It is impossible for me to speak about Sojourn Network without immediately talking about my friend Jamus Edwards of Pleasant Valley Community Church. Here's the story.
God called me into ministry while serving in a summer youth camp from 2003-2005. That calling was clarified and affirmed dangerously fast. In 2007, I was a part of a church plant as the Lead Pastor. I was young and we were clueless. In spite of everything that was wrong, God gave us a shotgun spread of his awesome grace. In Southern Illinois, there are around 30 of us that point back to that season as the time when God gloriously destroyed us by way of the book of Galatians. Jesus sent fire! This was also the time that my wife, Jordan (Yes.... Jordan Sparks;), stepped into my life. God was faithful!
We Needed Help
By two and a half years in it became apparent we needed help! After much prayer, our church decided to merge with another local church. Our new church family was a multi-site church with big plans for the future. God brought us alongside older and wiser leadership who were willing to walk with us.
The church hired me as one of their campus pastors. God allowed us to experience big attractional ministry. We learned from many positive things and positively learned from many negative things. God gave me a life-long mentor and allowed me to see some of the dangerous temptations of mega/multi-site ministry. Then, like the toy machine "The Claw" in Toy Story, God picked us up out of that position and led us to another.
I was hired as an associate pastor by a non-traditional/traditional/contemporary/non-denominational church in the town we lived in. This fellowship hired me to become the eventual new lead pastor. The founding pastor was transitioning into retirement and he was confident I was the man to take over. We loved being a part of this church! It was during these years that I learned what pastoral ministry is and isn't. Jordan gave birth to our son, Ransom. Life was really good. Until it wasn't.
A Friend From Afar
My wife and I had bumped into some situations at that church and we needed help. I had known Jamus from afar, his wife Annie was a high school friend of mine. At the time I reached out to him I knew nothing about Sojourn Network, nor was I looking to plant a church. If I were a pastor in his area or a guy wanting to plant a church, it would have been easy to understand why he would want to help me. But as an associate pastor in a small, older congregation in a small Southern Illinois town, why would he help? Maybe I would get one phone call. That was my thinking anyway. Thankfully, I was wrong.
One phone call with Jamus lead into a friendship that continues today. I could barely understand him because of his thick Matthew McConaughey accent, but it took no time at all for me to interpret his love for Jesus and the church. He cared. That one call lead to an open door of counsel for me. When my wife and I were in a hard ministry spot, I would call. Just when I needed some encouragement, he would text me. With Jamus, I was not a cog in the wheel of his already busy life and ministry. I had felt that way in previous conversations many times before. But it wasn’t that way with him. He treated me as a brother.
God Flipped The Switch
We had no idea what was next. But God did! Christian Covenant Church was the belly in which Christ Church Carbondale was growing. Instead of becoming the new lead pastor of this older congregation, we would be released with people to plant a church in the town next door. This was not on my radar. I had been there, done that, and didn't want to do it again. But on September 15th, 2015, everything changed. My future co-pastor, Andy, asked me to consider church planting one more time. He knew it was a long shot. But God! That Tuesday morning there was no way I was going to pursue planting a church. By 1 p.m. that afternoon, we were confident we were going to plant a church. God had flipped the switch! The coals from former planting fire were lit once again!
God began clarifying for us what he was up to. Quickly the church gave us blessing and God gave us people. But who was going to give us counsel and encouragement along the way? I needed someone with no ulterior motives to help me out. I knew just the guy. Jamus was there again. He told me about Sojourn Network.
The reason Christ Church Carbondale can call Sojourn Network “family” is that Jamus never treated me as an outsider or an asset for his own self-advancement. In the last 9 years of full-time ministry, I have met many pastors who could verbalize right priorities. But that’s what we pastors do; we talk. In Pleasant Valley I found a church that loved Jesus and his church more than their own name or network. Their priority was the advancement of the kingdom. In Jamus I saw the kind of pastor that I longed to become! By God’s grace, our partnership with Sojourn Network will result in a multitude of opportunities to serve and love and care for others, just as others have so generously loved and served and cared for us.
"We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).