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Yesterday my family and I announced the most difficult and emotional decision we’ve ever made in Christian ministry. We shared with the spiritual family and congregation we love our plans to transition from FBC Grand Cayman to return stateside to plant a church East of the River in Washington, D.C.

I began to feel a sense of the Lord’s leading about two years ago. But the actual decision was reached over the last ten months. That’s when I first asked the elders of FBC to shepherd me through my burgeoning desires and to help me discern the Lord’s will. When we began I only knew my desires seemed consistent enough that I needed shepherding, but not so consistent that I’d made a decision. The elders allowed me to put all my thoughts and assumptions on the table. They asked questions, listened to me ramble, gave feedback and offered their support in whatever path we’d take. It was as healthy a process of discerning a call and transitioning from a senior pastor role as I’ve ever seen or known. I’m profoundly grateful to the Lord for these men.

And I’m profoundly grateful for the church family at FBC. While many were and are shocked, the congregation lovingly communicated with us and eagerly embraced the vision for expanding the wider kingdom of God. Many spoke of having a sense that God had prepared them for this moment and excitement about the unfolding chapters ahead. Their love made a most difficult announcement an occasion for yet more grace from God. We love these saints dearly. From approximately 30 nationalities, we have been deeply united in Christ our Lord and the fellowship of His Spirit. We’re going to greatly miss the saints.

If you’re a part of the FBC family and you missed our service yesterday, or if you’re a reader of the blog and you’re interested to know what I shared, my comments to the congregation are below. For those who have a moment, I’d greatly appreciate your prayers for our FBC family and for our future. And for those tempted to ask, please do not send me your resume to replace me :-). I’m sure everyone would like to “suffer for Jesus” in the Cayman Islands, but what we need most is prayer right now.

Grace and peace to all.

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Dear FBC Family,

In April 2006, while borrowing Stephen Ryan’s old apartment on Outpost Road, I read the words of 1 Thes. 2:8: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” I read those words and knew the Lord was sending me to the Cayman Islands to pastor the saints of First Baptist Church.

We landed in Cayman on August 1, 2006 and were met at Owen Roberts airport by some 30 members of the church. It was one of the warmest receptions we’ve ever received from a group of Christians—and it was only a brief glimpse of the love, support, encouragement and help we would receive from this church family for nearly eight years. You helped us set up house. You encouraged us in our ministry. You had us over for dinner and introduced us to “heavy cake.” Right away you cared for our daughters. And you’re the only church family and home Titus has ever known. He’s been carried in many of your arms and loved by you all. You’ve loved and honored my wife—which I count as a special gift. She has thrived here more than perhaps any other place we’ve lived. You have been our family.

As a church family:

  • We have served together. Every week we’ve gathered to sing amazing praises to our God, to pray, and to hear God’s word. You’ve endured my preaching, and you’ve encouraged me constantly. Some of you have met to pray and study with me at various seasons during my ministry here. Others have traveled with me as gospel partners to give support at conferences and on mission trips. We’ve partnered together to operate a school, send missionaries, plant a church in the Middle East, eliminate our debt, and seek revival for our own beloved Cayman.
  • We have mourned together. We’ve sat with one another as older brothers and sisters grew older and weaker, as sick saints grew yet sicker. We’ve hugged and wept at the loss of loved ones. Even before we arrived in 2006, you prayed for me and my family at my brother’s death of cancer. I’ve tried to faithfully do the same when it’s been your loved ones. Together, we’ve fought for marriages, agonized over wayward children, and scraped through financial loss.
  • We have rejoiced together. Some of you I have married. We’ve celebrated the birth of many of your children and grandchildren. We’ve gone to house warmings and the opening of new businesses to ask for God’s blessing. I’ve had the honor of seeing some of you raised from death to life through the power of Jesus Christ. Some of you I have baptized. And I rejoice at the great spiritual growth that’s happened in all of us.

All of this has been one of the greatest privileges of our lives. We feel so honored that you would allow us to participate in the most intimate times of your lives. And because of these things and so many more, we will carry you in our hearts for the rest of our lives. Because all of you are in our hearts, our hearts are heavy with sadness at the prospect of leaving. We hope you will also carry us in your hearts and carry us to God in prayer as we embark on this exciting and uncertain venture.

The apostle Paul once wondered about what would happen to his fellow Jewish community which did not yet believe the gospel. He writes: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” He says: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Rom. 9:2-3; 10:1).

Over the last two years, something like that has become an increasing burden for me. Great sorrow. Unceasing anguish. A heart’s desire to see my “kinsmen according to the flesh”—the greater African-American community—come into the glory of God’s salvation—especially those in the forgotten and forsaken cities of the country.

