Looks like I’m headed to Texas.
It started when Megan Pardue, a house church pastor from North Carolina and Duke Divinity School adjunct instructor, came to MVNU to preach on Feb 6. We’ve known each other for a few years with our common interest and work in organic forms of being church. Afterward, I took her to lunch along with a student and staff member both considering Duke for graduate school. A pastor friend from northern California, Mark Lehman, also met up with us. During our conversations, she mentioned that her in-laws’ church in Austin, Texas is looking for a pastor. This caught my ear. I love Austin. But, I always file away these open churches in the back of my mind, especially if someone in ministry or an alumnus calls me looking for a new opportunity. I also love Austin. It’s like Portland, Oregon except with cowboy boots and BBQ. “Keep it weird,” as they say in Austin.
A few days later, I drove a couple van loads of students to Kansas City for the M19 Conference on Evangelism for the US/Canada Region Church of the Nazarene. About three thousand or so people were in attendance. At the end of the first worship gathering, I saw Matt Rice standing in the open atrium outside the convention hall. He is a Nazarene pastor I stayed with during my visits to San Antonio the previous Fall. We talked for a bit. I asked him for the contact information for his district superintendent. I wanted to ask about the church in Austin. He said, “Well, he’s coming up right behind you.” I turned and saw Jeffrey Johnson, the D.S. wading through the crowd, his father in tow. I said quickly, “I’d like to talk to you about the church in Austin.” As he passed by in the crowd, he said, “Get my info from Matt, and we’ll talk.” He passed by, and I figured, well, looks like I’ll find more or maybe not. It’s hard to get face time at big conferences. Matt and I talked a bit more, then I turned to find my students, and I saw a church planting couple I know well - Chris and Lynnlee Moser.
I walked along with Chris and Lynnlee. I congratulated them on their move to Salt Lake City to plant churches. They are perfect for this role. They said they knew it was a God-thing for them since they turned down an opportunity to return and plant churches in San Antonio, where they had lived for a while. I had no idea. So, cool that God moved them to the right place at the right time, right? We then saw Sam Flores whom we all knew from church planting and evangelism task forces. He was also from San Antonio, Texas and is now a D.S. in South Carolina. I asked him about the church in Austin, and Sam said, “But you’re more interested in church planting, right? If so, you need to meet these two pastors.” We all continued to the Young Clergy Meetup. After a while, Sam came back to me and said, “They two guys finished up in here and are out in the hallway.”
Sam and I walked down the wide convention walkway to where Todd Barker and Michael Pigg where talking it up with a few folks. Sam introduced us, and I felt like I met versions of myself from ten to fifteen years ago. They were talking about a church planting movement between Austin and San Antonio: planting 32 churches in ten years. Three were already in place in Kyle, San Marcos, and Jarrell -- all part of the Wayfinders Church network on the South Texas District. They said, “Hey, come and visit this summer for two weeks.” I repiled, “How about for two months?” I really wanted to find out more about what makes these guys tick. I love what they’re doing in Texas. So, I asked, “What do you think are your missing pieces?” They said, “People. We need more people to get some of the work started in new places.” At that moment, my students walked up behind me. I said to Michael, “You mean like these people?” Michael and Todd spent 30 minutes talking up the students in the hallway, sharing their vision.
Later, that night, I told Jared Tucker that I thought something happened tonight when we met Todd and Michael in the hallway. I just wasn’t sure what exactly. It felt like trajectories were shifted, new directions were starting to take place. It was Spirit-led from the start.
I got a text from Michael the next morning from all of their group at breakfast. He said they were talking about me. I was thinking about them, all the possibilities and challenges...all happening in this place in Texas, the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, where I spent seven weeks during sabbatical. I was just trying to get my head around what my heart already knew.
Later that morning, I received a text from Jeffrey, the D.S., asking if we could meet up after the service. “Definitely” was my quick response. We met in the hallway and he mentioned some open churches, and then mentioned he also had “this church planting thing.” This struck a chord. “Oh?”, I asked. “Yes,” he said, “You need to come down and visit us.” I said I had time over spring break in a month, but I would come only if I could bring some students. Serendipitously, the next night a few of the students ran into Todd and Michael in the hotel lobby, and then spent three hours talking about what was happening in Texas. The students were psyched about what was going on there.
I caught the deliberate enthusiasm that radiated from these guys as much the students. We started talking about an informal trip down to Texas over break. We all talked to several more students after we returned. A week before break, I get a text from Paige Hopper, a former student looking for job possibilities. She meant “in Columbus” but I asked if “Texas would be possible.” Her significant other, Ryan Fortner, also a former student, was also looking for a move, so I suggested they join us if she could get a week off. She texted back two hours later with permission to take a week off work granted by her supervisor. And, bonus, Ryan would drive. Two weeks later, we all trekked down to Texas.
