Let’s put something out there really quickly. This is a long post. If you’re looking for something to read while you’re in between jobs or waiting on your kids in the car-pool lane, you’ll probably need to come back. This is one of those “my life is shifting” posts, so settle in! Given the nature of this story and the amount of people that I want to share it with, this seems to be the best medium. So here we go!
I was born in 1983…
If you’re reading this, you probably know that we moved to Columbus, Ohio almost two years ago to plant a church. If you followed our story, you know that we started a Bible study in our home in February 2015 that grew to 35 some nights. Then, you watched us launch Access on Sunday, October 11, 2015. You gave financially, celebrated with us and prayed for us (for that, we are eternally grateful).
Between October 2015 and May 2016, we did everything we know to do. We relied on God for resources, prayed for Him to allow us to have a great impact in this city that we love, and tried our best to keep in step with Him along the way.
In late April, I went to Exponential Conference, a fantastic church planting conference in Orlando. I left that conference fired up and ready to go. At that time, God put it in the heart of a friend of mine to shoot me a text:
“I have some ideas that I want to run by you next week. You game for that?”
That friend is Travis Davenport, Lead Pastor of Covenant Church. Covenant Church is our local sponsor church here in Columbus. Travis, the staff and volunteers have been nothing less than VITAL in our lives as we planted Access. They have given us so much encouragement, prayer, financial support as well as just having my back in general.
I replied yes and that I was ready for them at that very moment (because you would too, right?). He responded:
“Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to pray between now and when we talk next week that god would prepare your heart to hear what I have to talk to you about. These are MASSIVE ideas.”
That weekend, I prayed and prayed and was ready for our conversation that would happen a few days later on Monday.
God had placed it on his heart to offer me the opportunity to do a leadership residency with Covenant Church, which would mean stepping back from Access Church for about 6-9 months. This residency would include training, an opportunity to lead a team of volunteers on Sunday mornings at Covenant Church and the chance to learn all their systems in outreach and discipleship. I would walk away with a reproducible model to re-launch Access Church. Last, but not least, Travis pledged to send us with at least 30 members of Covenant Church, who would be sent out to help us re-launch (there are a lot of nuances in this story that I won’t be able to cover in this post).
My gut reaction: “What are people going to think?”
I verbalized that fear as we talked it out. I knew it wasn’t key in decision-making, but I needed to give it a voice, because it was very present. One of the most helpful things that Travis offered up was he didn’t view me as a failure. That failure would be me quitting, and I definitely wasn’t there yet. He continued, “I know you’re not ready to throw in the towel and that you probably don’t feel burn-out yet; I just want to catch you before you get there.”
He was right. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to quit, but as I talked it out with wise counselors in my life, the unanimous response was that it seemed like a good, healthy idea. Everyone responded that they were glad I had someone that had my back that much (I agree wholeheartedly).
True story: right after I got off the phone that afternoon, I went out to mow my lawn. It was one of those days that was not ideal to mow, but it was the only day that week that it wasn’t raining and my yard looked like the Amazon rainforest. In the middle of mowing, the self-propeller broke, and I ended up having to finish my muddy back yard without the help of a self-propelled mower.
At the risk of sounding like a sissy, I feel like God used that moment to paint a picture of what could have been. Grunting out the rest of the work, leaving me exhausted, sweaty and hating the actual work (and I love mowing the lawn). It’s as if God was showing me what burnout feels like before I could actually feel it.
So, Christi and I continued to pray, and agreed to move in that direction. We talked with several members on our team, wrapped up our last service, and packed up the church equipment. Our team was very gracious and understood completely. We are beyond thankful for that.
To catch you up on the timeline, Travis and I had that conversation on April 28. We had our last church service on May 15. It was his purpose to allow us a season of rest between our last service and the beginning of the residency starting at the beginning of July (I didn’t realize how much that would mean to me). Without going into much detail, I’ll sum up that six-week period as a roller coaster of emotion. One day, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. The next, I felt like I was totally worthless (not hyperbole). I battled through a season of unexpected depression as well. Some day, I’ll talk more about that. It’s just too recent to even know how to articulate what I was feeling.
Fast forward to today. I started my residency with Covenant on July 5, and am already hearing God whisper ideas for the future in my head. He has been restoring my confidence in myself, which had pretty much tanked. Travis and I have spent time in prayer together over Access moving forward. I’ve been reading non-stop and learning a ton. Most of all, I have a growing sense that God isn’t done!
So that’s the basic story. You’ll have to pardon me, as I haven’t fully processed everything that is going on. The truth is, I wanted to write this blog post a long time ago and just flat out couldn’t. Over the next several months, I hope to be able to speak to the good and the bad of what I’m experiencing. Big questions like, “What happens when you step out in faith and it doesn’t go like you hoped?”
I will say this (and ask for your prayer). The bigger conversation in my heart has been less about church and more about me. That’s not to say that I’m not concerned with what’s going on with Access, but I was flatlined there for a minute. I had real moments of doubt and hopelessness to be 100% real.
It wasn’t until I was jogging late one night last week that I realized that I had thrown all of me into this thing called Access Church. When it didn’t go as I planned, Mark Cox came crashing down, too. I’m talking my IDENTITY was in that thing. When your identity is in something that fails, you fail, too. I can honestly say I have never felt like that in my life, and wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.
I know it was wrong to put my identity in Access, and in my defense, I didn’t even realize I did it. After talking with a few close friends, I realize it stems all the way back to my early days in student ministry. I did it back then, too. It’s just that it never crashed. Everything was up and to the right. So the symptom was silenced and the disease was very much alive and well.
Without going into too much detail, I’ve realized that I am going to have to walk through some personal changes if anything in my life is going to be healthy moving forward. Things like personal health, boundaries, starting a hobby, healthy work rhythms, and much more.
I recently heard someone say in an interview that 33 years old, being the year that Jesus died, is the year in most adults life that sets them up for the rest of their life. I turned 33 in February. As much as you may think it’s lame, I’m making it my mission to become a healthier version of me before I turn 34. I want to be healthy for my wife and kids. Lord knows my boys are close to being able to gang up on me and beat me up! We want to be an active family, and I don’t want to hold us up (if you’ve followed my wife’s progress in fitness, you get what I’m saying…so proud of her!!!). I want to be more proactive with everything in my life. I’ve never really had a hobby, which I realize would be very therapeutic for me. I’m scheduling in more time for prayer and meditation. These are all just what I’ve experienced in about the last two and a half weeks.I say all that to say this: God is doing a work in me and my family.
I can also honestly say that this is nothing close to the church plant story I wanted to tell. Real talk: it can be embarrassing at times. But this is the story that we’re walking out, and I’m praying that God does EXACTLY what He wants to do in and through us.
Some quick thoughts about the future. I’m spending the next 6-9 months with Covenant Church doing the residency. Practically, I office there three days a week and will be there every Sunday until we re-launch on Easter 2017 (Lord willing, that’s the plan). We are fervently praying that God would provide everything that we need moving forward. Will the name change? Maybe. Will the location change? Maybe. We’re 100% open to whatever God wants to do and everything is on the chopping block right now.
Lastly, I just want to thank every one of our family members and friends for having our backs. A few of my friends really stuck with me through thick and thin and walked me through some hard moments. For that, I’m eternally grateful. My wife is still my biggest cheerleader and my best friend. I would crumble without you, Christi! To all of the churches that have kept up with us and partnered with us, we are incredibly grateful for your sacrifice in making sure that we can be here to walk this journey out.
And to Columbus: We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be back. And the best is yet to come!
Here’s the video that was used in the services at Covenant Church to introduce this new direction: