After my initial bout of complicated emotions surrounding Josh’s hiring as UBC’s new teaching pastor, I eventually moved on with what I can only really describe in retrospect as a lightness. A weight off my back. I had a decent job, a great community of friends from church around me, and I really couldn’t ask for anything more. I didn’t stop caring about how things were done at UBC, and I certainly didn’t stop voicing my concerns. But it seemed that all the major decisions about moving forward after losing Kyle had fallen into place, and that we were hopefully about to settle into a period of calm and peace.
I have found that “calm and peace” are not universally agreed upon goals for congregational life among leaders in many churches. For some, church is supposed to be about always “moving forward,” growing, making waves, doing stuff. But, for good and for bad, I’ve never resonated with this approach to church life. I’ve always felt that congregational life should ebb and flow, like the rhythms of a family– Marked by periods of change and growth, yes, but always settling into extended periods of stability and equilibrium. This, no doubt, is a matter of personal preference and experience. Others feel differently about this, and I suppose we each find equal justification for our respective approaches.
After all the pastoral and institutional pieces fell into place following Kyle’s death, I decided to try my best to recede into the background, resting in the knowledge that my roots were growing deeper into the soil of Waco and UBC.
John Mark left, which always seemed, to many people, inevitable. He and his wife Laura were free spirits. They loved the outdoors, gathered around a fiercely loyal and loving group of friends, and sought to live life well within their community. He had little use for the formal structures of church leadership, and even less use for cultivating or maintaining an image that some folks in church Leadership were asking of him. He was, at the very core of his being, the prototype of the person that UBC, up to that point, had claimed to want to nurture and welcome. He and Laura moved to Colorado to ski, raft, and instruct others on how to do the same, and to live life to the fullest in the process.
There was never any indication once he left that someone would replace him, and it wasn’t really necessary. His pastoral work, and the relationships he cultivated, seemed to be for a particular season in the life of UBC, a season that had come and was going.
The template for staff structure before Kyle’s death was to have a Pastor (later named “Teaching Pastor,”) one Community Pastor, and a Worship and Arts Pastor. Once John Mark left and it settled back into this structure, it seemed right.
Ben continued his work of encouraging UBC to think globally, growing our relationships with an orphanage and other ministries in Kenya. He also continued to minister in the church’s immediate neighborhood, which is near a public school, public housing unit, and marked by racial diversity and economic disadvantage. Years before we had tried to find ways to be a part of our neighborhood, most notably through the efforts of Wesley, a student who was passionate about social and economic justice, starting a children’s and youth group, but were never able to sustain anything long-term. Much of this was due to a lack of will among some in leadership, who wanted us to focus our efforts solely on people already in the doors of UBC.
To be fair, this was always going to be a challenge, given our core demographic and emerging sensibilities about church. Though we never would have admitted it, and certainly didn’t intentionally aim for this, there was, nevertheless, an air of elitism about our worship services that simply was not going to connect to the families in our neighborhood. The unfortunate thing about this is, of course, that we based our periods of inactivity among our neighbors on this fact, that they probably wouldn’t attend our worship services.
Ben, along with the help of some students in leadership, helped us, for a time, reimagine and re-start some of these efforts by one of the simplest means possible in a largely Hispanic neighborhood: He and other UBC’ers began playing soccer with the kids. In addition to this, when he had a chance, Ben continued to speak out against poverty and war, which scratched the itch of some in our congregation, yet seemed to irritate others. (I was mostly in the latter group, but inching slowly toward the former with every passing year.)
Josh preached, and his skill and acumen at the craft made those who hastily decided to hire him look pretty smart. He still had a long way to go—he talked way too fast and often used complicated theological language without translating it to a lay audience—but overall he was showing great promise at being one of the better Christian communicators of his generation. (That seems hyperbolic, but I believe it to be true.)
David continued to tour and to be a worldwide Christian phenomenon—perfecting and then redefining modern worship music for the masses.
And I, in 2008, returned to seminary.