Following the Cloud and Flame: A New Gundersen Journey

bridgepoint

BridgePoint Bible Church
Ray and Hollington Architects
Fretz Construction
Photo: John Lindy

We are thrilled to announce that God has called me to serve as Lead Pastor at BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston, Texas. Cindi and I just returned from a 5-day candidating trip, and the church voted overwhelmingly to invite us to serve with them. We are so grateful for God’s unifying work in our hearts and theirs. I will teach my final semester of biblical counseling classes at Boyce College this spring, and we will transition in early summer.

This new opportunity, brought to us by an old college roommate, surprised us. We’ve been at Southern and Boyce for six years now, and I transitioned from a fruitful Student Life ministry to join the full-time faculty just one year ago. I love the students I teach, we love our church family and our shared ministry at Fellowship Church, and I wasn’t looking to move into pastoral ministry.

But as we responded to BridgePoint’s pursuits, followed God’s leading through the process, and learned more about the church and the city, we found that BridgePoint united my desires to preach, shepherd, lead, and write, while enfolding our family in the life of a local body. Despite the vocational angst I have often felt at the thought of leaving Southern and Boyce, our candidating visit this weekend only confirmed the ripe international harvest in Houston, the tremendous resources the church possesses to gather that harvest, and the pointed opportunity to serve as a pastor-scholar in and for the church.

BridgePoint Bible Church has a long legacy of biblical faithfulness in the city, and is poised for impact in the bustling Energy Corridor of West Houston. Founded in 1933 as Spring Branch Community Church, God led the church to purchase new property, build a new facility, and move to the Energy Corridor in 2007, all with a vision to reach this growing and diverse region of Houston. After a decade in this new location, their senior pastor of 16 years made one of the most humble and courageous decisions a leader can make, voluntarily repositioning himself in order to seek a new lead pastor for BridgePoint’s next season of life.

We knew nothing about BridgePoint and little about Houston until the past few months. But over these months, the Spirit of God has been blowing fresh winds through our hearts and lifting our eyes to broad fields ripe with harvest. The population of Houston is exploding, and the city is now, by some measures, the most ethnically diverse city in the United States. Like many other Americans, I simply wasn’t aware how a unique blend of geographic, economic, and sociocultural factors has been drawing the nations to Houston en masse. With our diverse family and our deep desire to cultivate gospel-centered multi-ethnic churches, Houston began making sense.

Vocationally, I have long wanted to serve as a scholar-pastor or pastor-scholar, studying and teaching and preaching and writing to communicate the depth and breadth of God’s truth to his people. Yet I haven’t known whether God would locate us in the academy or the church. I always sensed that such a blended ministry, if situated within the diverse responsibilities of the pastorate, would require a special situation with a team of elders and staff who would share the vision and help shoulder the labor. I have seen the dark sides of church life and ecclesial responsibilities — the relentless burden, the inevitable conflict, the burnout potential — along with the weighty reality that all under-shepherds will one day give a thorough accounting of themselves and their flocks to the Chief Shepherd of the church, Jesus Christ himself.

But as we evaluated how our gifts and training could be used, we began to see how BridgePoint’s legacy, location, elders, staff, and gifted congregation were primed for the missional relaunch everyone told us they were so eager to see. On our recent trip, Cindi and I were flooded with an outpouring of love, affection, service, and support, confirming to us that this long-standing body of believers loves the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel and is ready to labor together to advance his kingdom.

I have enjoyed teaching biblical counseling — especially the wonderfully gifted and godly students flooding into Boyce College each year — and I’ve always loved the rich intellectual life of Southern Seminary. For many years, I thought it most likely that I would spend significant time in the academy, especially with my desire to write. I’m eager to begin this semester and invest in a group of students I know and love, and who have such potential for impact in our world. But those who know us know that my first love is biblical theology — understanding and retelling how the tapestry of Scripture fits together so that believers in all walks of life are informed, inspired, emboldened, organized, and mobilized to take the gospel as far as the curse is found. The calling to preach the whole counsel of God in a local church is the calling to tell that story, from every portion of Scripture, and then to pray that God brings the spark of his Spirit to the fuel of his Word.

There are many unknowns, of course. My journal is overrun with ponderings, wrestlings, and prayers as I sought God’s calling in recent months. Decisions between two good things are sometimes the hardest, because saying yes to one means saying no to the other, and in many ways I was wishing I could do both things. But as I’ve been telling my students recently, my main concern with the rest of my life is not the bad things I may do but the good things I may left undone. I believe God would rather see his people launching out in truth and love, fueled with faith and courage, instead of bunkering down under a restrictive sense of fear, burying certain talents until the master returns because we’re paralyzed that we might make a wrong decision. I tend to be selfish and risk-averse, so I’ve always been better at burying the master’s loan than investing it. But God is peeling back those layers of self-protection and opening me up to the freedom and wonder of following his cloud and flame as he leads.

