the shape of leadership

Trusting God for the Journey

A profile of church planter J.J. Vasquez

When J.J. Vasquez and his wife, Liz, sensed God calling them to leave their church staff positions and plant a church in Winter Park, Florida, they obeyed, even registering right away for a church planting conference.

The week of the conference, they discovered more life changes were on the way: Liz was pregnant with their third child. However, the couple's elation turned to sorrow when they later learned during a doctor’s visit that their unborn child’s kidneys were not forming.

“You guys are in for a journey,” the nurse told them sadly.

The couple prayed for God to heal their son, but the infant died a few hours after delivery in August 2015.

As J.J. and Liz worked through their grief, they blogged about trusting God in difficult times. They realized God was using their loss for His glory when a woman who read the posts wrote to tell them she had decided not to abort her baby.

“We selected the name Journey Church from that experience — out of recognizing the ability of our journey to impact someone else’s life in a positive way,” J.J. Vasquez says. “God can turn a dark, pain-filled place into someone else’s hope and miracle. That has been at the center of every sermon I preach.”

“From beginning to end, it’s been a complete God journey.”                          — J.J. Vasquez

The church planting journey has been a walk of faith in other respects as well. With little outside funding, J.J. and Liz left their jobs, sold their house, tapped their savings, and followed where God was leading. From June 2016 to February 2017, they lived without a salary.

Yet J.J. and Liz experienced provision in unexpected ways, such as selling their home in four days for $5,000 above the asking price.

“From beginning to end, it’s been a complete God journey,” Vasquez says.

Though the young Hispanic ministers initially wondered whether they would connect with the predominantly white, affluent, middle-aged residents of Winter Park, the couple trusted God with their ministry as well.

“Our skin color didn’t match, and our age demographic didn’t match,” Vasquez says. “We don’t blend in, but we’ve learned that loving people is the universal language and culture.”

Vasquez says the differences have proven beneficial, both for stretching him and for attracting interest. In fact, when he tried toning back his exuberant preaching style to fit in with the region’s more subdued church culture, he noticed a decline in attendance.

“I felt God was telling me to be myself,” Vasquez says. “I went back to who I was as a communicator and began to see attendance climb. At the end of the day, I’ve got to be me.”

Vasquez says successful church planting doesn’t depend on a program, presentation or personality anyway. And it certainly doesn’t depend on perfect circumstances. It’s about remaining faithful, genuine and focused on Jesus — and trusting God for every step of the journey.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2017 edition of Influence magazine.

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