I was in 11th grade. Cliff was in 8th. In those days our friendship was centered around sports and girls and mischief. Little did we know that God had plans to center us around something else down the road. The first seeds of this were seen several years later when we partnered up to lead a ministry at the same school where we had once caused trouble – God had already re-centered our hearts and was putting things into motion to use us together in ways we wouldn’t see for another decade …
I got the call one afternoon while I was trying to study. I was in Wake Forest, NC. Married, one kid, learning a lot, curious about what God may have in store. Cliff told me he was going to plant a church in Richmond, Va, and that he wanted me to join him. I told him no. We still like to laugh about that. Months later, after God reignited my heart for His calling in my life, Cliff called back out of the blue (I hadn’t given it a second thought)… “hey man, I really think you need to come do this with me.” Now I was listening.
Then it got really interesting – he told me that we would co-lead this church, that we would be partners. He seemed pretty intent on letting me know that I was not an assistant but a partner. I wasn’t sure I had ever really seen that before, or if it could work, but I felt God leading this direction, so we went for it. At one point I made reference to helping him with his church plant, and observed that it would help me if I ever planted … he was quick to point out that I was planting now, that this was my church plant.
It all sounded great, but I wasn’t sure if two prideful dudes (though I’m more humble than him … or, I was a second ago) would be able to co-lead. I was on board because I felt God leading, but I had some uncertainties as to just how this partnership would work, and frankly, I was prepared to be an assistant. So it was pretty wild when we hit the ground and within a few months I learned that Cliff was serious about what he said. I was honestly humbled just to be a part of this, but then to be invited to really contribute to the vision and shape this thing from the ground up – it was wild. I observed something interesting … it seemed like Cliff knew this wasn’t his church.
I remember early on, meeting together, Cliff asked my thoughts on the next sermon series … I shared thoughts about some Psalms. In a couple weeks we were preaching from the Psalms. But the really cool thing was – after I shared those thoughts, he didn’t try to rephrase them and make it sound like it came from him. I think God blessed us with the grace to know that it didn’t matter where the idea came from because the Psalms aren’t about us – they’re about Him!
Over the past four years Cliff and I have learned so much about this type of leadership. We’ve encouraged each other, called each other out, questioned each other, confessed sin to one another, been mad at each other, laughed and prayed together a lot, been frustrated with each other, and just flat out loved each other. But one of the more amazing parts of this journey has been this – we have led each other. This has taken a lot of humility, and a lot of confidence in our identity in Christ. Honestly, there were times early on when I struggled with the idea of being led by a younger guy – Cliff attended Bible studies I led while in college; he was still in high school, little whipper snapper. But I have been so grateful for his leadership. You see, I think Cliff understands something crucial – God has gifted each of us uniquely, and God wants to use all of those gifts together to build His church for His glory! So I have followed Cliff’s lead and praised God for his gifts. But the really beautiful, and perhaps unique thing is this … Cliff has followed my lead when my gifting has been needed. And God gets glory for all of it because the gifts came from Him.
If I were leading alone this church would look a lot like me, with all my flaws … if it survived at all. If Cliff were leading this church alone, probably same thing. But leading together … we feel like it looks a little more like the Body of Christ. And we are so humbled, and grateful to be a part of it.
“From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Ephesians 4:16