Family Meeting with the Bower Family

Church Family:

I am sure you’ve all been wondering, “where in the world are all the blog posts these past 6 months?!!” Well, have no fear… they are back.

Coming Back

While no one was worried about our lack of blog posts, I wanted to use it as a way to write a letter to our church to follow up to the announcement and the family meeting that we (the Bower family) are coming back to Normandy. After 6 months, I am coming back as a full time pastor.

Over these months I’ve learned a lot; the price of wisdom was high and it was through facing pain with God and others that I learned these lessons. And the first is this - Christ alone is the leader of His church and our local expression of His body here in Dallas (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7; 1 Peter 5:4). I am a member of the body; one who happens to give leadership and vision, but Christ is the primary leader, shepherd and pastor. And He was so committed to my health, my family’s health and the health of our church He was willing to lead us all through the “valley of the shadow of death.” There was a real death and burial for my family and our church family.

Why we came back

I wanted you all to know a few things. The first is I wanted to come back to our church family. There was a lot of pain and confusion in the first few months. I didn’t know which way was up or who I was. In the dark moments I found myself asking, “If I am not a pastor, if I am not the leader of Normandy, who am I?” However, through a long process (Meier Clinic, counseling, coaching, self-authoring) I found that my desire to both help lead and shepherd our church family was not gone, but actually still very much alive and burning in my heart. At one point I wrote, “get over it, you are a leader, you want to be a pastor.”

I also want you all to know that as I went through this process I did not sense the “call” of the Lord to leave. During this process I openly wondered, “what if the Lord is done with me in this church and in this vocation?” This question was not easily faced. I had to look at the shadow, that part of my heart that left unchecked leads to a literal hell on earth. I wondered if I was disqualified (or unqualified). It wasn’t pleasant. However, through the testing process, I still felt a profound sense of calling, both as a leader and shepherd and to you all as a family. I happened to see one of our parishioners at Target after this discovery, and I simply said, “I still want to be your pastor.” Many years ago (13?) a spiritual father, Joe Galindo, asked me if I was called to different churches in the area. This was well before Normandy. I responded to him by saying, “no I am called to the men and women with whom I’ve been walking.” At the family meeting, I looked around and saw some men that were there with me since the beginning of this ministry - Sean Parsons, Jeremy Duggins, and Jason Alley. Seeing their faces (and others), reminded me of a deep sense of calling I feel to this church family.

As for Kasey, during this process she felt as if I needed to figure what was next personally, what I wanted to do and what I felt called to do. During this time she often challenged me, spoke the truth in love (not easy to say or hear) and graciously accepted me as I was. As we neared the time to decide what was next, our sense of being a team was greatly heightened. I did not ultimately know what the Lord was going to do, but I knew I wanted Kasey to walk with me through the door towards Normandy as a unified whole. I did not want to force my way through the door and simply expect her to follow. I wanted her heart and mine to be one. And I know I want, and this is true most of the time, a life well lived with my family. I didn’t care what I did vocationally, but I cared deeply that my wife and sons had a sense of priority and relational security with me. And by God’s grace, Kasey and I have a deep sense of union and togetherness moving forward.

Unity & Peace

When I presented my desire to return to the Elders, I didn’t know what to expect. I did not want to impose my will on them or on God. I was attempting trust in Christ alone. I honestly felt vulnerable (and somehow quite free, light) as I shared my desire to return. As we processed, they articulated that this is exactly what they hoped for -  a return to health and a return to the church. I want you all to know we have a deep sense of unity and peace which we fought hard for. At times it was tough, but the four of us lived out our church’s stated value - unity and peace. We were more committed to our relationship than the result. I also want you to know we remain human. We will continue to learn how to maintain relational trust, unity and peace.

Also along the way I shared my story with others outside our body. At different points on my journey, they articulated a sense of peace. I think of Romans 8:16 - their spirits (since we are spiritual beings - that core that is directed by the Spirit of God) identified with my spirit (what God was doing in me). These were often the same men and women who challenged me, corrected me and listened to the darker parts of my heart. I am indebted to their ears and hearts. These are men and women like Jordan Sutton, Joe Galindo, Jeff & Mandy Fritche, Brett Franzen, Jeremy Pace, Jordan & Christy Ogden, Fred Henninghausen, my parents and siblings.

