God and Al Lutz Get Pushy

“In his heart a man plans his course,
But the Lord determines his steps.”
Proverbs 16:9

How it began

Randy had asked pastor Al Lutz to do some preliminary work for the session of Glenwood gathering information on the community of East Lake and then advertising a series of meetings for people who might be interested in the new church plant.  It was the summer of 2008.  

As the session would meet to hear Pastor Lutz’s reports, we all loved his enthusiasm for the time he was spending in East Lake and for the years of experience he brought helping us organize this church plant.  Al also had quite a sense of humor. Even if his jokes were old fashioned at times, his laughter and spirit were so infectious, you couldn’t help getting hooked into the humor and joy of his stories and then find yourself laughing right along with him.  

It was in one of those meetings that summer that, as I recall, Randy raised the fateful question, “well, now all we have to do is find the right man to lead the church in East Lake.”  I am sure that I am remembering things too simply in this exchange but it was Al who responded without much hesitation, “Well, I think we have him right here.”  Everyone got quiet.  Randy said to Al, “And who is that?”  Al said, pointing straight at me, “It’s Jim. I think he is the right man to lead the work.  He is not the greatest preacher but he has great relational proficiency.  He relates well to the younger generations.”

The Best Years of My Ministry

Pastor Lutz had said nothing to me about this or his view that I was a viable or legitimate candidate to consider to lead the church at East Lake.  I had consistently said that I was not a church planter.  I had consistently said that I never wanted to be a senior pastor.  At the very time he said this, I was working a plan to move to San Diego to work with a team of church planters there.  I had already talked to Randy about it.  Michele and I were ready for a change.  Al threw us a huge curveball.

The decision to stay and lead at East Lake was both exciting and frightening.  There were men in the denomination advising the core group who I knew believed I was the wrong man for the church.  There were so many times I agreed with them.  This made my call to East Lake a true test of faith.  Once I decided to stay and lead New City East Lake, I had to trust God would use me no matter how terrible I felt about myself.

But here is the thing that is weird.  Those of you who know me, know that I feel terrible about myself fairly often.  Yet my ten years of ministry at East Lake have been the best years of my ministry life -- spanning forty years now.  How can this be?  Let me tell you.  It is because of you.  From the moment we began, the Lord brought the most wonderful people to us that have blessed our doors.  Sometimes as I think back on who came to help us, I can’t even believe it.  I would list some of them but many of you might not even know them.  Just know that from the beginning, I started praying the old L’Abri prayer that Francis and Edith Schaeffer prayed in their ministry every day (though I didn’t pray it every day):  “Lord, bring us those people who will help us in our ministry; keep away those would only bring trouble to our ministry.”  I believe God has answered this prayer and I hope that some of you will take up this prayer and continue the request.

Living Together in Authenticity

The fruit of this prayer is simply that I have met some of the best people I have ever known because I stayed and pastored East Lake.  I have made friends with many of them.  I have worked with such a great staff, elders, and deacons.  But there is one more thing.

Caleb Long and I in 2008 would talk about wanting to be able to be in a church where we could live honestly before our brothers and sisters and not have to pretend we were something we were not.  I feel like, for better or worse, I have been able to live honestly with you for ten years and the vast majority of you have welcomed this.  I know that it has been trouble for you at times.   My behavior has certainly made me wonder if I was in the right profession.  Yet as I said, you were extremely gracious toward me.  Forgiving. As a pastor, I cannot tell you how much this means.  It is precious.  Special.  Rare.   Life changing. I love you for this and will always be grateful that the Lord changed my plans and gave me these ten years with you.