It’s hard to believe fall is right around the corner. This summer has been unique in many ways for my family and I wanted to take a few minutes to provide an update on the Williams. Much of what is below I’ve already shared in personal conversations. But since I unfortunately can’t sit down for coffee with all of you and I don’t want to take time away from the sermon on a Sunday, I figured I would take advantage of our blog.
My Summer Break
I can’t thank you enough for your support in taking a 6 week break during June and the first part of July. The encouraging cards and generous gifts you gave Aliza and me were overwhelming. The first day of my break I sat in my home office going through them and weeping, experiencing God’s love in a very tangible way through your kindness.
The last year took quite a toll on my family and me. Physical exhaustion and weariness of soul were constant companions by the end of May. It has always been a joy to serve as one of your pastors, even when I’m spent. God’s grace is remarkably sufficient. But you can’t keep running on empty. It’s not good for me, it’s not good for my family, and ultimately I know it’s not good for our church.
The first couple weeks of break were a blur. I split my time between being a dad for my boys and working in the garden. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t answer email. And I started sleeping 8 hours a night and exercising regularly again. Aliza and I also went to Massanutten, VA for 4 days where I read C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy and went day-hiking in Shenandoah National Park. Few things restore my soul like reading, gardening, and hiking.
Truth be told, it took almost 4 weeks for my mind to calm down to the point where I stopped thinking about church leadership issues 24/7. That made the last two weeks a particular blessing for Aliza since I finally had the brain space to debrief with her on some of what we walked through with Gene last year and talk about building a more sustainable pace of life so that I’m a happy pastor 20 years from now.
I felt like the Lord specifically challenged me to limit my work hours so I’m spending no more than 2 evenings a week away from my family. That’s especially important since I’m typically engaged in ministry activity 6 days a week and doing graduate work for a Masters of Divinity in the margins, which mean an evening “at home” often includes several hours of study. My wife and kids never complain about the sacrifices they make, but I don’t want to take advantage of them or wind up with three boys who resent the church because of me. On a practical level, that means there are some things I’m simply going to have to say “no” to doing, especially when it comes to programs and meetings outside of Sunday morning.
It is incredibly challenging to have transitioned from a team of four full-time pastors to a team of one full-time pastor, one bi-vocational elder, and one elder-in-training. The number of projects we can carry are limited, and the projects we are working on take significantly longer to finish. During the last week of my break, the Lord gave me a timely word of encouragement from Isaiah 28:16: “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” That’s a precious promise for a guy who’s tempted to try and give attention to every area of church life all at once.
In short, I came back with three burdens: (1) A strong desire to build our church with the sort of measured carefulness that comes from a long-term vision for making disciples, (2) A renewed commitment to fiercely guard time for rest with my family, and (3) deep gratitude for the relationships God’s blessed us with in KingsWay. That final point begs for a little explaining. I visited churches in different evangelical denominations during the 6 Sundays we were away. I heard quite a few solid, biblical sermons. But I missed you. In fact, there were several weeks I was sorely tempted to stop by on Sunday morning just to see your faces. The enduring affection I felt for you reminded me that the church isn’t an organization or a service. It’s people. God knits our heart with a certain group of people. For my family and me, that’s unquestionably you.
I would be remiss to mention my summer break without also thanking Chris and Josh for the way they stepped up in my absence to serve you through preaching and counseling. There’s no way I could have taken a break apart from the labor of these men. Whenever you see them, remember that they receive little to no material compensation for their work. They are essentially volunteers. That’s a heroic sacrifice and they are worthy of honor.
Our 10th Wedding Anniversary
On May 20, Aliza and I celebrated ten years of marriage. Next to the Lord, there is no one who brings me more joy in life than my wife. She is gentle. She is hardworking. She is patient. She is delightfully opinionated and easy to lead all at the same time. So many of the things that make us different that bugged me to no end when we first got married I now love. She’s helped me slow down. She’s helped me be flexible. And she’s helped me learn how to find strength in weakness.
For several years, we’ve wanted to backpack the North Cascades in upstate Washington. God blessed us with the necessary wilderness permits, grandparents who were eager to watch our kids, and financial means thanks to your generosity to fly to Seattle earlier this month for a 10-day anniversary trip. We hiked over 40 miles, slept under the stars at 7,500’, and made some amazing memories. Our knees gave us more trouble than we’ve had before, which you can either blame on reaching our mid-30s or the fact that we had over 10,000’ in total elevation change on the trail.
Anticipating the Fall
Though our summer officially wraps up the week of Labor Day when we’ll join my extended family for their annual beach trip, my classes at Southern Seminary have already kicked back into gear. One of them is devoted to studying the book of Daniel, which I picked in part because we hope to preach through Daniel after finishing up our study of Ephesians. I only have four classes left before I’m finished with the 94 credit hour MDiv program, which puts me on track for graduation in May of 2017. I continue to thank God for the opportunity to glean wisdom from professors at Southern Seminary who have devoted their life to studying God’s Word.
I’m also eager to see how God moves through our lead pastor search process. It’s an honor to be considered for the position, though I’ll be the first to admit it’s a little weird to recognize that not a whole lot would change in terms of my day in and day out responsibilities at KingsWay if I am called to the position. At the same time, I’m firmly committed to walking out the process in integrity and am confident God will confirm through the other elders and all of you whether or not it’s a role he wants me to embrace. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ll do whatever God wants me to do around here. I love this church. I could care less about my job title. If I can help all of us love and follow Jesus in some way – count me in.
On a regular basis, someone will ask, “How can we pray for you and your family?” Here’s what I would say for this year. (1) Pray for courage to stick to reasonable limits on my work hours so that I can rest and Aliza and the boys can get the first and best of my energy, not the leftovers. (2) Pray for clear vision for the roll God has given me on our pastoral team and that I would continue to prioritize the Word and prayer. (3) Pray that God would give our family friendships with neighbors who don’t know the Lord. Since I (thankfully) work with all Christians, my time to build relationship with people who’ve never heard the gospel is limited. Practical obstacles aside, I’m committed to doing the work of an evangelist and need God’s help to set a faithful example that you can follow.
Thanks for your continued care for my wife, my boys, and me. We love you. It’s a privilege to be one of your pastors!
Posted on Sat, August 27, 2016
by Matthew Williams