About ten months ago, I began to talk with the elders about what was then a feeling. When we began, I did not know what the Lord would have us do. It was such a blessing to have a group of men welcome the opportunity to pray and discern with me the Lord’s directions. Many pastors could never do this with their fellow leaders. The elders graciously joined me in praying and seeking the Lord’s will—whether I should continue in ministry here or transition to this new work. Over those several months, we met individually, held a retreat to focus on this issue, and they met several times without me. In the end, they could detect no sinful motive, recognized the needs of the wider kingdom of God, understood my burden for urban African-American communities, and offered their support whether I chose to continue at First Baptist or follow the Lord’s leading elsewhere.

I have decided to transition from FBC to pursue this exciting and difficult ministry for the glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation of many in African-American communities. Effective June 30th I will transition from my role here as senior pastor. In early July, we hope to move back to Washington, D.C. where we will, Lord willing and pending an official call, land at Capitol Hill Baptist Church as members and as church planters. From there we hope to launch a new church in a part of the city commonly called “East of the River.”

The elders of FBC have communicated their desire for the church to stand with us and to send us into this harvest field. I am grateful for these men, for their faith, love and hope, and their partnership in the gospel.

I’m praying for a deep unity and deep faith for us as a church family. During my ministry here I’ve tried to emphasize two things: (1) the absolute centrality and sufficiency of Jesus Christ and His gospel, and (2) the great importance and joy of being a true spiritual family, committed to one another as members in the local body of Christ. With this transition, I’m hopeful that what I have treasured and taught will be treasured and lived all the more by everyone here.

I firmly believe that the best days for FBC are ahead of it. Jesus never abandons His Church. While I intend to get completely out of his way, I will be completely supportive of the man the Lord has prepared to shepherd you. I have a deep sense that the leadership that is to come will be precisely what the church needs for the years ahead.

We love you more than you know or than we can express. And we are confident of your love for us. That’s what makes this sorrowful and also what makes it promising. We are hoping to spend as much time as possible with as many of you as possible between now and July. Whether this is a shock to you, a disappointment, something that you expected, or something you’re excited about, we’d love to hear from you and have time with you.

It has been our honor to know and serve you these 7.5 years.

With an everlasting love in Jesus Christ our Savior,

Thabiti, Kristie, Afiya, Eden and Titus


 

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Comments:


32 thoughts on “The Most Difficult Ministry Decision I’ve Ever Made”

  1. george canady says:

    Prayers for you pastor as surely you have struggled to discern God’s will on the larger impact of “your” decision. Prayers for the pain of those who were used to your physical presents, that they may be grateful for the time they had with you and be careful and excepting of God’s next gift of a Shepard.

  2. Todd says:

    Pastor T,

    I’m praying for you and admire your faithfulness to FBC after their previous transition. Myself and our Church will keep you in prayer.

    Todd

  3. Bob Kellemen says:

    Pastor Thabiti,

    I’m praying for you, your family, your church family at FBC, and your future church family. Having served for 17 years at a multi-cultural seminary in the DC area, I join you in seeing the great need that God has called you to.

    In Christ’s Grace

    Bob

  4. Moe Bergeron says:

    Thabiti,

    May our Lord continue to bless your labors in the ministry of the new covenant and may He also continue to bless that labors of FBC. You labors are much appreciated.

  5. Ben Hein says:

    Brother! You remind me of my wife who for whatever reason moved from Southern California to the DC area!

    In all seriousness, what a testament to God’s faithfulness that you’d not only consider but in faith move from the Cayman Islands to the heart of the African American commununity in Inner City DC. That is very encouraging to me, and am excited to see how your ministry impacts our city.

    PS Maybe we can finally meet and talk about your Muslim book in person rather than online now! :)

  6. Josh Deng says:

    God bless on this new chapter!

  7. Joani says:

    Have to admit to tears as I read this post… Tears of thankfulness for your family’s beautiful journey serving with the family of FBC, Grand Cayman. My life was impacted by the love and care there in ways that make my words seem trite to express my gratitude!

    Then tears of thankfulness for this ministry laid on your heart — this new venture that is so needed. I am excited to see hope shared, and lives impacted in a precious way.

    May His grace be evident as you all walk through the transition, and His joy be your strength.

    Love to you and yours, Pastor T! :)

  8. Ray Ortlund says:

    God be with you, friend, as you step out for him, in him.

  9. Ruth Haynes says:

    We are praying for you, Pastor T and your wonderful family! Thank you for all your ministry to us as a family during our time in Cayman. Our lives have been touched forever through your service to the Lord! God bless you during this transition period. Hugs to all!!

  10. Tom Agnew says:

    I think one of the most encouraging things a pastor, particularly a well known pastor such as yourself, can do for the flock he leads, both locally and, in your case, nationally, is lead out like this. I know this is a tough transition for you and your family. Thank you for your desire to listen to the Lord’s leading and step boldly in that direction. It means so much to guys like me. Grace!

  11. tabulous says:

    Greetings,

    Pastor T… my prayers are with you and your family. I must admit that I am excited about your transition for selfish reasons b/c I live in the DC area and have been looking for a church for over 1 yr. I cannot wait to visit East of the River.

