Bruce Hopler: The Traveling Vagabond

by Bruce Hopler, director of Church Strengthening
Bruce Hopler

As the national director of Church Strengthening, I am excited about the opportunity to serve district leaders and pastors when it comes to church health. I am confident that God wants to move in our country, but the movement of the Holy Spirit flows easier and quicker in healthy, functional churches. It is an honor to dedicate the rest of my life towards strengthening churches.

As a former church planter, senior pastor with 18 years’ tenure, leader of missional, church planting and international missions’ networks, professor and spiritual formation pastor of the eighth-fastest-growing church in America; God taught me a thing or two about church leadership. As I was schooled in brokenness, significant challenges and pain, God taught me even more about church leadership. Celebrating with, humbly challenging and crying with pastors over the years has taught me a thing or two coaching and mentoring pastors.

My more recent life lessons come from a season of transition. Agreeing with my executive and senior pastor that I had accomplished the work I set out to do in our megachurch, I began the search for my next location in fall 2014. By late spring 2015, I believed I had landed an amazing opportunity, and even helped my former church hire and train my replacement. Then it all fell apart.

The church I was interviewing with determined that while I was the strongest candidate for the position, they had offered the position prematurely.They pulled the opportunity altogether. So there I was, having given my formal notice, trained my replacement and ready to move. In an instant, I became a vagabond with a severance package. Suddenly I was looking at moving my family across country to live in my mother’s basement. House packed up, half of my family already moved and car loaded to leave the next morning to drive across country, I had my first video interview with Converge. God taught me a lot during that season.

Below is a reflection on this season of transition, waiting to see where God was taking my family next.

Healthy transitions are possible. I have heard of and even experienced rough transitions before. While my former church was good to me in this latest transition, the change was scary nonetheless. When you believe God is in control, you gain a freedom when facing your future. This allows a person to walk faithfully and take each step with integrity amid uncertainty and confusion.

God is good, even if I was a traveling vagabond. I am at a different place in my life now. In the past I would have said God was good all the time, but in truth my identity was deeply tied into my work, ministry and success. If things were not going well, I would find myself mad at God. Truly putting your identity in Christ changes that. During this time of transition I learned to consistently call God good, regardless of my employment and housing status.

Embrace every moment. In my younger years, I would have squandered a season like this by being tied up in knots with worry and anxiety. Embracing Matthew 6, “Do not worry about tomorrow”, was a freedom I have learned to take to a higher level. This newfound freedom of saying no to fear turned what could have been a miserable season into one of the best times in my life. Each day was a new adventure and turned out to be better than any vacation I spent months planning.

Remain consistently faithful. Integrity is the only way to go. I remained faithful to my previous ministry, faithful to my job search, faithful to my family, faithful to growing in my self-identity, faithful in friendships and faithful to God. There were many times the temptation was raging to take an opposite course. It might have felt good in the moment to allow negative emotions to boil up and out, but I have learned it would be a miserable existence. It is important to note, I am not talking about bottling up negative emotions and putting on a brave face. God does not call us to that and besides, it never works. Instead I believe God is in control, and he has all twists and turns figured out. If you believe that, then it becomes easy to be faithful in the moment.

Ask God to orchestrate the desires of your heart. From Psalm 37:4, I have a new prayer that I am praying every day, “Lord orchestrate the desires of my heart, and then give me the desires of my heart.” I was blessed with another job opportunity during my interview with Converge that would have fit my goals perfectly. The location, the pay, the specific role; it would have been great. It was everything I wanted. As I began to pray Psalm 37:4, God began showing me that what I thought I wanted, was not what I really wanted. It met all of my technical requirements, but I had to step back and ask: What does God want to do with the rest of my life? One opportunity brought me familiarity, the other allowed me to celebrate my calling, purpose and wiring. Ironically, he gave me the possibility of what I thought I wanted, then showed me that what he wanted is really what I longed for.

Friendships and family are really important. Fear drives a person to isolation. Pride makes a man think he has to handle something on his own. To counter fear and pride, I learned to love and lean upon my friends and family in a much deeper way. During this season that should have been divisive: my marriage is stronger, my sons and I are closer, I have deepened friendships and I have reunited with many older friendships.

Be an encourager along the way. At a time that naturally leads one to be needy (I was a traveling vagabond after all), God led me to speak into the lives of other people. Some I have known for years, some I met along the journey and became new friends. Some I met as a divine appointment and may never meet again. By taking the focus off myself, I not only got to continue in ministry, but the back draft is that I also became encouraged.

God has a lot of cool tricks up his sleeve. Yes, the most obvious thing is giving me a dream job that I did not even know could exist. That is only one example. When you look for God along the way, you really discover he is at work in every twist and turn. It has been so energizing to see God do cool little miracles. It could have been as little as providing for a small need that only he knew I needed, to positioning me to the divinely inspired conversations where I or the other person were forever changed. Even on my down days, I realized God had planted little gifts of encouragement all along my journey. I just had to lift my head and see them. I pray that I will always walk with my eyes wide open.

Learn more about Bruce in the Winter issue of Point, coming to your mailbox in January 2016. Sign up here.

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