Saturday, August 15, 2009

Big Changes for Mike

I’ve had several adventures. Leaving home to go off to college was one. Leaving the midwest for the west coast was another. Starting Young Life in the state of Nevada was huge for me. One of my favorite books is named. "If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat". Written by John Ortberg, it’s a call to the adventure we call faith. For the longest time I’ve felt God whispering that another adventure awaited me, a new thing, a step out of the boat.

I’ve long had a fascination with urban life. The hustle and bustle, the noise, the smells, and the diversity of people intrigue me. By the millions we visit city centers. A big city captures our imagination and confuses our sensibilities. We delight in its pleasures and shrink back in fear from those things in it that we don’t understand. Over time, through a variety of experiences and relationships, I’ve learned that I have an urban heart.

For a few years now different friends have talked to me about coming to work in an urban ministry. The timing and situation just wasn’t right. Until now.

Breakthrough Urban Ministries is planted in an under resourced neighborhood on the west side of Chicago called East Garfield Park. It is a ministry growing in both size and influence. They operate a women’s shelter, a men’s shelter, and various educational and recreational programs. Breakthrough's staff love Jesus and try to be salt and light working alongside community residents. The hope is to break ground shortly on a Family Life Center which will house a clinic, a school, and a gymnasium. There’s lots going on. Lives are being changed.

Arloa Sutter is the founder and Executive Director of Breakthrough. Anita has known her for a long time. I met her about three years ago on a trip to Israel. Our friendship grew. Several months ago Arloa came to me with an offer. “How would you like to come to work for Breakthrough at half of what you’re making now? And I’m going to ask you to raise that money yourself.” How could I resist a pitch like that?

On Breakthrough’s website you find these words. “At Breakthrough we are seeking to create an intense, cutting-edge ministry environment that inspires each staff member to individual and organizational greatness. It is our hope to provide the culture where you can contribute your gifts for the benefit of all. Our staff provides great training and opportunities for many marginalized people, but our impact doesn’t stop there. Breakthrough’s culture transforms and challenges staff, board members, and volunteers as well. If you are seeking meaning, purpose, intense challenges, diversity, and unity in a Christ-centered organization we invite you to apply.” God was tugging at my heart. They were talking my language.

And so, we talked and talked about my gifts and talents and what Breakthrough needed. Finally, a job description began to emerge. I’m going to be the Director of Spiritual Transformation. It’s a new position. Very simply, I will be developing “next steps” for over 1400 volunteers, donors, clients, college interns and partner churches -- so that they can dive deeper into a greater understanding of what the Scriptures say about justice, poverty, race and how we live out God’s call in a world filled with great need. You’ll see me developing seminars, workshops, retreats and vision events to help folks broaden their understanding of God’s heart for the poor and what He is doing in the city.

This is right in my sweet spot. I have a deep passion to put people into positions that force them to think, to pray, and to seek God. I believe that many of the misconceptions and misunderstanding between rich and poor, black and white, urban dweller and suburbanite are the result of having so little meaningful contact with each other. I also believe that issues of race, poverty, and justice are near and dear to God’s heart. Maybe God can use me to help bridge some of the gaps. I will be part pastor, teacher, facilitator, spiritual director and team leader.

Christ Church of Oak Brook, my home base for about nine years, has walked with me on this journey discerning this new call. I’m grateful for their support, understanding, and encouragement. I’ll still be working half time at CCOB as a teacher and one of the team leaders for 2HC, our newest contemporary worship service. Additionally, I’ll stay involved with Higher Ground, a singles group I started about eighteen months ago. We’re already brainstorming how some of what I’ll be doing for Breakthrough can be offered to folks at CCOB.

To be honest, I’m a little scared. Even though I see God’s hand all over this I get up some mornings asking myself some hard questions. You see, losing income isn’t all that exciting to me. Raising my salary has me shaking in my boots. I’ve never been good at asking for things for myself. I know full well the line between faith and foolishness is often a slender one. And yet, I hear God saying “Go for it.” And so I’m am being asked to do what I’ve been telling you to do for a long time, “Trust God”.

I’m blessed because Anita is standing with me. What a great wife she is. She thinks following God’s leading is the only way you should live life.

So, that’s it. Starting either October 1 but no later than November 1 (depending on my fundraising efforts)I’ll be entering into this new adventure.

I’m hoping that a lot of you will stand with me both in prayer and financially. I know you’ll pray with and for me. In all honesty, I’d love to get some e-mails or responses saying “Hey, in addition to my prayers tell me where I can send a check.” That’s a hint by the way. :)

One more thing. There were times in this process that I wanted desperately to say ‘no’. There was a part of me that just wanted to fade slowly into the sunset of retirement. Saying no would have been disobedience. Don’t ask me how I know this I just do. I know what it’s like to be disobedient to God. I’ve done it before. That isn’t where I need to be.

On October 30th Breakthrough has its annual banquet. I’d love to fill six or seven tables with my friends. I’d like you to see the work that has captivated my heart. Let me know. Bill Hybels is the speaker. Babbie Mason is the musical guest. Anita and I would love to have you join us. Be careful though. God might mess with your head and heart asking you to step out of the boat into your next adventure of faith. He does that you know.


Lisa Troyer said...

sounds incredible - I know, it's stretching time for lots of us, but God is on the move!!! If I would be in Chicago, I would say I'm at the banquet - hey, you never know. : )

Lisa Troyer
Moody Radio Cleveland

Tammy West said...

What an exciting time for you and Anita, Mike! Standing on the tiny skinny line between faith and foolishness is the starting point of adventure. You are a thrill-seeker!
You are a leader of integrity! Raising support to answer God's call is a challenge; but, it's also a completely Biblical, grace-filled life that promotes Kingdom growth. I will hold you up in prayer while I seek God's guidance about how I can partner with you financially. Thank you for this invitation to join God's work in and through you!

Tammy West
OC International Missionary
Granada, Spain

Mike said...

Lisa and Tammy. Thanks for your comments and support. Mean a lot. Really, really does.

Already some have looked at me like I'm crazy. Maybe 'crazy' is what makes it a God thing, huh?

Cathy said...

Wow! What an opportunity! How could you possibly say no. Reinventing oneself is scary, I've done it twice. But it's also one of the most rewarding, exhilirating challenges God sends. Embrace it with your heart and He will provide. (Mike, I'd be honored to provide.) I look forward to praying for you and watching God work through you as you embark on your next journey of faith.

Diane Overgard said...

"Do you think God's up to something? Yup, I think He is." :)

You are obviously a great vessel and it looks like God's going to pour new stuff through you onto new contacts. What an exciting new page for you. Congratulations on mustering the courage to say, "yes."

Please put Chris Buscher and I down for 2 seats at one of your tables for October 30th, and let us know the details.

Mike said...

Cathy: Send me your e-mail address. You can send it to

Diane: Got you down for two at the banquet.

Kip said...

I cannot think of a better person for your new position. I'm sure your days coaching in Evanston will help you. Love you Man!

Marcia Mrazek said...

Mike, This has been in your heart for a long time. Glad to hear it has finally come to fruition! Marcia