What Could Have Been

What Could Have Been

As you may have heard, I resigned from my role as Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church. I requested the chance to share with the church as to my reasons why but was declined the opportunity.

2020 has emphatically highlighted how the church in the United States is at a crossroads. There are systems in place to reinforce a particular narrative and way of living which enable the current structures of power. If that is to be changed in the future (as many hope), it will cost something to create. As my friend Mike recently wrote: “The church is not called to protect and preserve, but rather to call forth a people to a new humanity. May we be the brave and courageous church that we have preached towards, sang about, and prayed for.”

A few weeks ago, I invited some of my friends who experience racism differently than me to share their perspective on my blog (see: Dear Church). I also preached about racial injustice specifically in my last two messages (see: An Opportunity to Learn and Following Jesus When It’s Hard). As many other churches and pastors have experienced lately, this led to some pushback in our church.

This pushback was initially communicated to me paired with concerns about my leadership and theology which had never been previously mentioned to me. Despite the suddenness of the message, I welcomed the opportunity to improve as a leader or to work through theological views. I desire to be a perpetual learner and love when someone gives me the chance to see how I could have done something better.

However, the instruction to me in working to address these newly-raised concerns was that I was to stop preaching, blogging, and using social media for a month. When my leadership and theology were attached to my sudden silence about speaking to racial injustice, I felt like we were having different conversations. In addition, there appeared to be no way that I could continue to speak on racial inequality and systemic prejudice while working to address the concerns that were raised – my monthlong silence was a precondition to continuing on in the role of Lead Pastor.

My desire to address the racism and division in our country led to an impasse. I’ve had some time to process and pray through this as the Elder Board asked me to agree to a different way forward. It became clear to me that the direction I believe we were going as a church, a path I was responsible to shepherd, is no longer the desired direction of this Board of Elders.

My primary emotion in response to this has been sadness. Sadness over losing the momentum that had been gained and sadness over what could have been in the future.

I can relate to what Jesus felt as He looked out over Jerusalem and thought of what might be. Luke describes it this way: “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). I’ve been doing a lot of weeping as I reflect on this season. I literally have never cried so hard in my life. Despite a shared desire to follow Jesus together, sometimes it isn’t the right fit.

The changes I was asked to make (in order to stay) would have sacrificed too much of my own understanding of Jesus, the church, and how God has called me to lead. While I have had to grieve this reality, I feel at peace with the realization that I cannot be the person the Board desires as the Lead Pastor, nor do I feel Jesus asking me to do so. I am incredibly encouraged by what I’ve seen God do through Abundant Life Church over the last three years and I leave it with new experiences, perspectives, and friends.

I have absolutely no idea what is next for our family as this was never part of our plan. This is a decision based on faith and conviction rather than logic and security. We love the community of people we’ve met here who are passionate about this work. We love living in Oregon and doing ministry with some amazing people who have proven themselves through their character and convictions. We continue to pray about what to do with all that has already been started.

I’m grateful to have a wife who can dream big dreams and give up comfort when we sense Jesus nudging us forward. She gave up much of her life to move here three years ago and has been just as willing to give it up again to make this decision. I’m grateful for friends who joined in the ministry here and have supported our decision to release it.

It has been an honor to serve and shepherd Abundant Life Church for this season. I have loved being your pastor and I step out with much sadness. This is the price my family must pay as we work to create something new.

Now it’s time to figure out what Jesus wants us to do next. To keep going by continuing this hard work in partnership with others. If you’d like to stay connected as we discern our next steps, please sign up with your email below.

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Adjunct Professor | Husband to Michelle | Dad of 5 | Committed Yankees fan

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