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.