What Are We Doing? (our story, the longer version)
What are we doing?
It's a fitting question. While we know what we're doing, we're still kind of trying to figure out what we're doing. Right?
It started in 2006 when I lived in Austin for a year between college and grad school. My time there was brief, but I got plugged into the Austin Stone Community Church back when it was 1 campus of a few thousand people. After then moving to Denver to pursue an MFA in 2007, I kept in touch with several friends in Austin, including one of the executive pastors who helps oversee the pastoral residency I am pursuing.
In 2010, after graduating with an MFA in acting and getting married to the love of my life, moving to New York City seemed like the logical next step. Depending on how you define “logical.” We had no jobs, lots of debt, and no concept of living in New York. So on a hope and a prayer and with everything we owned in a minivan, we moved with the same big dreams of any mid-20's person. I want to be famous, but not too famous, just “successful” famous.
Shortly after we moved we got plugged into Apostles Church NYC. Over the course of the next two years through engaging in a Community Group and being intentionally discipled by one of the pastors and his wife, things started to change for us. Suddenly the kingdoms we were building for ourselves became less and less exciting as the idea of building God's kingdom became more and more exciting. In that period, I began to read the Bible every morning. I'd been a Christian for years and yet still never read God's Word regularly. I started to grasp things I never had in Scripture, to see connections, to take hold of new truths, to see how all of it pointed to Jesus. This lead to praying every morning. Which lead to an increasing hunger for knowledge of God's Word and theology. Which led to an increasing desire to love my wife, pursue her, and fight for her holiness. Our marriage changed as we changed. We became more patient, more self-sacrificing, more humble, taking the time to confess and repent to one another in ways we never had before. Eventually, Meliss and I became leaders of our own Community Group, which by God's grace grew and multiplied.
I was still acting. I love acting. Always will. I'm not a huge fan of the entire business around it or the audition process, but getting in an empty room with a script and some friends to create something is one of the greatest things in the world. Unfortunately, it's hard to do that in NYC without tons of time and money. So after some regional gigs, commercials, a brief (very brief) stint on Broadway and an Off-Broadway premiere, things changed.
In the fall of 2012, I returned from a show in San Diego, spent my two weeks on Broadway (I said brief), quit my restaurant job (because things were “changing”) and then waited for the next big thing. But nothing happened. I went back to waiting tables, questioned everything, and then in October received a phone call from a pastor at Apostles. “Our executive assistant will soon be on maternity leave. How would you feel about coming into the office to fill in for a couple months. You can make your own hours.” This is “side job gold” for an actor who needs incredible flexibility to audition, rehearse, and leave on a day's notice for a shoot, gig, etc. That phone call turned into a job in administration, which turned into an education on the inner-workings of a church office, which turned into more and more responsibility, which turned into a growing love for God and his people and the ever so subtle whispers of a calling to ministry.
For all of 2013, I stopped waiting tables and served part-time at Apostles while still acting. In the fall, I had my biggest opportunity yet: Premiering a new Horton Foote piece called “Old Friends” Off-Broadway at the Signature Theatre. At the same time, Apostles was working through a number of transitions that led to a full-time offer should I be willing to take a step back from acting. “Old Friends” was a great show. An incredible experience. And yet for some reason my heart felt inclined toward Apostles. When asking a pastor/friend from Austin, “How can I give up a decade of education, training, and investment in a craft I love for something like ministry?” And he said, “Well, isn't that the economy of God? To sacrifice things you prize most for sake of his kingdom?” After a lot of prayer and more conversation with Meliss and friends, knowing I could always go back to acting one day, we decided I should take the job, much to the bewilderment of many, including my agents.
In January, 2014, I became the Director of Community Groups & Justice Ministries. Suddenly I was thrust into a role that oversaw the direction and development of about 40 Community Groups and their leaders across 3 different congregations around NYC. Trial by fire. After a little over a year, the network director position over CG's and Justice Ministries turned into an Associate Minister role for the Upper East Side Congregation. And throughout it all, over and over again, God has reminded me that my gifts/talents/abilities for acting were not in vain, but now directed toward something different with increasing passion. I remember reading the book of Acts and thinking, “This is what I want to do. I want to plant 100 churches. Or more - whatever. Let's do this.”
The transition over the past 2.5 years has brought the full range of emotions, yet God has been graciously guiding me through all of it. Throughout my time in ministry I've gotten the chance to develop trainings, write curriculums, cast vision, read a ton, be equipped in counseling, preach, write, create and teach classes, and run social media accounts, succeeding in some ways and definitely failing in others. It's been a humbling and sanctifying experience, especially to learn and grow in an environment with a group of guys who were also learning and growing in their own ways. And every time the thought or idea of returning to acting presented itself, Meliss and I prayed, talked, questioned, reached out, and sought opportunity. And every time God has brought me back to the pursuit of ministry. The pursuit of his local church. The pursuit of engaging and communicating his Word in creative and powerful ways for the advancement and flourishing of his kingdom.
On February 9, 2015, at 4:37am, our son, Roman Elliot Lyons, was born. After 9 eternally long days in the NICU, we got to bring him home. And as anyone with kids knows, life has not been the same since. Roman brought a new and profound joy into our lives, but with that joy came a ton of questions and fears. How do we keep this thing alive? What are we doing? What's next? Quickly after Meliss went back to work, she felt affirmed in her desire to stay home and be a mom. But for that to happen, there would need to be some significant changes. So in the summer of 2015 we started to pray. New job? New apt? New source of income? New city? Our hands were open, but with a growing desire to pursue ministry, to even plant or lead a church somewhere in the world one day.
Several months later, in January of this year, the opportunity of the Austin Stone Residency presented itself. The thought intrigued both of us, so we brought it to the Lord. As we prayed and began to talk with people outside of our context, we sensed the Lord nudging us in this direction. I brought the idea to our pastors at Apostles, and their affirmation confirmed what we had felt.
After being accepted, the decision to go was bittersweet. We have had a love/hate relationship with New York City ever since we arrived and couldn't find the elevator that didn't exist to reach our 5th floor apartment sublet. We've made a home here. We've thrown parties for 30 people in our 400 sq ft studio. Our son sleeps in the closet and he loves it. God has provided for us in so many ways, from community to friendships to opportunity to finances. He's given us a local church that has grown and equipped us to love him and others with new fervency and depth. NYC has been a roller coaster, and it's been hard but wonderful. From the packed subways to the opening night parties. From the expensive fine dining scene to the arts scene to the pizza and coffee shops on every corner. From the constant flow and energy of the city to the convenience of picking up milk and eggs on the way home.
What are we doing? I think the only way I can answer this question is this: Obedience. We are simply obeying what we sense the Lord putting on our hearts. We have hopes, dreams, desires, but who knows what's going to happen? God does, obviously. And our hope and trust is in him and him alone. Do we want to plant a church? Yes. Will we plant a church? No idea. Where are we going after the Residency? Don't know. Could be Cali, back to NYC, staying in Austin, or Europe because Europe is great. Or none of the above. Here's what we do know: God is up to something exciting and wonderful because that's our God and he's awesome like that.
Life's an adventure. Our next chapter begins in August, 2016 in Austin, TX. And we'd love for you to be a part of it.