany site (which is still in the works).  Then, after that, we had some grandiose dreams of moving to a larger city and beginning a new Gospel work there.  But until then, I was going to keep working at Humana while Court adeptly managed the home as we served at Sojourn.  Well, in the midst of a normal workday at Humana, I receive an email from a fellow named Nathan Millican–a name I’d never heard before.  He explained that he was the preaching pastor at Oak Park in Jeffersonville and they were looking to find a man to fill their worship pastor vacancy.  He had gotten my name from a mutual acquaintance (the story behind that is pretty funny, too, but I won’t tell it here) and asked if I might be willing to simply submit a resume for the search committee to consider.

I recall my reaction vividly.  I laughed.  Out loud.  In my cubicle at Humana.

Now, it’s worth explaining why I laughed.  Most of you who read this blog know I have a music education degree and have served as a music director in two churches before coming to Sojourn.  Well, upon coming to Sojourn, I made a pretty conscious decision to use my music sparingly as I was more interested in developing teaching and leadership and discipling skills, alongside just general godliness and humility.  So, for the past three years, music had been almost totally off my radar as something I would spend much time on.  Add to that the fact that I didn’t see myself in vocational ministry again anytime soon, if at all, and mix it with an email from a guy I’d never met–the whole thing just struck me as absurdly funny.  But I know my propensity toward rash decisions (at times), so I let Nathan know that Courtney and I would pray about it, but he probably shouldn’t hold his breath.

About a week later, I emailed Nathan and told him that after prayer and discussion, the answer was “no”–we felt that we still had work to do at Sojourn and that we shouldn’t leave that work.  I thought that was the end of my dealings with Nathan Millican, but alas…  He wrote back to say he understood, but wondered if I might be willing to serve as an interim while the committee searched for a permanent worship pastor.  Well, I love to help out brothers and sisters if I can and since I thought I could work it out to both lead music on Sunday mornings and still go to Sojourn in the evenings, I agreed–as long as it was very short-term and with the understanding that under no circumstances was I going to change my mind about staying permanently.   Ha…

So, in October, I began leading the music for the Sunday morning services as well as practicing with the choir on Wednesday nights.  I immediately enjoyed what I was doing and found this unsurprising as music has always been so integral to my life–but I was in bull-headed mode and no amount of enjoyment was going to get me to change my mind about staying.  I was there on a temporary basis and that was it.  Over the weeks that followed, many people were very supportive of me and kind regarding the direction the music was taking.  There was a growing handful of folks that began asking me to reconsider staying on permanently.  I politely reminded them that I was still a deacon at Sojourn and I wouldn’t be changing my mind.  So, they “retaliated” by telling me they were going to pray then that God change my heart on the matter.  Which I told them they were welcome to do–as long as they understood that God wasn’t going to change my mind about changing the direction I saw our family headed.

And that was really the kicker–the direction I saw our family headed…  James says that we should make plans saying “if the Lord wills,” and I really hadn’t done that.  I had made plans and was stubbornly sticking by those plans despite how much I was enjoying serving Oak Park and how many people had asked us to stay on.  So, after Court and I finally talked through some things (along with seeking the counsel of several close friends and one of our Sojourn pastors) and realized that the only reason I was dead-set against leaving Sojourn was simply because I was being bull-headed, I submitted myself for review by the search committee.

The timing for all of this ended up being a little strange, which I think led to a bit of an elongated process.  I interviewed with the committee and they decided to present me as their recommendation for the church’s new worship pastor near the beginning of December, when several leaders were going to be going to Vietnam on a mission trip, then it was Christmas and New Year’s.  Since the committee had asked me to not only lead music for a morning service (which, ironically, I’d already been doing for over two months so there was nothing new there) but also to give my testimony, preach, and stay after the service for a Q&A, it seemed that the best time to do that was after the busy holiday stretch, which ended up being January 9th.  The congregation would then hold a vote the following Sunday.  So we had almost a month between being announced as the committee’s recommended candidate and when the final congregational affirmation would occur.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that since we knew we not only wanted to get to know Oak Park folks better, but also give them a chance to know us better as well, we started attending Oak Park as a family exclusively.  While this was good on the Oak Park side and beginning to foster relationships, it was difficult on the Sojourn side because we simply disappeared.   And that’s extremely tough because with six services in the three different sites, its hard to keep track of people and so I’m not sure anybody even really noticed our absence from Sojourn unless they knew about Oak Park–and few people did.  So, that month stretch ended up being a bit of a lonely and tearing time as we were trying to get to meet new people but feeling the hole of not having our existing relationships at Sojourn.

Well, the month went past and on the 9th I led the music, gave my testimony (with some teaching interspersed), and stayed afterward to answer questions.  And it went pretty well, though it was exhausting.  On the 16th, the congregation voted and, well, to try to keep this already incredibly long story from getting even longer, I’ll just say that at first we didn’t think we were going to be called, then we were, then there was going to be a new vote two weeks later, then we were told that we were there to stay.  It was an emotional roller coaster and left us feeling very uncertain about the outcome, but at the end, Oak Park called me to come serve and so that’s what we did, feeling that not only had God called us there but that the church had acknowledged that call.  I was now the worship pastor at Oak Park–and that felt surreal not only after the strangeness of the vote, but also because it felt like we hadn’t been to Sojourn in so long that we hadn’t gotten to say goodbye and now didn’t really know how to go about doing that.

So, what does this all mean now?  (Or to say it differently, how can I boil this very long story down to just a few sentences…)  I’m now the part-time worship pastor at Oak Park.  Our family is fully committed to the church and will be indefinitely.  Thus, we are quickly passing off our responsibilities at Sojourn so that we can do that well.  I’m also still full-time at Humana and will be indefinitely there, too.  Now we just simply plan to get to know people at our new church and settle in there to do the Lord’s work for the kingdom.  We’re very excited about it, because we fully believe the Lord sovereignly worked things together for us to go (despite the fact that I didn’t see that coming AT ALL).  And we’re excited to see how Oak Park is going to faithfully sow Gospel seeds and see the Lord call people to himself.

In the midst of this, though, we definitely have some challenges and we’d love your prayer for those challenges.  First, like I said, we didn’t really get to “transition” out of Sojourn so much as just stop going.  So, there are a number of friendships that we’re missing right now and don’t really know how to say goodbye.  So, pray that the Lord would help us to move forward by faith and have lots of opportunities to embrace our brothers and sisters at Sojourn and be prayed for by them.  Second, pray that we would quickly jump in at Oak Park and integrate with our new family.  Third, there was some opposition that we’ve already faced, some of it with me, some with musical preferences, and some with issues that were there before we even came.  Honestly, I just wish I didn’t know about the opposition and could just move forward–but I do know about it and simply want to move forward with humility and love, knowing that we are united through Christ, so any opposition can be broken down through the cross.  Pray that I would believe that and find comfort in it.  Fourth, pray that my family would find Oak Park to feel like home quickly and that we wouldn’t spend months and months feeling like outsiders.

Thanks for your patience with this long post.  But it seemed good to me to let you know how our sojourn with Sojourn had finally drawn to a close and how the Lord had brought us to a new place with new ways to serve him.  May he be glorified in us as we strive to serve him and others out of love, grace, and humility.