(Artwork by Larry Selman, titled “They Were Always There”)
Yesterday at Church180, Sherri and I shared some big news (no, we’re not having another baby).
The best way to share it here is to share a letter with you that we sent to the church:
To my friends and “family” at Church180,
This will be the most difficult letter I have ever written to you.
After having served as your pastor for nine years, Sherri and I have determined that God is calling us to a new venture. To that end, my family and I will be leaving Church180 later this fall.
We have clarity and peace in this decision, as well as a good bit of sadness. I want to be clear with you… I love Jesus, I love Church180, and I love and will remain happily married to Mrs. Peterson. Nothing immoral or unethical has transpired to cause this change. God has simply called us to a different kind of venture and we would be neither obedient nor fulfilled if we did not follow His leadership.
Before I tell you what the next steps are for the Petersons, I would like to tell you why I think this is good for Church180, and what is going to happen next.
Church180 was started with the intention of reaching out to unbelievers, skeptics, and rookie Christians who are trying church again. We have seen some success in this endeavor. We have over 1200 names in our database of people who have come through the doors of our church. Some have been visiting. Some have stayed for a while and left. And YOU are still here… thank you! This is great, but the work of the church includes more than just having people walk through the door.
My wonderful friends, after having been a senior pastor for twenty-one years I have come to conclude something about myself and what I believe are necessary and important components for a local church – God has given me two primary gifts: evangelism and teaching. I do those well… but the local church requires so much more than just these two gifts.
I know that Church180 needs leadership that is gifted, skilled, and passionate about additional components; things like systems, finance, facilities and leadership development.
I have watched pastors stay too long and destroy churches. I will not do that to Church180. Church180 is entering a chapter in her story that requires leadership and passion for areas outside of my gifting and passion. This is part of why I have determined to step aside.
What happens next at Church180?
Our Superintendents are working with me and our Advisory Team on a transition timeline that is healthy for Church180.
Our superintendents will be working directly with our Advisory Team to identify a new pastor who will love and lead Church180 into the next chapter of this story.
While there are still some details to be worked out regarding exact dates, we will keep you informed as this process unfolds.
And this leads me to the next part of this story…
Where are the Petersons headed?
After lots of prayer, and hours of conversation with Sherri and various mentors, I have determined that the next step in my life is to become an active-duty Army Chaplain. In this environment, I will be able to maximize the gifts that God has given me and live out His calling on my life to its fullest potential… it is “my place” … it is “my thing.”
Part of the process of becoming an Army Chaplain is to write a letter to the Army Colonel who approves these transitions explaining why I want to be an Army Chaplain. Here is my letter:
Why I want to be an Army Chaplain
My earliest recollections are of playing with “army men.” Growing up, that love and desire for the military never diminished. At seventeen years of age I secured my GED through the National Guard and realized, “this is what I want to do with my life!” The feel of the uniform, the weight of responsibility, the sense of adventure and purpose… they surpassed what I had anticipated. Then I was in a car accident, broke my knee, and was medically discharged… all before shipping to boot camp.
That was one of the darkest points in my life. My spiritual awakening came about a year after that incident. I did not know what I wanted to do, but I knew I needed a new location to begin my search… so I chose a Bible college. It was there that I sensed the call of God to enter ministry. I responded affirmatively but have never lost the love or desire for the military. While working on my second master’s degree, I was in a cohort with a Marine major. He mentioned that I should be a chaplain.
I immediately shut that down. In my mind, if I was going to be a soldier, I was going to be kicking down doors and taking down bad guys. Almost twelve years later, at a men’s retreat, the special speaker was an Army chaplain who had previously served in the Special Forces. I approached him, and we discussed my lingering longing for military. He suggested that I check out the chaplain’s program. Again, I shot it down… but he didn’t accept my answer. He redefined what “chaplain” means. That was almost one year ago.
I have served as a senior pastor for over twenty years. I love ministry, but for the last decade I have been unsatisfied… searching. In the last few weeks a series of conversations and events have confirmed that it is time for me to investigate this sense. I reached out to mentors and talked with Army recruiters. The more I prayed, thought, talked, and researched, the more obvious it became that it is possible to spend the second half of my life engaged in the two things I love dearly… ministry and military. If I am granted the honor to serve as a chaplain, I will happily dedicate my life to serving God and country with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
After several months of prayer, long walks, and deep reflection, and LOTS of meetings, God has made it clear that we are to make this move. I have been accepted in the military as a chaplain with the rank of Captain, and I will spend the next years of my life “bringing God to soldiers and soldiers to God.”
Church180, As I write this letter to you, there are still some details that need to be completed and questions that remain to be answered:
When will we go? That is not certain yet.
Where will we go? That is not certain yet.
We have debated when and how to share this information with you since there are still some uncertainties. It is beginning to feel like we are being disingenuous in our conversations with you regarding the future, etc., so because of that we determined to tell you what we know.
As we begin this transition, I ask you to do four things:
- Please pray for Church180 as these changes take place.
- Please pray for my family as we navigate these changes.
- Please “find your place and do your thing” at Church180 so that she will become a place that is “healthy, growing, and full of love” (Ephesians 4:16).
- Please take time to deeply evaluate your own gifts and passions and make sure you are living out the calling of God on your life.
I have loved serving as your pastor. I love the story and the values of Church180. I am excited about what will happen next in the chapter of Church180, and you!
Thank you for being a part of Church180, and my family’s life.
We love you!
The best is yet to come! Seriously!
Paul, Sherri, and “The Ladies.”