One important question that I’ve been asked is why I – with a passion for the unreached and unengaged peoples of the earth – serve as a pastor in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most churched cities in America. It’s a great question and one that often perplexes me. Here are three conclusions that I have come to in my own personal wrestling with this question.
God Called Me to Birmingham
First and foremost, I am a pastor in Birmingham because I believe this is where God has specifically called and ordained me to pastor. Years ago, my wife, Heather, and I said that if there are nearly two billion people in the world who have little to no access to the gospel – and most of them live overseas – then the only way we can stay here instead of moving there is if we’re convinced we can do more to affect them from living here than living there. And whenever that is not the case, we want to take a one-way ticket overseas.
We have given God a “blank check” with our lives. Wherever he wants us to go, we will go. And I trust that he has used and will use that blank check according to his wisdom. Five years ago, I was living in New Orleans, teaching seminary, and traveling around the world. I had no desire to pastor a church in Birmingham. But in God’s sovereign wisdom and by his boundless grace, he led me here. And I trust – I pray! – that he is using me here for the sake of the unreached and unengaged.
Leading God’s People for God’s Purpose
Second, my heart’s desire is to shepherd, equip, and mobilize the people of God for the purpose of God. I believe God’s purpose for his people is for them to enjoy his grace and extend his glory to the ends of the earth (this is obviously all over Scripture; see particularly the bookends in Genesis 12 and Revelation 7).
This God-given desire fits well with the people among whom God has placed me. God has been gracious to people in Birmingham. He has given us abundant gospel access. Not everyone in Birmingham is saved, but people in Birmingham have access to the gospel. And many have been saved. By God’s grace, many have been born into families where they have heard and received the gospel at an early age. This is evidence of the mercy of God!
And God gives mercy for the sake of mission. He has given us the gospel in Birmingham for his glory among all nations. And I absolutely love shepherding, equipping, and mobilizing people who are overwhelmed by God’s grace to live for God’s glory among all peoples. And I rejoice that this is happening as we send out people from our church throughout Birmingham and around the world.