What Are You Doing Here? Pt. 1
Updated: Jan 29, 2018
In I Kings 19:9 God asks the prophet Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I have asked myself that very question many times since moving to Orange.
Amy, Beckham, and I moved into our humble duplex on the eve of Hurricane Harvey. I had just been called to pastor Trinity Baptist Church of Orange 11 days before. It was my first venture outside of youth ministry, the world I had been in for the past 10 years. It was a difficult decision. When I was first called to the ministry, almost ten years ago, I assumed that I would remain a youth pastor until I was too old and they had to drag me out of the youth room kicking and screaming.
But for some time I had been sensing a shift in my call to ministry. In November 2016, I told my pastor, leader, and mentor, Dr. Bruce Webb. Bruce was our family pastor when I was young. My brother had previously worked for him as well. Under his guidance I had grown and matured. He had helped me get the job at The Woodlands First Baptist Church in the first place. I was nervous to tell him, because I assumed, wrongly I might add, that he might take it as an insult. I was afraid he might see it as a betrayal of sorts. I also knew it meant that I would have to leave The Woodlands First Baptist Church, where I had been working with the teenagers for the past 7 years. I had served under three different student pastors during those years and part of me felt that I was one of the few anchors in the student ministry. Furthermore, I dearly loved the students and their families. It would be a heart-wrenching departure.
The night I told Bruce, we were at Baylor University for a special dinner by Truett Seminary. He and I decided to walk around the campus. We were alone. I remember thinking, “If you’re going to tell him, now is the time.” I mustered up the little courage I had and told him.
It is one of my most treasured memories. Bruce was completely supportive and even more than that, he was delighted. He said he knew this time was coming and also said he would help me find a good church.
I graduated from Truett Seminary in May 2017. I had spent my last semester in seminary applying for senior pastor positions all over Texas, while at the same time trying to appreciate what I knew would be my final days at The Woodlands and at Truett. Lead after lead failed to provide anything substantial. Finally something popped up. A church in South East Texas needed someone to fill the pulpit, as their pastor had resigned. Bruce had a relationship with them, so he sent me to Trinity Baptist Church to preach.
The church’s pastor had just departed, on good terms I might add. I filled the pulpit the first Sunday after he had gone. But I knew that it was more than just helping out. Bruce told me, “Bring your family. Let them see Amy and Beckham. Preach well!”
And so I did. Amy and I were both absolutely stunned by our first Sunday’s visit. We both felt something that seemed to indicate that this might actually be the place. The members at Trinity seemed to feel something too. However, it all seemed too sudden; almost too good to be true. “Have we really found the place God was calling us so quickly?” “Have we really found the pastor God is leading us to, so soon? And he’s so young!” (I’m 30 by the way, and that feels pretty old to me, but apparently it’s not. Perhaps it's my baby face that throws people off.)
All of us, the search committee, Amy and myself, felt something, but entered into conversation cautiously. I had lunch with the committee. I preached for them a second time. We had a second lunch. Eventually, in mid-July, we had the interview official. The questions were difficult, but I had never felt more confident in my answers. I was honest, but kind. I was truthful about where I landed on theological issues and church polity. They were gracious, but tough. However, we shared much in common. One of the committee members remarked afterwards: “Everything you said is exactly where we are.”
It was a huge confirmation that God really was behind all of this.
Still, it all seemed too easy. They liked my preaching style and delivery. They liked my family. My wife liked them. Beckham liked them. We liked the community. “Is it supposed to be this simple? This quick?” I wondered. All of my friends in ministry agreed. A wise pastor once told me if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
But it all seemed just right. We sealed the deal that night. The committee offered me the opportunity to preach in view of a call.
Writing a “view of a call” sermon was hard. What do you say to a church that is evaluating you at every single word? What should a pastor preach on for this type of occasion? Something specific? A theological doctrine, like salvation or Jesus Christ - fully God and fully man? A morality sermon, perhaps on the woes of our culture and Christian responsibility? I opted to preach on what a healthy church looks like. So I choose 1 Peter 2:4-10, the passage about “living stones” based on The Living Stone. It was an okay sermon; a simple sermon. It would have gotten me a B in Dr. Gregory’s preaching class.
But the connection we felt with each other was overwhelming. I was unanimously voted in on August 13th. One hundred percent of the congregation said yes! It was completely unexpected. I was told that 100% never happens. I was even prepared to decline the offer if I didn’t get at least a 90% vote. Dan Mohon, one the deacons and the man who had been and remains my biggest advocate, delivered the results to me with tears in his eyes. My first Sunday was to be September 10th.
It was another confirmation that this was the place and God was behind it.
Amy and I accepted. I resigned at The Woodlands. The youth threw a "Roast of Ryan Chandler" themed going away party. We moved into our small duplex Thursday, August 24th.
And Harvey hit Orange the following Tuesday.
My family had been in San Antonio at the time. In fact, we left town at the storm’s arrival. We had to completely circumvent Houston to get there. On the way back I left Amy and Beckham at my mother-in-law’s home and I headed for Orange, unsure of what to expect.
My new hometown looked and felt like a Third World war-zone. Military vehicles covered vacant parking lots. Food lines stretched for miles. The electricity was out all over Orange County. Streets were non-navigable. Homes were still underwater. People’s belongings sat stagnant in slowly receding, filthy waters. People were either stuck in their homes, dependent on the charity of government and churches, or they were displaced to relative’s homes, some of them hours away.
It was September 3rd when I arrived. I immediately went to the church where two of my new congregants were meeting me. We surveyed a flooded church building. It had received approximately 8 to 10 inches throughout. It was just enough to destroy all of our carpets, our walls and most of our furniture. In one week I was supposed to preach my first sermon at my first church as a first time pastor and we had a crisis on our hands.
And I heard those same words God spoke to Elijah, all those thousands of years ago, chaotically jumbling around in my head over and over again. “What are you doing here, Ryan?”