Not Just Another Phone Call: The Launch of Sandals Church East Valley

I was sitting at the dinner table with my family eating tacos when the phone rang. Who calls at this hour? Apparently, our Executive Pastor Dan Zimbardi does. And when he calls, you answer. “DZ” casually got straight to the point: “Hey Adam, Pastor Matt and I want to meet with you on Thursday to discuss the possibility of you becoming our next campus pastor. Are you available?” You know, no big deal, just another phone call. Except this wasn’t just another phone call! Wrapped up in this one phone call were all kinds of other things…

Let’s start with this one: becoming a campus pastor would mean leaving behind Real Healing, a recovery-like ministry that I’d started several years prior, after finding freedom from my own addiction. Real Healing had become quite successful, doubling each year we offered it and peaking out at over 300 registrants. I loved this ministry, her leaders, her people. I loved watching Jesus bring hope to those who were stuck. I loved the Soul Care staff team I served alongside. Why would God ask me to give up something that he started and that I loved so much?

I probably should’ve started here: becoming a campus pastor would mean…becoming a pastor! What!? My grandpa was a Southern Baptist pastor for 40-plus years and I saw what pastoral ministry could do to a father’s ability to be present to his children. I wasn’t about to do that to my kids. I made a silent, internal vow: I would never become a pastor. But, I was on the run. For over half my life, I’d been on the run. God was calling me out and I was still pretending that I hadn’t heard him. “No, I’m good, thanks,” was my response to God for almost 20 years. Why would God continue to come after someone who had already snubbed his invitation over and over again?

How about another one: Sandals Church has never merged with a church before! Part of what Dan Zimbardi had shared with me during our phone call was that we were in conversations with a church about a possible merger and that Amethyst Bible Church in Mentone, CA, could become our 3rd campus really soon. It would take several blog posts to explain why the idea of two churches merging together is such a crazy idea. So, let me get this straight, boss: you’re asking me to lead our church into something we’ve never done before and we’re not quite sure if it will work, let alone be good? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s in the Bible, right? Why would God ask us to take such a big risk with kingdom resources he’s asked us to steward with wisdom and care?

There’s a twist to this story. Neither during, nor after Dan’s phone call did I ask any of the questions above. Thank God, I had already been asking those questions and had arrived at some answers. So much so, that before I even hung up the phone and began all the due diligence process (e.g. talking to my wife about it!) in answering Dan’s question of me, I had my answer: YES, I’m available. Here I am, Lord, send me (Isaiah 6:8).

Why would God ask me to give up something that he started and that I loved so much? Well, he asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:1-2). We can make our plans, but God determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9). God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Why would God continue to come after someone who had already snubbed his invitation over and over again? God specializes in singling out knuckleheads like me to reveal his wisdom and power to the world (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Jonah was on the run, too, but God gave him a series of second chances. It’s the patience, repeated forgiveness, and kindness of God that leads us not only to repentance, but to our obedient “yes” response when he is looking for someone to send out on his behalf (Romans 2:4).

Why would God ask us to take such a big risk with kingdom resources he’s asked us to steward with wisdom and care? The life of faith is risky. Typically, God illuminates our next step and not much more. We often want to know ahead of time, before we take step 1, what step 2 looks like, and heck, while we’re at it, how about steps 3, 9, and 27? This lack of faith keeps us in control, stuck, and afraid at zero. But, behold, God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19).

I have only begun to scratch the surface of the super rad story of Sandals Church East Valley and my launch into the adventure God had waiting for me. I wouldn’t take back my “yes” for a moment, despite a lot of personal and ministry-related challenges, especially during the first year of East Valley.

God is clearly on the move. The Spirit of the living God is actively working in and through Sandals Church in truly massive and profound ways. If this isn’t obvious to you, stop reading right now and send me an email so that we can get together for coffee (adama@sandalschurch.com), as I have some stories I’d like to share with you. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear the kingdom of God in our midst, have you discovered your place yet?

The question I leave you with is not whether God is calling you out and inviting you to be a part of the vision of launching 500 churches where the Gospel is preached and the ROGO vision can continue changing countless lives. The question is where. Where is God launching you? Are you ready to go there?

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