by John Ellis
In a few weeks, my wife and I will be officially resigning our membership at Arlington Baptist Church. For six years, we worshipped and served alongside brothers and sisters in Christ who became our dear friends. As one of ABC’s pastors, I encouraged members who moved away to submit a resignation letter expressing thankfulness for how God used ABC in their heart and life. Unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to encourage others to write a letter than it is to write your own resignation letter.
Transitions are never as smooth nor as easy as anticipated, no matter how much planning goes into it. Things are left unsaid that you wished you had said. Goodbyes are never as complete as hoped. Thankfully, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, goodbyes are also never final. That glorious truth, though, doesn’t completely mitigate the sadness that comes with earthly goodbyes during seasons of transition. And, so, my wife and I are left with the task of attempting to encapsulate into a short letter what Arlington Baptist Church means to us and how God used the ministry of the Word there to grow us into greater Christ-likeness.
Upon our arrival in the D.C. area six years ago, we had left behind a church family in South Carolina that had spent eight years pouring themselves into us. Through our pastors’ shepherding, the memberships’ discipling, and the fervent prayers of many, God used that church to preserve our marriage, grow me from a brand new Christian to one desiring to continue to mature in the faith, develop our love for God’s Word, and to teach us the importance and value of the life and ministry of the church in the sanctification of Believers. However, like today, our sanctification was not completed during our years as members of Emmanuel Bible Church.
The transition to ABC ended up being far more difficult than we anticipated. The personality of the D.C. area along with our deep love and longing for our EBC family combined to create a stumbling block that ultimately revealed, ironically, that our previous church family had become an idol in our hearts.
Throughout that first year and a half at ABC, we tried to leave. It was a rare Sunday that we didn’t return home after the worship service and say to each other, “This isn’t the church for us.”
Thankfully, the ecclesiology that we had been taught at EBC prevented us from pulling up stakes and church shopping. We knew that our previous pastors would expect us to explain to our new pastors why we were leaving. And, so, we would ask each other, “What are we going to tell the elders?”
Every single time we started down the road of leaving ABC, we ran into the roadblock that we did not have a legitimate reason to leave. We were being fed the Word, there was no denying that. The worship service was gospel-centered and God-honoring. The members were faithfully serving us through prayer and fellowship. While not perfect, there was not a legitimate reason for us to break our covenant with the church. Over time, it became impossible to ignore the fact that we were the problem and not ABC.
During that season of transition, the senior pastor, who has become one of my dearest friends, began to pour himself into my life and discipled me, sometimes against my will (he doesn’t know how to take “no” for an answer – to those who don’t know Mike, that may seem like a character flaw; it’s not. His personality is a gift to ABC and God has used his personality and endless reservoirs of energy to bless His people).
Over time, Mike’s discipling me began to take on more of a mentoring relationship – buying me books to read and discuss, teaching me through word and deed what it means to think and act pastorally, being willing (gleefully so) to put me on the spot in front of people by asking me hard systematic theology questions and ethical questions, and demonstrating what it means to lead by serving. Eventually, by God’s grace, our relationship became one of partnership in the ministry of the Word.
Serving alongside Mike and the other pastors is something that I am eternally grateful for and memories that I will always cherish. Even those seeming dark times – the moments when we wept and prayed over sin issues that members were struggling with, the times when personalities or other issues threatened the unity of the church – are times that the Holy Spirit used to conform me to the image of the Son. In fact, those moments in the crucible as we agonized together and stood face-to-face with our frailty and our own sinful hearts taught me that my dependence is on Christ alone and not myself, my fellow pastors, and not even on a church family, no matter how much I may love that church family.
And, so, as Danita and I close the earthly chapter in our life that includes covenanting together in membership with Arlington Baptist Church, it is upon me, as the writer of the family (and the head of the house) to compose our resignation/goodbye letter. I’ve contemplated writing a massive tome of tens of thousands of words to see how much of it Mike would read at the next member’s meeting. I would take a selfish pleasure in knowing that our resignation meant that the already too-long member’s meeting was dragged out to an unbearable length. But I won’t do that, even though the thought of it makes me chuckle. I’ll keep it short and sweet (you’re welcome, Kat).
