This past Sunday at the conclusion of my sermon, I made an announcement to the members of my church: in early March, the Earl family will be leaving North Carolina and will embark on a new ministry journey. My last preaching Sunday will be February 28, and we will ship out sometime in the following week, Lord willing. I realize this may come as quite a shock to some of you, so allow me to detail what God has been doing in our lives.
When we first moved to the North Carolina High Country, Michelle and I agreed before God that we would remain here, serving His church for as long as He desired. We never had any intentions of making any ministry changes, and we resolved to stand fast – even if we faced difficulty. This Sunday, I will celebrate five years as the pastor of Higher Ground Church of God. Those times of difficulty have been rare, and we have come to know and love a church family that, I would imagine, can be found in few churches in America.
But several years ago, I began to sense that God was going to be moving us. It’s kind of a long story really, but I began to feel a burden for the city of Chicago. Now at the time, I knew this had to be God because neither Michelle nor I have ever been there, and we zero connections with it. So, we made this “urging” a matter of prayer. For the last several years, we have sought God and His specific purposes for our family.
Now, if any of you have been following the Lord for any amount of time, you know that rarely does God work His purposes in us exactly like we imagine He would (or would like). He is incredibly big and indescribably powerful, and it brings glory to Him to keep us dependent on Him for all things.
“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;” He says, “It is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’” (Isaiah 41:13).
So, once 2015 arrived, the Lord began to clarify His specific calling for us: He wants us to establish (or plant) a new church. Suddenly, the Chicago thing started to make sense.
Five years ago if you asked me what I thought about church planting, I would have told you that it was unnecessary, even pointless, as there is a church on every corner in America. But during my time as pastor here, I’ve come to realize that the gospel message is the most powerful news in the universe. In fact, the gospel has literally changed us. I can actually see it affecting the way we live our everyday lives. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the “gospel” is the good news about Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, and what this work means for sinners like me and you. Take a look at the video at the bottom of this post for a great description of the gospel, or click here for a text article.)
For this reason, I started to realize that there are many communities in the U.S. that do not have a faithful, gospel witness. Many people have heard about a version of Jesus, but few have been exposed to the real Jesus who is actively in the business of changing lives on the basis of His own life and work for sinners. We think this needs to change.
Pulling this all together, we feel as though God may be calling the Earl family to move to the Chicago area, plant a gospel-centered church there, and impact some neighborhood or community with the love of Jesus Christ. I say “may be calling” because so often God’s perfect will does not become clear until we take the next step. At this point, however, it does seem as though God is calling us to be missionaries in this regard.
Perhaps this sounds crazy to some of you. You can guarantee it sounds crazy to us. Planting a church in one of the world’s biggest cities sounds like an impossible feat. And it would be, if God wasn’t in control over every aspect of our lives. In the summer of 2015, in God’s kindness, He led us to a family of churches called Sovereign Grace Churches. SGC has been planting gospel-centered churches in America and around the world for over 30 years. Since making first contact with some of the folks there, we have been loved and cared for by them as though we were family. And I am so blessed to say that in October 2015, they took us on as prospective church planters! They have walked with us through each step so far, answered every question we’ve had, and have genuinely invested much time and energy into serving our family as we walk in God’s will.
Which leads me to another bit of information. One reason why SGC is so successful in the long-term vitality of the churches they establish is because they invest so much in their pastors (or elders). They have developed a training school for those who wish to become pastors within Sovereign Grace called the Pastor’s College (PC), which is loosely affiliated with Southern Seminary. The PC is based in Louisville, KY, and is a “a ten-month, academically intense program” that exists to train and equip pastors “to serve and to lead churches that proclaim the gospel and demonstrate its reality through transformed lives and vibrant witness” (read more about the PC here).
As a new pastor myself, one desire of mine these past five years has been to further develop the gifts Christ has given me to lead His church. Well, through the process of getting to know some of the elders in SG, I am also pleased to report that I have been invited to apply for the Pastor’s College. I will begin the college in the fall of this year, which means the next step on our family’s radar is Louisville, KY. We will move there in March of this year, and I will work temporarily at an optical there who kindly agreed to employ me until late August. Michelle will finish Kaelyn and Connor’s school year at home, and we will use those 6 months to get to know our new church family at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.
How this Will Happen
By now you’ve probably asked the question, “How are you going to make ends meet?” Honestly, this has been the hardest part for us. We’re not moving from a good situation to a better one, financially speaking. Quite the contrary. As we leave our precious church family, we will be entering a season that will really force us to trust God, as we will need to raise funds to continue in this work.
Specifically, we will need to raise funds to attend the PC, for living expenses for two years (starting in September), and for the future church plant. Our first need is to raise about $8,750 for tuition and supplies for the PC. Once I graduate from the PC in spring 2017, I will begin a one year church planting residency before we move to Chicago, during which time we will take trips there to build relationships with Chicagoans.
Obviously, missionary work of this sort cannot be done without the prayerful and financial support of others. If you’re still reading this, we humbly ask that you consider partnering with us during this time, either prayerfully or financially, or both. It’s humbling to ask for help, honestly. But we know that God will continue to show us His faithfulness through people like you. Just know that with every step we take, someone somewhere will be introduced to the love of God in Christ. If even one person’s life is changed because of this work, it will be worth it! Your prayers and financial partnership will be used by God to this end.
If you do feel compelled to partner with us for the gospel, please visit our giving page here. You may also sign up for our newsletter there, which will keep you in the loop each month with what is happening in our lives. Go ahead and subscribe to our blog here for regular updates as well.
This is a lot of information, I realize. But, we wanted to let you know what is happening in our lives. I am fully confident that we are following the Lord in obedience. If you feel so led, I ask you to pray for us – that God would be glorified through every step we take and that He would provide for every need we have in our service for His Kingdom.
On a final note, if you live in the High Country and have known us these past five years, I want you to know what a blessing you have been to us. Every person we’ve met here has blessed us – from church family, to our kids’ teachers, to friends in the community. May the Lord continue to bless you, that you may be a blessing to others. We will miss you tremendously, and I hope that you see we are following God’s leading.
Thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy, but big news for us Earls. May the grace of God lead you (and us) to the end!
Click the video below to watch: