I attended my first Catalyst Conference in (I think) 2011. Wasn’t sure I wanted to go. But my friend Brad did. Felt called to it. So we saddled up the bikes and rode to Atlanta. Brad had a huge chain and lock. We locked the bikes together at the hotel so they wouldn’t get fled from us by thieving minions.
I worshiped. I laughed. I learned and was challenged in my relationship with Jesus and in my leadership. We said we’d attend the following year with his wife as well. But neither were able to make it.
So John, Ken, Jim and I got our motorcycles packed up and ready. It had rained and was calling for more. We looked at the radar. We REALLY wanted to ride…not take a car. SO we took an alternate route through Tennessee. Took us…I dunno…10 hours with stops. Arrived late to the hotel. Up very early to stand in line at the conference center.
I was broken. I wasn’t receiving a full paycheck- the money wasn’t there. I had been pulling back on all expenses. Even refraining from buying things like copy paper. I was tired. Weary. Exhausted. But I felt like the time away was much needed. Esp. since I would be making a decision soon.
I wanted to quit. To walk away. To let it all go and instead do something else with my life. I wanted to work and then come home from work and have a separate life without constant calls, texts, FB messages and FB drama. Without having mentally-unbalanced people threaten my and my family (true story!). Without going out with my family to the store or to eat. And running into upset and angry drama-causing people who couldn’t bully and force their way. Who didn’t get what they wanted from me and the church. Or had been fighting with someone in the church and decided I was an enemy for still liking the people they, in their amazing and awesome Christian faith, now hated. Biker Church had taken a toll on me. I was ready to drop. To walk. To become an employee with set hours and days off.
I worried about the heart of my son. He watched his dad go through all of this. I tried, though I failed, to insulate him from it. I didn’t want him to hate Jesus and the Faith because of what he saw in people who claimed to be a part of that Faith. But I had to warn him and watch him as he went to his friend’s house, just 3 doors down. An ex of one of our attenders had been riding up and down our street. She was bat…crazy. And mad that I let her ex attend Biker Church. Another guy was an unmedded bipolar. We figured he was all talk. But we just weren’t sure what he might do. And at one point, I was told that some folks were looking for me and mine over motorcycle patches.
So my own son couldn’t play in the street and walk to a friend’s house. Because I couldn’t- I wouldn’t- take that chance. My wife had to worry over him. Over me. And I couldn’t even pay all my bills during this time. Because I was working all the time, but not getting a full paycheck. I SO wanted to bolt. To call it quits.
So I was at Catalyst Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Calling Dolores to make sure she and Trent were OK. And I was being wrecked by worship. Being reminded of who God is. His call. His strength. His love. His holiness. Preachers were going deep into the Word. Matt Chandler spoke. I couldn’t quit crying. It was breaking me. He wanted those of us who were ready to quit…to stand. He was clear: maybe you do need to leave. Maybe you need to stay. But circumstances aren’t the reason for either. God’s Call is. Stand. So that we can pray for you. I was with John and Jim and Ken. Church guys I pastored. They didn’t need to see this.
I stood. Eyes wet. And I hated myself for it. They laid hands on. Prayed. Along with some others in this group of 10,000 church leaders. I knew in that moment: the Call of God hasn’t ended. I knew in that moment that what I was preaching was true: Jesus is enough. I knew in that moment: Jesus never said it would be easy. He simply said, “Follow.”
We headed to lunch at a local mall’s food court. I broke down again. No judgment. No recrimination from these guys. Just encouragement and love. And yeah…I’m a guy. I still hated myself for it. But we talked Vision. We talked about what Layman could be. We prayed and talked and encouraged one another.
We headed back on Saturday morning. By Sunday, I knew it was time for change. We washed one another’s feet in the worship service. Ripped out the old, dank carpet. Began to make changes in the externals (building, worship area, etc) that reflected some very important inward changes that sustain us even now.
It’s not about Catalyst. It’s about time away to consider the things of God without the pressure of getting ready to preach or being pulled aside at a fun church event for impromptu pastoral care (counseling, some people call it). God uses that time in my life to speak powerfully and with clarity. And I’m grateful.
My wife? The hero of the church in so many ways. She’s seen… will always see… so much of the worst. But she still loves. Still serves. Always behind the scenes. She lives with the tension. And the husband who can’t just be off work and relaxed. And that’s on me. I’m still learning. And won’t get there this side of the grave. Quick aside…Charles Stanley was looking for someone who is a little further down the line from him (there’s no one more advanced in age/ministry than him). He wanted to ask a question: “Does it ever get any easier?” Of course it doesn’t. But Jesus never stops sustaining through it.
My son? He loves Jesus. And I’ve now had the joy of introducing him to Catalyst. This past week was our third time to attend. To worship together. To talk about what we’ve heard and laugh at the silly, fun skits and such. To grab some swag and enjoy time together as father and son. But also as spiritual brothers under our awesome Father in heaven. God protected his heart. He’s seen the fallenness and jackhattery. Still sees it. But he knows God is Greater. And that’s a gift of grace I can scarce comprehend.