We arrived early on Tuesday morning, and joined Jeffrey, Todd, Michael, and Jake, driving a van from South Austin Church of the Nazarene, the same one Megan told me about, so we could visit some of the locations along the I-35 corridor ripe for new church possibilities. We spent a long day in some great places. We stopped at Summer Moon for coffee, hit up a Buc-ee’s once or twice, and met some great people and had those famous van ride conversations that happen on my trips. We gathered with the four pastoral families from Wayfinders for a meal at Todd and Holly's home. I saw how the D.S. interacted with the pastors and students, how the pastors interacted with him and the students, and the students loved all of them. The vibe in the room felt like a gathering of missionary families -- the urgency of the work, the noisy din of hilarious stories being told, and the intense joy of being together talking about Great Big Things.
Later that evening, Jeffrey the D.S. asked, “What do you think about coming down here to help us?” I smiled and laughed. [Edit: I realized this way of phrasing it was not too different than the Macedonian call was phrased as Paul heard it in Acts 16:6-10.] This was the offer -- a Texas-sized offer if I’ve ever heard one. I asked, “Do what exactly?” He said, “Come down to recruit, encourage and mentor some church planters, do some cross cultural training with our established churches, maybe work on a partnership with West Africa since there are so many immigrants, and work on some practicum opportunities for students…We can hash out the details later.” I asked, “So, where do you do want me to live?” He said, “I think it’d be good to live in Austin, San Antonio, or some place in between?” My jaw dropped. I prayed those exact words back in January in another context. I didn’t realize at the time that God would have a bigger purpose in the response to this prayer. Jeffrey asked if I’d like to pray about it. I told him that I already had...but it would be good to have a few more days.
The rest of the week was overwhelming...the pastors--so few of them...working in the midst of such a huge wave of population growth. I found out that 10,000 people a month are moving to Austin. In five years or so, San Antonio will top three million inhabitants--the crowds, getting larger and larger, looking for something or Someone else, needing good news whether they know it or not. The ratio of churches to inhabitants was decreasing rapidly compared to nation-wide numbers. Since the trip I have met and talked with several pastors and people -- well, over 50 people -- and around fifteen of them have already said, “Yes…” They are going to join God in this work and make the long-term move to South Texas this summer or soon after. About fifteen more have said they will consider making a visit to come and see . . .
After returning, I realized that I wasn’t just asking others to make a move. God wanted me to go there, too. It wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when.” So, on the Monday after Spring Break, before there was a job title, job description, salary, or definitive place to move, I texted Jeffrey, “I’m in. I don’t have all my questions asked but I’m in. Or all the details clarified but I’m all in. This is God’s momentum and I can’t wait to try and catch up with Him.” So that began the process and started the next big move in my life...this time to Texas. The District Advisory Board met on March 29 and 30 to discuss this new position and interview me. This date of March 29 is an important one for me; it was the culmination of my self-designated one year of healing and restoration since the divorce process began the previous year. Wow...I love the symmetry of God’s grace. Afterward, the DAB voted unanimous approval for me to join the district staff as Church Planting Missionary. Since it is a district position, the responsible General Superintendent needs to approve it, and so, I heard the next week that the move was given “enthusiastic approval” by Dr. Carla Sunberg. I start June 1, 2019.
So, after a decade of teaching at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, I find myself leaving people and places that have shaped much of who I am today. I have spent these years nurturing future leaders into the ministry and serving others all around country and around the world -- one summer I had six students serving on every continent except Antarctica. Last year I became a full professor and completed my first sabbatical. I have done research in urban megaregions including the Texas Triangle, taken a deep dive into the spiritual lives of historic Celtic missionaries, consulted in organic church planting, compassionate and urban ministries, pastored a local church here in Mount Vernon, written about Christian missionary work in the borderlands where cultures collide and blend, guided others through the complexities of cross-cultural life and work, and taught over a hundred students the basics of church planting. Combined with my years as an undergraduate, I’ve spent almost one-third of my life in Mount Vernon. I'll come back to do the annual Spring Break "Matt Price road trip" to KC-Chicago-Indy for MVNU. So, I'll keep a footprint on a campus that I love dearly.
Ohio, it’s not goodbye, but see ya later. Texas, I had no idea you were going to be part of my life this time last year. All I know is that I began this year of transition in May 2018 on a spiritual pilgrimage in Ireland, Wales, and England, studying and living into Celtic missionary spirituality. I asked myself the question at the beginning of this journey, “What is my next step, Lord?”
Looks like I’m headed to Texas, y’all.