Because of the need to keep the letter to an appropriate length, I want use this blog to take the opportunity to share a little more in depth how much we love ABC and some of the ways in which God used our dear friends as an encouragement in our hearts. Most importantly, I want to give testimony to how God has glorified and is glorifying Himself through the ministry of ABC. So, along with what I’ve already shared, below are a few specific examples that help provide a snapshot of how the Holy Spirit used ABC to sanctify us. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to share everything.
As I reflect back over our time at ABC, one of the things that stands out the brightest in my memory is the joy that was ours watching the Holy Spirit change people and grow them into maturity. We saw this time and time again. ABC is filled with young adults, married couples as well as singles, who are growing in their love for God, His Word, and the desire to serve Him, each other, and their community. I didn’t become a Christian until I was almost thirty and even then, during the first few years of my Christian life, the Holy Spirit had to drag me kicking and screaming through the process of sanctification. Looking back over my own foolishness and pride that dominated my young adult years, there are times when I feel a tinge of jealousy at how God is using the young adults of ABC. Their still-youthful energy and passion is becoming more and more Christ-like, and that was evident to Danita and I as we sought to serve them. In turn, since we had the privilege of being in such close proximity to their infectious energy and growing love for the things of the Spirit, I think that they may have served us more than we served them by encouraging us to continue to desire to grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ. We love and miss the young adults (married and single) who weren’t afraid to treat our home as their home and who were willing to invite us into their struggles and joys. They may have the mistaken belief that we were serving them, but in reality, they were serving us.
Similarly, because of my role as one of ABC’s pastors, I had the joy of being privy to victories over sin that the Holy Spirit gave and is giving God’s people. At times, it is tempting to doubt the power of the gospel to change people. However, being asked to enter into the labors of prayer and shepherding because of sin issues that threaten to consume a desperate soul and then seeing the Holy Spirit miraculously begin to give victory is a huge antidote to that doubt. For sure, there are moments as a pastor that bring you low and that cause you to doubt your own faith, but those moments are always outshone by the victories that you have the privilege of seeing among God’s people. I give thanks to God for allowing me the opportunity to be a bystander watching His Spirit work.
Watching God answer the prayers of His saints was also one of our great joys during our season at ABC. From seeing God answer the prayers of several married couples by giving them children to seeing God provide our congregation with a building to use in the worship and praise of Him and to witnessing the salvation and baptism of loved ones and friends. And that’s not to mention the myriad of times that God used prayer to enlighten, grow, and guide the members of ABC during job searches, desire for marriage, health concerns, and a variety of other struggles and requests. We are thankful that God allowed us to be a part of a church that prioritizes prayer and, hence, a church that is a living evidence to the power of prayer.
By no means is Arlington Baptist Church perfect. Until Jesus returns, the Curse will continue to make its presence known. Like all churches everywhere, selfishness, pride, and the lusts of the flesh still plague the members of ABC. Thankfully, as Jesus told his disciples, our King has not left us to do battle against the flesh in our own strength. He has given us his Spirit, and he has also called us to grow in Christlikeness together. By God’s grace, the leadership of Arlington Baptist Church is characterized by a love for Christ and the desire to faithfully minister the Word to those whom God has placed in ABC. This is not only evident in the gospel-centered and God-honoring approach to worship, but is also evident in the fruits of the Spirit that are flowering among the membership of the church. Danita and I praise God that He allowed us six years with a church family that loved us and served us. We are thankful that six years after our arrival, in large part owing to the ministry of ABC, we are more Christ-like as He moves us on.
In conclusion, on a personal note to the members of ABC, I am thankful that you allowed me the privilege of serving you as one of your pastors. It was humbling and rewarding, and even though I am no longer your pastor, I continue to pray for you and look forward to hearing how God continues to use you for His glory. I am also thankful to Mike for sharing his pulpit with me. I don’t know if God has preaching in my future, but being granted the privilege of preaching to ABC has been one of the greatest joys of my life. The responsibility of preaching God’s Word to God’s people is humbling and scary, and I pray that He used my efforts for His glory, the continued spread of His Kingdom, and the sanctification of His saints. Below, I’ve linked to my final sermon to you (members of ABC) as one of your pastors because it’s a sweet memory for me and, selfishly, I want to have it bookmarked somewhere that’s easy for me to access. It serves as a reminder of the great privilege that was mine serving you.
Soli Deo Gloria