By Josh Butler
I recently had a dream.
I was being driven through the city in the back seat of an SUV. Up ahead, a missile slammed into a building. *Boom* The building started to crumble. We swerved and veered to the left to avoid the collapse, heading in a different direction. *Boom* Another missile crashed into a second building up ahead. The city was under attack.
We turned again, this time making our way over one of the city’s bridges. I saw a third missile slam into the bridge’s foundation at the far end over the river. The bridge began to shake, wobble, and crumble . . . as we began to plummet towards the water below, I woke up.
Now, sometimes I have crazy dreams cuz’ I ate a bad burrito. But sometimes, I’ve found, God is speaking. So I prayed my usual, simple prayer: “God, you’re a good communicator. If you want to say something through this dream, I pray you’d reveal its meaning.”
Immediately it hit like a ton of bricks: “Everything is about to come crumbling down around you: your job and your home, the familiarity of your city, everything that’s stable and routine. It’s going to feel like you’re falling into nothing, but don’t worry: I’ve got you.”
There was a sense God was guiding somewhere new, bringing us into a new season, and even if it felt like falling into the unknown . . . he’d catch me.
Immediately, I knew I needed to resign.
From “Mission” to “Paradigm Shifts”
I’ve been a pastor of Imago Dei Community for 15 years. It’s family. It’s roots. It’s home. I love the local church. I love our local church. Jesus has shaped me through his people. Jesus has shaped me through this people. So resigning is not a decision taken lightly, and I want to share a bit more on the “why.”
There are three convictions behind this decision. First, a recent shift in my sense of vocation (or calling). For the last 20’ish years, my focus has been “mission”: overseeing our local ministries, international partnerships, with some leading worship and teaching thrown in. But the last 2- 3 years, God’s been stirring in me a new vision for the season ahead.
I turned 40 this Summer, and Holly & I had some friends over the week of my birthday, praying together in our living room, over what God might have to say to each of us regarding our identity. It was a powerful night, everyone felt God speak something personal to them. And I felt I heard God speak a word that struck in my heart like a gong: “paradigm-shifter.”
This is the sweet spot where I’ve increasingly been coming alive recently: grappling with some of the tough topics we’re facing as the body of Christ today, for the paradigm shifts that can help us confront common cultural caricatures and reclaim a robust, biblical, historic understanding of the faith to the glory of Jesus.
This is what I’m called to, I believe, the next few decades of my life.
If “paradigm shifts” are the destination, there are four main vehicles I heard to get there: preaching, teaching, writing, and speaking. I’m a local church guy: I love the church and feel called to the theological equipping of the church in the season ahead. This leads to my next two convictions.
Making Space for Others
The next two convictions hit when I woke from the “crumbling city” dream. I saw them as looking downstream and upstream. Looking “downstream,” at the younger generation of leaders coming up in our church, we have strong, gifted, talented leaders with huge potential. In particular, God has blessed us with many leaders of color. I believe in them SO strongly: God is going to move and shake this city through them. They are a gift to the kingdom. Worthy of being invested in, that they might invest in God’s people.
I’ve come to the conviction it’s time for me to bow out to make space for others to lead. Many of the areas I’m serving in I love and can do well, but they have been about my last season of calling and I believe are a better fit for this next generation of young leaders to step into, to grow and cut their teeth on ministry, and to be poured into by the phenomenal leadership we currently have.
So my second conviction is making space for others: to free up leadership space for younger folks we see God’s anointing on to step in, grow, and thrive.
Almost a decade ago, I remember our elders dreaming towards a vision of greater diversity as a church body. They believed Jesus was leading us in this direction. Not just that we’d have more diverse people in the church body, but more diverse leaders representing our identity as a city church, and shaping our life and direction as a people. God has been faithful in making that happen in so many ways.
I believe in this vision. This is simply a further step in that direction.
We Have a Stacked Team
Turning to look “upstream,” at the generation of leaders ahead of me, the third conviction is that we have a stacked team. God has blessed us with phenomenal preachers, teachers, and leaders. I’m honored, humbled, and blessed to have run over the last 15 years with the gifted leaders we have. Our current team is amazing.
At both our Central and Eastside congregations, we have mature, experienced preachers and teachers, phenomenal ministers and staff. I’m blown away not only by the younger leaders we have coming up, but the older leaders who’ve paved the way and the current team God’s given us.
Many of the areas I feel called to are areas that, to be honest, our church body doesn’t really need. We have them in spades. It’s like playing on an All-Star Team with a stacked bench—praise God for the team!
