Many of you have been following our journey here in Nashville for the past 3 years. So we wanted to share a significant revelation from God about the nature of his calling in my (Tim) life, and the implications it will have for us moving forward.
God has confirmed time and time again that he has called us to this city. We love Nashville, the people, and are passionate about making disciples and starting new expressions of the church here. Our first assignment from God in that regard has been to start a missional community in the Osage neighborhood of North Nashville. While our progress has been slow, it has been steadily marked by God’s supernatural provision and favor. We know this is where God has anchored us, and we are anticipating a fruitful year in 2019.
While Nashville is the city God sent us to live in, make disciples, and start new expressions of the church, God revealed to us early on that we would be doing mission in multiple contexts. Initially, we weren’t quite sure what that meant. At the very least, we knew it meant the scope of our calling would reach beyond the boundaries of that neighborhood.
The first context God opened up to us beyond the Osage neighborhood was in Huntsville, AL – 120 miles away. My mother lives in Huntsville, so we were already making periodic visits(often monthly) to tend to her needs. Long story short, a church down there that had been experiencing a trended decline invited me to come in and help them work through some of the foundational challenges they were facing. Over the past two years I have been going down there once a month to invest in their leaders, set up leadership structures and discipling processes, and conduct various training’s and workshops focused on discipleship, community, mission, prophetic ministry, and women in leadership, to name a few. God has done absolutely amazing things in that church. Their leaders have been Spirit-led, courageous, and incredibly wise in the ways they have served and led the community there. Transformation is taking place, new life is emerging, and we are so excited to see how God will carry out his plans for this church.
At the time I started walking with them, I really didn’t consider Huntsville as one of the “multiple contexts” that we would function in. Yet it seemed like God was opening up more doors in Huntsville than he was opening up in Nashville. In fact, for the past two years I have consistently asked God if he wanted us to move down to Huntsville. However, the more I asked God that question, the more he said, “No, stay in Nashville.” I was so puzzled by this. Why would God open up a door for us to work with such an amazing group of people in Huntsville, but not open up that kind of door for us in Nashville? In fact, when I would get really frustrated with how slow things were going in Nashville I would think to myself, “God should have sent us to Huntsville, not Nashville!”
It wasn’t until the end of 2018 that I started to understand what God has been up to all this time. As I was complaining to God one morning in my prayers, I heard him tell me to start reading 1 and 2 Timothy. For the next few weeks that’s all I read every morning. At first, I wasn’t sure why he had me reading these two books. So I asked him, “Why are you asking me to read these books?” I heard nothing. I asked him the same question over the course of the next several weeks…and still…I heard nothing. Then one morning, as I read these first two verses from 1 Timothy, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope, To Timothy, a true son in the faith…”, God revealed to me something really significant about the nature of my vocation. This is how the conversation went:
God: Did I command you to be an apostle like Paul?
God: Then why do you feel like you have to be that for me?
God: You are a little “a” apostle, like Timothy, and the others. You don’t have to do what Paul did, or be what Paul was. I am releasing you from that burden. You answer to me. Your calling is from me.
This was a big revelation for me because I have always known that I had an apostolic gifting, but I had assumed it was of the Pauline variety – that my primary calling was to start new expressions of the church, from scratch, in multiple contexts.
Did I mention I had made an assumption?
God knows us better than we know ourselves. And to be honest, if God had spoken this to me a year ago I probably would not have been able to receive it. I assumed I was a Pauline apostle because I have always struggled to work at the center of an organization. I am drawn to the wide open spaces of the frontier. Also, there has always been a part of me that has thought the most effective way to participate in the mission of God was to start new churches from scratch. And to top it off, I really enjoy starting things from the ground up. If you leave me alone long enough, I’m going to start something. But God always knows when to reveal things to us, and how to reveal them in a way that we can receive it.
This insight about my apostolic gifting being like Timothy’s has opened up new levels of clarity as to how I most effectively participate in the mission of God. For example, I have really enjoyed the kind of work I have been doing with the church in Huntsville! In fact, God basically told me the nature of that work in Huntsville is very similar to the nature of Timothy’s apostolic work. For example, Timothy not only established new churches (with Paul, Silas and Luke), he was also sent into various fledgling and flourishing churches to examine the existing culture of the church (Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi), encourage greater faith development (Thessalonica, Philippi, and Ephesus), exemplify what it means to live and lead as a disciple of Jesus (Corinth and Ephesus), establish new leadership structures (Ephesus), educate God’s people about the foundational mystery of the gospel (Thessalonica, Corinth and Ephesus), evangelize (Ephesus), and expose false teaching/teachers (Ephesus). Basically, Timothy’s work was focused on helping churches become both sustainable and scalable. When a church developed those capacities, Timothy would make an exit, leaving the church in that area more healthy and missionally fit than when he arrived.
Implications for Our Work in Nashville
The obvious next question I had for God was, “How does this affect what you have called us to do in Nashville?” This was God’s response, “It doesn’t. You are still called to Nashville. Keep moving forward.” We were excited to hear this! The next thing I asked him was, “Then what needs to change?” He said, “The way you measure your fruitfulness.” You see, as I mentioned before, our journey here in Nashville has been slow…sometimes excruciatingly slow. To be honest, at times, I have been really discouraged about this. In fact, when people have asked me how things are going in Nashville sometimes I often cringe because we do have “fruit” from our work here, but not a lot – numerically speaking.
By way of contrast, when someone asks me how things are going in Huntsville, I have all kinds of great stories to tell. The leaders in the church there are experiencing genuine transformation, they have established scalable leadership structures, and the church overall is developing a focused capacity to walk in the power and guidance of the Spirit. There is a real momentum starting to develop there.
Now that I know the scope of my ministry is larger than Nashville, my metrics for what counts as being fruitful is changing. I’m no longer just going to “count” what’s happening in the local Nashville scene. I’m also going to start “counting” what’s going on trans-locally as well.
I am still working out the practical implications of what it means to function within a Timothy model of apostleship. I’m confident the Father will reveal more about the nature and function my vocation as I continue to walk in it. My request is that you pray for me to fully receive this revelation so I can walk in the fullness of what God has called me to.