No Secrets

I also wanted you know there are no secrets. There is no “man behind the curtain” trying to pull one over on you all. There is no weird shadiness or power play at hand.  On November 12, when I was asked to step down, Jerry, John and Mo hit on something deep in me - my identity was off. I was so tied up in being the Lead Pastor and that the church became me and I became the church. So if the church did well, I was doing well. If the church staggered, I staggered. It was a great misappropriation of boundaries. I am not the church. I am more than a pastor. There is more to me than Normandy. I am a child of God, I am a husband and I am a father.

They made a tough call and in many ways it was friggin’ PR nightmare. Think about it! I was asked to step down in the midst of a building campaign and during the transition of Justus, Sam and Rachel (poor Jenny and Mark!). They loved me more than their reputation. These families paid a high price to see Kasey and I whole. And for that I am grateful.

At the second family meeting (and at other points) the elders owned their part. They were not perfect and openly acknowledge mistakes in how they handled it. We are all human. At first it wasn’t okay - it was necessary. However now a place of salvation for me. As Eugene Peterson states in Under the Unpredictable Plant, “Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors.”  So bless all our hearts… we need to live out Colossians 3:13 and “make allowance for each other's faults.” In order for us to be the body Christ is calling us to be, we will need to continue the practice of giving and receiving grace. I want to invite you into a radical trust in God alone, our source of expectation and hope, and to extending grace to each other as we walk forward.

And I want to invite you into telling yourself and others a different story; one that does not involve speculation, shame and deceit. We are a part of the greatest story ever written, God’s plan to rescue the world through His son Jesus, and we get a part to play in it! So instead of “John was messed up” or “the elders blew it”, start to say, “God is so committed to me and this church family, He is willing to allow death to bring new life and deeper union.”

What is next?

If you didn’t notice, there are a lot of felt needs in our church body. I need an office (trendy, modern, probably in hipster area), we need to clarity on roles on staff and elders, we need to equip the saints for works of ministry, our men need to start walking in deeper fellowship (way to go, Women’s Ministry!), we need to figure out women in ministry, community groups, and more space for our kids, etc, etc. All of them seem urgent, but “only one thing is needful” (Luke 10:42); to be with Christ (John 15:1-17).  As I return I hope to help lead us to Christ and regain a sense of love and affection for Him. As we seek His kingdom, as we abide in Him, He promised to take care of the rest (Proverbs 3:4-5; Matthew 6:33; 1 Thessalonians 4:24).

Secondarily I hope to regain trust within our leaders, our elders, our staff and our church family. This will come with time. We will move at the speed of trust. Trust will be reestablished as we walk in humility and vulnerability, accept one another as we are (and not as we should be). It will also come as we (staff and elders) put more healthy structures and support in our church.

Resurrection & Hope

These 6 months has been difficult on all of us. It has taken its toll on our body. Many of your friends and family and mine have left because pain, frustration, mistakes and others simply because it was time. I am sad to see some go and ultimately trust that Christ is both the shepherd and king of those who’ve left our family. He is more committed to them than we are and He is ultimately leading them onward (even if it is away from our church), which gives me peace and comfort.

It is actually in the midst of pain and sadness, not the absence of it, that we are called to hope. After death and burial comes life; new, full and joyful life. Remember to be a follower of Christ means to embrace the way of the cross. As a church family, we’ve been through a death and burial process. But God! Remember after death and burial comes resurrection. That is our ultimate hope (1 Corinthians 15:12-49; 1 Peter 1:13) and hope takes a lot of dadburn work (Romans 5:3-5).

And our God, who is love (1 John 4:7-12) and defines love, is a God who “believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). It may seem strange, but when God sees this church, He sees hope. He believes in us. He endures with and for us. And so I leave you with a song that has often brought me to tears during these past week, Opheilia, by Roo Panes (ps. You NEED to listen to his music).

Do you really need all of the things you want

I would take you back there, to where the river's from

To where the garden's green with a forever love

Singing you're somebody, Heaven's dreaming of

Take heart my love

'Cause when I see you I see hope

When I see you I see hope

There's a world that needs what you got to give

Take heart my love

'Cause when I see you I see hope

When I see you I see hope

There's a world that needs what you got to give