Original Picture ©Pat Tharp 2016
Sometimes I battle with this thought,”Did I totally blow up my life by dropping a bombshell on the things I was doing and royally screw it up?” (I’m sure you’ve never thought that.) Life, and what comes to us and through us is often like being on an emotional roller coaster. There are “ups” where everything is awesome, hands are in the air like you really don’t care, there are downs where you are white knuckling and holding on for dear life, and there are curves that come and can throw you for a loop.
What I have discovered in this past year are that there are seasons in life for everything. Those seasons are not permanent, like the changing of our weather cycles, our seasons of life ebb and flow, and come and go accordingly. What I’ve also discovered is that what we do does not define “who we are.” It’s a part of us, but as life changes, it doesn’t define us.
For the first 12 years of my “working life” I worked in a Property Management Company. Dealing in apartment rentals, repairs, leasing, and obtaining my Real Estate license I was on track to own and run my own business one day. But through God’s providence and some connecting situations the door opened up for me to come on staff and lead the Music Ministry at my one time home Church, Koinonia Fellowship in East Rochester, NY. It was a dream come true. My heart had been stirred for full-time vocational ministry and I dropped my real estate “nets” and accepted this position.
Over the next 12 years I was privileged to see the music, media, and our TV program grow. We recorded 3 all original worship CD’s, which are still some of my favorite music. For 3 of those years I taught the Youth Group and was able to see a generation grow in their faith and go on to serve Jesus in their lives. As an Elder I was given the humbling opportunity to teach God’s Word to the congregation on occasion, and start and lead a very vibrant men’s Ministry called B.A.M.M. My family and I grew up spiritually in this amazing Church full of solid leadership, sound doctrine, and loving people. Barring all the typical things we broken sinners deal with, it was and still is a great church.
But something in that last year started to change in me. I started to be weary of the multitude of programs…events that I was expected to attend because I was “in leadership,” and the lack of real and intimate close friendships that seemed to elude me in the fast paced rhythms of Full-time ministry. I had no space for such things because I was too busy “doing ministry.”
Maybe it was all the Francis Chan and The Verge Network materials that I started reading. Questions I began to ask myself like, “Is this all there is to my Christianity?” “Is there a simpler and more biblical way to be and make disciples?” “Why is Church life so busy?” Why don’t I have enough margin in my life to reach my neighbors and non-Christian friends?” “What do I want the legacy of my life to be?” “Am I doing what I am called to be doing in life, in this season?”
While on vacation, I dreamed of and drafted an idea for a new model of a Church. One that was relational not locational (where everything only happens in a building); one that made space for discipleship, fellowship, and Christian maturity (the calendar was not packed with “stuff” to do); one that sent men out regularly and intentionally to plant churches (reaching unreached areas of upstate NY and the world); one that had deep, rich, and robust theological training and equipping (similar to the Koinonia School of Ministry in India); one that you could invite a non-Christian to and they wouldn’t drown in “Christianese” and Christian cultural slogans. This was a big step…
Shortly after I went to my Pastors and fellow Elders and shared my desire to start a new work, a new church. (We even put our house up for sale and desired to move into the Village of Webster and minister to a growing community of diverse ethnic groups and families.) I received complete support for this vision and plans began to be considered for transitioning me out of the Worship Ministry…but something happened.
Out of the blue about a month later we had a family issue occur. (Does it really matter what it is? We all have stuff in life that happens and you just need to pray and deal with it.) After going to the Leadership Board and explaining what happened, I still had their support to go forward, but Colleen and I were uncertain if this timing was a good idea to launch a new Church. Our house never sold and I was given the gracious opportunity to stay on board and try and do some of the things “there” that I wanted to do outside of Koinonia. I agreed, and in God’s great grace and design all things worked out well and we had a great season of stability and provision.
After about a year I realized I was trying to put “my vision” and “my expectations” upon a Church that is wired in a different manner. Kind of like David trying to fight Goliath in Saul’s armor, 1 Sam. 17:38-39, it just doesn’t fit. I realized that it wasn’t Koinonia that needed to change, but me. I was the one who was restless and longing for things that I wasn’t experiencing there. So I went to the Pastors and Leadership again and shared my desire to move on and help in the transition for the various ministries that I led or was a part of. They were as always gracious, prayerful, understanding, and supportive. We scheduled a time on a Sunday morning where I was able to address the entire congregation on my plans to move on and there were many tears, hugs, and “we’ll miss you guys.” I have heard of many horror stories of Church staff leaving their position, and all I can say is that I was treated with the utmost respect, support, honor, and grace in every way; more than I could have hoped for or expected.
During our transition period we started visiting a Church that I was familiar with and had heard the lead Pastor before called Grace Road Church. We felt at home, welcomed, and ready for a fresh start. All the things we longed for in planting a new Church were being done already in this young Congregation; and we have been well fed, loved, and growing there ever since.
So as of May of 2015, I officially stepped out of Full-time vocational Ministry. Leaving behind 24 years of deep rooted friendships and relationships has been the hardest thing to deal with. Not that you’re “not” friends anymore, but when you leave things do change; not that you want them to change, but it is just the reality of it all.
God has been more than gracious to us through this all; when you leave a full-time job that provided income, health insurance, dental insurance, retirement and stability, it can be a little scary about how you will survive. Having been a closet entrepreneur, I expanded a side business I started called, The Chai Guy. We are a mobile Chai Tea Company serving homemade and slow brewed Chai at the Rochester Public market every Saturday and we serve local cafes, Coffee Houses, and Farmers markets with the same amazing Chai! (We plan on taking over the Chai Tea world)! At the same time people started calling me for home repairs; handyman stuff that I’ve done for a long time. So I started “Patrick’s Property Services.” God has provided well beyond what I had hoped or asked for. It has been lean sometimes, and sometimes I’m not sure where the next $1 is coming from, but we trust Him and all His goodness has never failed us yet!
If you’ve read this entire blog I just want to thank you…you are a true friend. I figured that enough time has past to get this off my chest and maybe help some people get over some of the rumors and half-truths that they’ve heard, believed, or simply felt uncomfortable asking. I’m truly excited for the future and look forward to what Jesus has in store for us in this coming year.
If you are at a crossroads, a season of uncertainty, or simply need to make some big decisions, I would encourage you to pray, seek wise counsel, seek trusted advisors and make a plan of action. Things never turn out how you’d expect them to, but you can trust that they will turn out for our good and God’s glory!
Thank you for all your prayers, support, friendship and encouragement to me and my family. I pray that you will experience the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ as we go into this “unwritten” New Year!
(C) 2016 Pat Tharp