A New Season

This is a letter that I wrote to my church and delivered today:

Dear Horizon Church of Towson,

I remember the early years when a few of us on Sunday mornings would go into an old, dark and dingy movie theater—smelling of stale popcorn from the night before—to set up our sound equipment, projector, computer, and “kids’ area” (if you can even call it that) before people would arrive. We were just a bunch of twenty-year-olds trying to realize a dream called Horizon Church of Towson. I was there the Sunday morning we officially launched in October of 2004. 

Since then, we’ve grown and matured and gone through many seasons. We learned how to do link groups and life together. We learned how to care for the marginalized and engage in social justice initiatives. We experimented with spiritual disciplines. We moved out of the theater and began renting a church building. Our children’s ministry grew as did the number of people getting married and having babies. We experienced a move of the Spirit where the supernatural gifts of the Spirit were awakened and set aflame among us. With your generous giving, we purchased our own properties, and we somehow managed to survive COVID. Season after season, God has been faithful to us. 

This is why it is with a heavy, yet hopeful, heart that I share with you today that I am officially resigning from Horizon Church this May. Besides facing my brother’s tragic death, this is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to face and the most difficult decision Missy and I have ever had to make. I want you to know that it has been an honor to serve as your pastor for the last 19 years. Every organization eventually has to move on from its founders, and this is now that time for Horizon. 

There may be questions and emotions that naturally arise with this sort of announcement. First, let me address the emotions. This news will likely cause a wide range of feelings within our church community. I want to encourage you that the full range of emotions are appropriate for a moment like this. Missy and I have cycled through all of them, more than once, as we prayerfully considered this decision. Sometimes it’s just hard for a church to lose one of their pastors. Believe me when I say it is equally as hard to say goodbye to a church that I planted and led for nearly 19 years. A variety of emotions are a part of grieving, so let’s make sure we grieve well together. 

So, why am I resigning now? 

The best answer I can give to that question is that I am resigning because God is calling us to move on from Horizon Church. Over the last few years, the church leadership and I have started to grow in different directions, and it is time for me to pass the baton of leadership to the next generation of leaders at Horizon. Missy and I believe this is what God is asking us to do. We’ve been honest with God and told Him that we don’t want to do this. Yet, ultimately, God has our “yes.” We have consulted our closest friends, spent countless hours in prayer, asked the Lord to speak through scripture, through wise counsel, through prophetic words, and through the Spirit’s leading. God has been faithful to do so on all fronts. As a result, we feel the Lord is calling us to move on.

You may be wondering where we’re going. 

Being a pastor is a weird job. When you change churches, often the best thing to do is not to go to a church across town. Changing churches usually involves uprooting your family and moving. This is one of those painful realities of being a pastor. Sometimes God asks all of us to do hard things, yet we know He is faithful and that there is blessing on the other side of obedience.

After much prayer, many tears, and much heartache, Missy and I believe the Lord is asking us to move to Kansas City and take the Teaching Pastor position at Vineyard Community Church of Overland Park. 

As I’ve tried to process this decision, I’ve found the following quotes to be helpful to me. Maybe they will be helpful to you as well.

“The economy of the kingdom of God is quite simple. Every new step in the kingdom costs us everything we have gained to date. Every time we cross a new threshold, it costs us everything we now have. Every new step may cost us all the reputation and security we have accumulated up to that point. It costs us our life. A disciple is always ready to take the next step. If there is anything that characterizes Christian maturity, it is the willingness to become a beginner again for Jesus Christ. It is the willingness to put our hand in his hand and say, ‘I’m scared to death, but I’ll go with you. You’re the Pearl of great price.’” 

John Wimber

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Jim Elliot

We love you, Horizon Church! As we have helped to birth this church and see it mature, we have been forever changed by this community. Horizon will always be a part of me, my family, and my ministry. It has been an honor to serve as one of your pastors for 19 years. As alumni, we will be rooting for you and cheering for you from a distance. 

With a heavy but hopeful heart,

Mark Stephenson

P.S. Also know that I’m happy to process any other questions and concerns you may have. Until June 4th, I will make myself available to anyone who wants to talk in person. And after that, I will be just a text or Zoom call away. 


Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

John 19:25-27

Jesus knew the pain and the promise of leaving. He had to look down from the cross, bloodied and beaten, and He had to see the pain of His grieving mother. He knew He had to leave her. He had to go. Knowing He couldn’t stay, Jesus asked His best friend John to step in as His mother’s son.

There was tremendous pain in leaving for Jesus. Yet, there was also incredible promise. Jesus, Himself, said to His disciples:

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 

John 16;7

It was good that He was going away and returning to the Father because the Holy Spirit could then come and do what Jesus could not do. The Holy Spirit could fill every believer and fill the whole world with the Presence and power of God.

Leaving the people we love, leaving the things we love, leaving the places we love is painful. Yet, there is promise in the pain.

The apostle Paul knew the pain and promise of leaving. On his way to Jerusalem, not knowing what would happen to him there, he stopped by the region of Ephesus to say goodbye to his close friends.

Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you,from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents…And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there…

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Acts 20:17-22, 36-38

Paul knew he had to go, but it was painful to leave. God had called him to step into the unknown and face an uncertain future. And God had called the elders at Ephesus to stay and step into their own unknown and uncertain future.

There is pain and promise in leaving. The pain is the loss. The promise is that there is a stripping away, a disentangling, that happens which opens new doors and new possibilities. This combination of pain and promise, shedding and possibility, is perfectly articulated by the author of Hebrews.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

In the midst of leaving, it is easy for the person leaving and the person staying to grow weary and lose heart. Yet, if we can embrace the pain of leaving we might also be able to embrace the promise. In the leaving a disentanglement happens that allows us to run the race that was marked out for us. We have a race marked out for us that is unique to us, unique to our life. And so we keep our eyes on Jesus in the leaving, remembering that He endured the pain of leaving as He went to the cross. He endured this pain for the joy set before Him. The joy came from the promise on the other side of the pain. We must keep our eyes on Him so that we don’t grow weary and lose heart.

Leaving is painful. Leaving is full of promise. It’s both.

Leaving is loss. Leaving is a shedding that opens new possibilities. It’s both.

Let us grieve the pain of leaving, and, somehow, through the tears, open our eyes to the future we couldn’t see before.