My sermon on Sunday morning was entitled “The Cloud, the Flame, and the Church’s Mission,” from Numbers 9:15-23. In two separate services, I did my best to proclaim that God is (1) with us (2) to lead us (3) to witness, connecting the cloud and flame that led Israel through the wilderness with the cloud that received Jesus in Acts 1:9 and the flame of the Holy Spirit who empowered and emboldened the church to take the gospel to the nations beginning in Acts 2:1-11.

As far as I can tell, we’re headed to Houston because God wants me to tell and retell the story of the Bible, the true story of the world, which culminates in Jesus and his gospel and his kingdom people, so that the nations might hear. And he doesn’t just want me to explain. He wants me to proclaim. He doesn’t just want me to dissect. He wants me to declare.

Many have asked how Cindi and the kids feel about this transition. By God’s grace, everyone is very excited. Cindi has never wanted to be a pastor’s wife, and has always wanted not to be a pastor’s wife. But God has changed her heart radically over the past few months, long before he warmed my own heart. She’s eager to use her gifts, and to see our family ministering together in a single Christian community. Our trip only revved the engines as she experienced the sweetness of the church and its ripeness for growth. As for the kids, when Cindi and I called them (they were with my mom in Louisville) to tell them we’d be moving to Houston, they jumped and screamed so loud that all we could hear was static on the line for the next 10 seconds. They’re at a good age for moving, and God has graciously given them a joyful anticipation for this next chapter.

Words cannot express my gratitude for the investment Southern Seminary, Boyce College, and Fellowship Church have made in our lives, an investment that’s flowed through sweet relationships over our six years here. We came to be trained for the future, but in Louisville God gave us far more: biblical training, strategic vision, church family, sweet friendships, amazing students, faithful pastors, stellar colleagues, rich memories, and a happy, fruitful ministry at Boyce College. I take bittersweet comfort knowing that we are leaving during very good days for both the seminary and our local church, and I anticipate with them all the good things God will continue doing. I’m also looking forward to the many ways our lives and ministries will intersect in the years to come.

In upcoming articles I may unpack the many divine providences, biblical realities, and discipleship lessons we’re taking away from this intense process. But for now, I rejoice to know that the cloud of God’s Word and the flame of God’s Spirit still lead his people, and that he promises to build his church in Houston, Louisville, and to the ends of the earth.

Thanks for laboring with us to that end, and for sharing in our joy.


24 thoughts on “Following the Cloud and Flame: A New Gundersen Journey

  1. The church I grew up in (Katy Bible Church, about 20 minutes from BridgePoint) had strong links with this church. How thrilling to have you moving to Houston. We are visiting my parents in April (so too early to see you there), but hopefully we’ll be able to see you on another trip down the road.

  2. Gunner, you have no idea the timeliness of this post in our family’s own struggle between good options amidst the calling we sense on our lives. Thank you for writing this and God bless your future faithfulness as you proclaim the Gospel in Houston.

  3. Well said, Gunner. I’m really thankful for how you have served the seminary and how you have ministered to me over the years. You will definitely be missed!

  4. Great post, Gunner, and how matchless is our Shepherd to prepare you so well to faithfully shepherd His flock. I look forward to hearing next fall how the Lord has used you in Houston and what he’s taught you and Cindi. I don’t think I had a chance to tell you in the Spring when we met at the Hawkin’s move, but your kids have got to be the best, most loving kids I’ve ever met. Thanks be to God for what he has taught you two about pouring into young lives! Grace to you, my friend!

  5. Congratulations Gunner! Sounds like a great situation. Welcome to the joy, burden and adventure of full-time pastoral ministry!

  6. So excited for you Gunner and
    Cindi. I have no doubt the Lord is going to use you in glorifying our Lord as you and Cindi have done up to now. Will be looking forward to hearing more of you journey!!

  7. As someone who shares remotely in the journey of Bridgepoint, I want to take this opportunity to welcome you and your family into the journey ahead. May you find it both rich in opportunity and rich in meeting your own needs and longings as a person, a couple, and a family. You are in our thoughts and prayers as you make an intentional, aspirational transition into an alternate world and universe, with more cowboys (well, Texans anyway) than horses and where everyone is a minority, but each one represents a unique collage, and no one is more than 125 feet above sea level.

    1. Thank you, Sym! And thanks for your investment in Derek and me years ago in Wellington. I would love to bring my wife back to New Zealand someday. Please pass my greetings to Claire.

  8. This is good news Gunner. May God go before you and your family out into the harvest. Looking forward to a final semester with you.

  9. Praise the Lord Gunner! This seems like such an answer to prayer and I am really excited to see how God will use you at this specific local church in Houston! And thanks for all of the writing you are doing on this blog my friend!

    1. Thank you, Bobby! Compass and our interactions have been instrumental in shaping my vision over time — thank you for your friendship and gospel labors! You’re a great pastoral example for me.

  10. I love you Gunner. The Lord continues to use you to trailblaze and provide hope for me as I continue to trek along in the journey of faith behind you. May God continue to richly bless you, Cindi, the kids, Bridgepoint and Houston in this next season.

    Peace.

    1. Thank you, Steve! I love you too, brother. I’ve love to stay in touch and get your perspective on some things as we get closer to transitioning. I look forward to the next time we see each other.

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