Out of Tragedy, God Brings Hope

by Jake Goetze, church planter
Northwest Church Planting

If we could jump back in time to exactly one year ago, you’d see me a little after midnight in my garage. I was alone with a jigsaw, cutting out pieces to fit onto the stage of my church, my first project since returning to work after the death of my daughter.

For 17 years I served as a pastor at Overlake Christian Church. I absolutely loved my job, but in September 2014 our 3-year-old, Magnolia, was diagnosed with brain cancer, so I stepped back from my role at our church to minister full time to my family.

The nine short months that followed were bittersweet. On one hand, being aware of our fleeting time together gave our family relationships unspeakable richness and depth. It was beautiful. At the same time, the pain of what was to come, and anticipating all the grief ahead, felt suffocating. So we tried our best to make the most of every little moment, until the day we had to say goodbye to our little girl. Maggie stepped into eternity, and our hearts have been broken ever since.

Back to that time in my garage last September. Jigsaw in hand, I prayed to Jesus about the future. I realized my heart had been leveled and was being reshaped. God was gently rebuilding me. I believed he had a purpose, not just for the skills I’d acquired throughout my years of ministry, but also for the deep compassion I had been learning through suffering.

Returning to my old role at church felt like trying on the tux I wore as a groom. I could appreciate its significance, but it didn’t feel like the two of us fit together any longer. Walking Maggie to the doorstep of heaven forever altered my perspective. The issues that didn’t matter in life simply faded away, and the important issues became all the greater. My heart’s desire was to serve Jesus, but a new unbridled passion rose up inside me. I wanted to introduce anyone and everyone to the heaven that was now our little girl’s playground.

With all these thoughts running through my head, I felt as if God whispered, “Jake, plant a church.” This was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do or expected to hear that night. My logical side has always been cautious to not attribute God’s voice haphazardly. But the impression his words left on my heart that evening was undeniable. So I rushed upstairs to wake my wife and tell her what I believed God had spoken. She listened and then kindly asked if we could talk about it in the morning. A fair request, since it was almost 2 a.m.

The next day my wife and I revisited the conversation, and her heart began to align with mine as we entered the process of confirming the call to plant a church. I learned that church plants are the most effective evangelical approach in the United States, and that affirmed my desire to use my life in the most impactful way for eternity. And after having lost Maggie, which was the scariest thing I could imagine, I wasn’t afraid to try something challenging. I’m no longer afraid to fail. I just knew I wanted to obey what God was calling me to do.

A year has passed since that midnight in September. What was a tiny seed has taken root, sprouted and begun to flourish. Our little church is about to launch this coming January. Leadership, purpose and plans are starting to take shape, and God is continuing to guide and bless the journey. 

Grief is still a companion for my family and me. We’ll probably walk with that pain until the day we see our girl again. But until then we still want to serve Jesus. We still want to make him known. God is choosing to use us in our brokenness, and if he wants us to plant a church, then that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do.

Jake Goetze is planting with Northshore Community Church in our Northwest district. This blog first appeared here.

    Point - Summer 2018

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