A Year Later

A Fork Not Taken and the Calling to Plant

By Tim Butler | Posted at 7:15 AM

A year ago last night, I stared out at Table Rock Lake far more in turmoil than I can ever remember. Table Rock has always been a place I unwound from the stresses of life, but that night it felt like life’s prickliest bits were staring back at me from the lake. Dominating the briar were two dramatically different paths for ministry in front of me and all the ramifications for life surrounding them. For the first time I can remember, the place I have always said I would love to live at felt alien.

I was in the Ozarks for an interview for a ministry position I had been candidating for, but I was convinced before the interview I was not really meant to be there.

The weekend prior, I had reached the milestone of ten years at the church I served as a pastor. That anniversary added to the confusing tangle of things I wrestled on that beautiful Ozark evening, as I had learned a few months earlier the church’s leadership was going to move away from the discipleship path that I had been shepherding for most of that time and I was expected to resign as part of that change. There was a significant pastoral care issue I was working on that meant the time of my departure was still necessarily down the road a bit, but the end was coming and with it I had a conundrum beyond the sadness of leaving a church family who had seen me through seminary and my early years of pastoring. I felt a strong commitment to the continued work of FaithTree doing outreach in St. Charles, but my position at FaithTree had been designed to be a symbiotic part-time ministry alongside my work at the church, not my sole place of ministry.

If the church were out of the picture, how would my work at FaithTree continue?

Providentially, family and close friends, including pastoral friends, had encouraged me to another route during this season of preparation for something new: there seemed to be a potential to plant a church in the area of St. Charles around Midtowne and Lindenwood that had long been on my mind. I had encouraged others to consider planting a new church there for years. All that time I had tried to convince others, had I been meant to do it? As I floated the idea around, a number of people responded with interest in being a part and it started to feel like the plant might be something the Lord was leading.

Planting made sense of my strong conviction that I am still called to the work of FaithTree, since I could continue to work with the other pastors involved with that ministry even as I worked with a wonderful group of folks to form a new church. FaithTree has, from its beginning, been a ministry rooted in Gospel cooperation between local churches to reach out to young adults and beyond; the church plant would simply join alongside the other wonderful churches who have faithfully served in that ministry.

Yet, the road to planting is perilous for obvious and not so obvious reasons. This other opportunity had come onto my radar courtesy of a friend spotting a job posting and it offered a very different looking future, so I found myself gazing into an Ozark sunset deeply perplexed. The sunset was beautiful that night. I love that region. The position had the potential of being something stable, predictable and even complimentary to some of the areas I love to serve in ministry. All of those things should have felt like affirmations towards this unexpected new opportunity, so why did I feel repelled instead?

The days leading up to the trip had been agonizing as I prayed over this position and led summer events at FaithTree. It would be foolish to set aside something sure in order to continue to build the unique outreach efforts of FaithTree and take on church planting at the same time, right? Yet, if it was so obvious, why did it seem that the more I prayed about it, the more disquieted I felt about taking that “obvious route”?

I could not shake the conviction that God was still calling me to FaithTree’s work and the new work of planting a church in a city I love.

As I went through the interview process the next couple of days, it was all the more clear I was not where I was supposed to be. Everything was pleasant and, in many ways, a few years before I think I would have felt this was the perfect opportunity made for me. But, the perfect opportunity that is not where God has called you is not perfect. For the first — and I hope only — time, it felt refreshing to come to the end of a trip to the Ozark Mountains.

I share the story now because it is amazing how radically things have changed in this past year. When I thought of a future path that included continued ministry with FaithTree and the planting of what is now known as Little Hills Church, it looked like a challenging road, but “global pandemic that completely upends things like in-person worship and events” was not on my mind as part of what made that road look challenging.

I think God knows that if we knew about things like that ahead of time, the path might seem so daunting as to overwhelm us — it certainly could overwhelm me. Yet, I have absolutely no regret about how the fork in the road went last year. As much as every ministry leader is having to think out of the box right now, pursuing FaithTree’s next season of ministry is something I am very excited about and eager to share details about with you soon. Likewise, watching the development of Little Hills Church as it has “virtually launched” with a live streamed beginning has been amazing.

Is a lot still uncertain and even scary? Oh, yes, very much so. I am confident, however, that God is leading these two ministries and I am grateful that I get to be a part of what He is doing in St. Charles through them and to serve alongside the other, wonderful people he has called to be a part of them.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” — Proverbs 16:9

Postscript: I hope if you have not already, you would follow both Little Hills and FaithTree on social media and perhaps sign up for our newsletters (click their respective names for links to do those very things), so you can join me in this adventure by praying for the ministries. Your prayers mean so much. Of course, I would be most grateful if you also felt God was calling you to support this work financially by donating; that part of this journey is even more of a challenge than expected given what has transpired this year. Likewise, if you feel called to join in planting Little Hills or serving at FaithTree, please let me know — it would be a joy to serve with you. Most of all, though, I ask that you please walk alongside me in this process by praying.

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