Monday, October 10, 2016

The Road Ahead

I don’t know if God has a department of data and statistics in heaven; I don’t know if such things will matter much there. But, if God does, I will find it fascinating to discover little tidbits when I get to the end of this life. One such piece of trivia will be which highway I traveled more than any other highway during my lifetime. It’s very possible that the ultimate winner would be U.S. Highway 60 between my hometown of Socorro, NM, and the great metropolis of Pie Town, where my grandparents homesteaded in the 1930s and where my parents met.

We went west to Pie Town pretty often when I was young. Then, the decision to go to college in Arizona was followed by the choice to live in the Grand Canyon state for most of my life. Even though Interstate highways can often get you there faster, the closest road between my current home and my boyhood home has long been (you guessed it) through Pie Town.

It’s not Pie Town, though, that is on my mind this day. Instead, it’s a stretch of that highway over the St. Augustine Plains.

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That big patch of brown in this satellite photo tells a simple story of a road that stretches out in a very straight line for 20 or so miles between some gorgeous mountain terrain. It’s that very straight road that has my attention as I consider what is happening in our lives.

If you have never traveled U.S. Highway 60 between Datil and Magdalena, you may not know that today it is clearly known for the huge dishes that make up the Very Large Array. Having grown up in that part of the country, my fascination with the highway there stretches back long before the VLA captured the skyline.

Driving east from Datil, you pass through a few hills, then quickly find yourself entering that ribbon of road. Far ahead of you, the ribbon climbs up from the other side of the plains, then disappears as it goes over a hill.

When I was a little boy, that highway ribbon seemed to go on forever. It would capture my imagination as I considered how far away it was. Getting there seemed to take “forever” in my childhood. Even then, however, we would gradually ascend that first small hill rising from the plains and be that much closer to our destination.

It seemed endless...

I write today about a different stretch of highway in our lives. For over thirty years, we have been at Stone Ridge Church. Though our traveling companions have constantly changed over the years, we have kept moving consistently toward a change in the road that was once so far away.

Today it isn’t!

Over the weekend, our Stone Ridge Elders announced their unanimous recommendation of Tom Burks to succeed me as Stone Ridge Sr. Pastor.

NewImageTom just celebrated twenty years on our church staff. To say that working with him is a joy is understated…way understated! Tom has pushed my buttons (mostly in good ways), constantly teased me and often challenged my thinking. He is a generation behind me (even though I have more hair) and has frequently helped me better understand some of the nuances of communicating with younger people in our church.

Tom has been our worship pastor for most of those years. A friend of mine once said, “Tom could sing the phone book and it would be inspiring.” I couldn’t agree more. He has a great voice and a wonderful heart for God.

Of late, though, Tom has had the itch to do something different in ministry. He has grown into an excellent communicator. He has long been the best strategic thinker on our staff. He is a leader at heart who loves to raise up other leaders. For my part, I completely believe that Tom will be an effective Sr. Pastor for the next season of life at Stone Ridge Church.

The Elders, though, have carefully reminded us that it is the church (not the Elders, nor the retiring pastor) who must call the pastor. For that reason, Tom will be preaching on the weekend of October 22-23. On October 23, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m., he will be available at a Q & A which will help people get more acquainted with him. Then, on October 29-30, Stone Ridge members will vote (to either call Tom or not) in all three services.

Several have been asking about the road ahead for Cathy and me. The long answer is that we don’t fully know. There are possibilities that we will stay connected to Stone Ridge for the rest of our lives. We are praying daily (please pray with us) for God to show us what our next season is supposed to be.

The shorter answer is that we will be around for a while. If the church votes to call Tom as Sr. Pastor and if he accepts, we won’t officially begin the pastoral transition until January. The first three months or so will be taken up with finding his successor in the worship ministry. The next three months, he will begin to pick up some of the preaching and leadership responsibilities. The current plan includes a needed break for the Burks family next summer. I expect that Tom will be taking the lead in pretty much everything by next fall. Neither Tom nor I (nor the Elders) are fully sure what the exact schedule will be, but we are trusting God to show us bit by bit which His plan is.

The narrow ribbon of highway was once so far away. The road is beginning to rise toward the unknown in the hills beyond. Cathy and I are buckled in for the adventure!

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