    To God be the Glory!!

  12. john says:

    of all the young pastors and disciples that Capitol Hill Baptist is raising up, they couldn’t have sent someone to go to that area and do the church plant? Seems like a prime place for them to reach out to. Well, praise God. Good luck Thabiti

    1. john says:

      I apologize if my comment sounds negative-I have nothing but love for Capitol Hill!

    2. David Lee says:

      When the Lord puts something on a man’s heart, the man should heed it, not tell God to put it on someone else’s heart instead. I pray for this kind of faithfulness in my own walk with Christ. Blessings to you Pastor T, and to you also, John.

      1. john says:

        I agree, David. My words weren’t spoken in wisdom. thank you

        1. Mike says:

          John, as a church planter, I don’t think your question is without warrant. I actually meant people in my area that moved from here to plant a church in my home town! Hearing stories like that has made me re-think my perspective on CPing, at least North American church planting.

          1. Mike says:

            John, I should have clarified, my comment was a general statement about NA CPing. I was not trying to detract from our brothers desire to plant in DC. There are many church’s in the DC area, but not a lot of them are healthy church’s.

  13. Bernice Yap says:

    Pastor T, I’m happy for you and your family and I hope that you’ll be encouraged with this note. You will be missed (I do miss everybody from FBC too) and I’m glad that God is leading you to plant a church. We do need more churches here and people who would share the gospel. I pray that this ministry will bear fruit. I’m excited! Can’t wait to see what God is going to do next.

  14. John Power says:

    Thabiti, Liz and I are thrilled at the prospect of your leadership of this church plant! Praising God with you for his clear leading in this direction.

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  16. Scott Wright says:

    Heavenly Father,
    In your mercy & according to your will, grant grace to Thabiti, his family, the elders and the body there at FBC all that is needed to sustain them in the months ahead through this transition. Lord Jesus, be their ultimate rest and peace; Holy Spirit, lead them clearly in all decisions going forward and protect them from the evil one! All to the glory of God! Amen

  17. Lee says:

    Pastor Thabiti,

    You are in my prayers. What a blessing both you and the DC area are in for! God is good ALL the time!!!

  18. TW says:

    I am excited to hear about the gospel opportunities that are sure to come with this transition. You have written much about race and ethnicity in the church, so I’m curious about your intention to reach, specifically, the African-American community. Having grown up in an Asian-American church myself, I have often wrestled with the legitimacy of ethnic churches. It seems that the gospel is supposed to break down ethnic and cultural barriers and bring diverse people together in such a way as to show off the wisdom of God and the power of the gospel. Because you have given much thought about this in the past, I was wondering if you would be willing to devote a post or a series of posts to share your thoughts and convictions about this issue, especially in light of your decision? Or just a brief answer here would be great too–this dog will take whatever crumbs he can get ;)

  19. earnestly seeking says:

    Hi Pastor T. Thank you for this post. Reading from this and hearing from your sermons I can’t help but praise Him for using you mightily to demonstrate what it is to be a God Honoring and Christ Exalting member of His Body.

    I would just like to seek counsel from you and maybe some of the brothers here in our Lord.. I earnestly want to know what conditions warrant leaving the local church you’re currently planted in and move to another? I totally agree with you that one’s spiritual growth is tied up to growth in the body; the other members of our Lord who make up His body. I fully agree that as members we ought to bear each others burdens, and love one another and to go through the ups and downs of living together as redeemed sinners, warts and all. I also agree that it is in this context where we show forebearance, forgiveness, and enduring love for each other, and are built up in Christlikeness in the process.

    I also agree that we should come as contributors/servants with a service mindset to pursue and champion the common good of the body, to spend our lives for our brothers and sisters; not to come as spectators and consumers out there to be satisfied or served.

    But all this i think presupposes that pastors/elders/leaders and members know or are at least have this kind of view or expectation of the church? But what if the church you’re currently part of, orthodox in paper as it is, seems to be missing out on this? What if the church is already run like a corporation / club, where the goal is to bring people in, and anything and everything that doesn’t add to this goal (current members included) should be eliminated? What if the preacing is very pragmatic and no longer centers on God, His Sovereignty and His glory? What if in serving and giving to the church, the community which is the means of God to nourish you seems to be lacking in the corresponding input?

    Does it mean you need to move? Or continue to persevere to the detriment of your own spiritual growth, thus maybe weakening the body even more? Or is it in precisely persevering in this dry season the means by God to strenghten us??

    Sincerely seeking….

  20. George says:

    Thank you bro for giving such an insight into your transition. I came across this sometime back and prayed that I would have a similar process in what I knew was a possible calling for me to serve at my home church after being an assistant at a sister church for a few years. However indications seem to be that this process you’ve described above isn’t followed or probably known among the leaders in my churches. Would appreciate if you could outline a suggested process for a leader to go through when faced with a decision to leave one church to serve another. Or if you could direct to a helpful resource in this subject area I would be most grateful.

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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