So these are the three core convictions behind this transition: a new sense of calling, making space for others, and rejoicing in our stacked team.
When Hometown is Hard
Holly & I are making this decision together. To be honest, she saw it coming before I did (as is usually the case in our marriage ) And she first felt the conviction clearly. That’s what happens when you marry a prophet. lol
This transition has to do with her sense of calling as well. We both see clearly that God has called and gifted her in Prayer and the Spiritual Gifts: it’s been so beautiful, inspiring, and compelling to see her lead, teach, and equip hundreds of people in these areas, to truly shift the culture in our church when it comes to hearing the voice of God, to knowing our identity in Jesus, and walking in the presence and power of his Spirit.
God is moving mountains through my wife.
One of the non-negotiables in this transition is that this next season is about God’s calling on, not one, but both of our lives. And we both carry conviction that this is the new season.
An additional factor in all this is probably a bit of the “prophet in his hometown” syndrome. (Mark 6:4) Not saying I’m a prophet, per se (my wife, however, is another story). But the jist is, it can be hard to step into a new season when everyone’s known you in the old one. It can be hard to step into “paradigm shifter” when everyone in your church and city has known you as the “mission kid” for the last twenty years.
This is as much an internal thing you place on yourself as anything external others place on you. It’s like going to your high school reunion, and suddenly finding yourself reverting to old habits, mannerisms, and ways of interacting from the way everyone knew you then.
Hometown can be hard when God’s calling you into something new.
And hometown can be hard to leave, too. This decision has not come without a lot of tears. But to the best of our discernment, Holly & I believe strongly that God is calling us into this new season. So like Abraham stepping out from everything he knew, the stability, comfort, and routine of his hometown, into the horizon of God’s future, we are simply striving to be faithful to Jesus and trust he’s got our back.
It’s worth noting, too, our lead pastor Rick has been with us through this discernment process. The week of the dream, I met with him and we’ve been praying and discerning through this together since. I love Rick, and am so grateful for his leadership. He’s more than a boss, he’s a shepherd and friend. I can’t imagine my life without his leadership and influence over the years. Jesus has shaped and formed me through him. And I’m grateful for his presence with us in this process.
Where We’re Headed Next
We’re off to Phoenix! We’ll be diving in with the phenomenal crew at Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona. I’ll be serving as pastor there with my friend and amazing kingdom collaborator, brilliant conspirator, and voracious dreamer, Riccardo Stewart. I can’t wait to lead together with him. Holly is bringing her Prayer & Spiritual Gifts game to the team. And we’re excited to jump in with some of our phenomenal friends there: Tyler Johnson, Riccardo Stewart, Dennae Pierre, and Jim Mullins.
To be honest, there were a number of opportunities on the table in different cities, and a significant part of what sold us on Redemption was the team: we love these guys and can’t wait to run after the kingdom together!
Another fun side-note: remember that “city crumbling” dream? When I was in the back seat of the SUV? Well guess who was in the front passenger seat: Tyler Johnson, the lead pastor for the Redemption family of congregations. He’s a trusted leader and friend.
At the time of the dream, Tyler and I had had no conversations about any of this, it wasn’t even on the radar. But as Holly & I began exploring opportunities, it became abundantly clear that Redemption had the strongest vocational alignment, with the “winning the lottery” bonus dynamic of running with a crew we already know and love.
So I’m excited to run with Tyler’s leadership (as he’s in the “passenger seat” in front of me), and with Riccardo and the rest of the crew. And I’m pretty darn confident God is the One in the driver’s seat, leading the way in this whole thing.
So Goodbye, Portland: we’ll miss the aroma of your ambient coffee shops, the nostalgia of our childhood stomping grounds, the exquisite local craft brew and unique tastes of your mom & pop shop restaurants, the beauty of your green forested hills (and, yes, even the non-stop rain that makes it possible!), the looming majesty of Mt. Hood, and the proximity of the gorgeous Oregon Coast.
Goodbye, Imago Dei: you’re our church family, our deep roots, where gospel life has grown in us. We love your faithfulness to Jesus and the way God shines his kingdom through you as a people. It’s been an honor to serve you and be formed within you as our community. It’s here Holly and I met and fell in love, brought our beautiful babies into the world, raised our young children, and have grown in the faith. We don’t see ourselves as leaving, so much as planting from that which you’ve invested in us.
Goodbye, family and friends, with tears.
And Hello, with eager anticipation, to all God has in store for the season ahead.