We were walking across Holden Street in Warrensburg. It was early August (2014) and we had yet again hoodwinked a student into watching our two boys so we could go on a date. The sun rode high in the late summer sky and soon would need to walk back to the vehicle and get home, but not yet. The silence surrounding this sleepy downtown kept drawing us away from the chaos of home.
As usual when we didn’t have screaming children and could think past the next fruit snack and Daniel Tiger episode, we were discussing the future. We’d been at Campus House for over a year and were wondering what plans, if any, were moving in Brad’s mind. Did he want to change anything substantially, or just keep trucking along? Were we going to start any new initiatives or shift any of our daily or weekly activities?
As we passed Old Drum Coffee, I wondered aloud whether Brad might try to start a coffee shop. The ministry he interned with at Purdue began a wildly successful one near campus, and had seen Greyhouse strengthen community bonds and become a safe – and swanky – place for students and faculty to study or chill. We knew he was disappointed in the local coffee scene and was fascinated with purposeful, ethically-sourced, traded, etc. businesses; perhaps he’d try to open a “franchise”?
And what then? Would he run both Campus House and the shop? Would he ask me to take on the day-to-day leadership of the ministry? Would he leave and hand me the reins? Sounded like a good way to be covered in poop or kicked in the teeth.
“What would you say if he offered you the head job?” Mikala asked.
Without missing a beat I replied, “I’d say no.”
As the conversation went on, I explained that I was just now starting to feel balanced again after the leaving Muncie and cresting the hill of my first year in Warrensburg.
“Besides,” I said, “I make a really good ‘number two guy’; I’m not really cut out for the lead role.”
Little did I know that only 24 hours later, I would receive an email from Brad stating that he and his family would be leaving Campus House and moving back to Indiana. As Mikala guessed, he wanted to pursue this burgeoning interest in business through an MBA at his alma mater, plus both sets of grandparents would be much closer to their young children.
And he intended to pass leadership of the ministry to me.1
I was stunned. Despite our conversation from the previous day, I just did not see this coming – at least not this soon. I stood in the bathroom doorway and passed the phone to Mikala who almost choked on her toothbrush, yelling, “Seriously!?”
Neither of us were upset. We did not feel betrayed or let down, just completely blindsided. And he wanted me to take over. Me!? I wasn’t a “number one,” hadn’t I said that a million times? I was great at enacting the staff’s vision for the ministry; I excelled in the “theologian in residence” role,2 reading dusty works by dead authors in order to provide some back-end depth to the hipster, semi-evangelical vibe. Things were working well, why would he want to change it?
But I also understood. When your vocation becomes clear, it’s a torture until you follow. Brad had slowly but definitely been called, and not to Campus House, and I also hate having my children so far from their grandparents and wish I could pursue my call and have them near.
Next day in the office we spoke, and I expressed my concerns, but Brad wasn’t buying it. We tabled the discussion and he asked to come over later that evening to continue. I knew he must be serious as his family were definite homebodies and decidedly not night owls, yet there he was, standing on my back porch at 10pm with a sixer of his home brew. Mikala greeted him then went to bed, wondering which direction my heart would be tipped. She knew how I felt but had made it clear she knew I could do it – and had also sagely explained that, were I to refuse, we would probably also have to leave, because I would find it difficult to hire a boss I would respect as much as Brad.
Sitting at my table, we talked long into the night, the conversation moving both directions for quite a while, until he said, “Look, I know you’ve always felt like you make a good ‘number two,’ but those same qualities that make you a great support for me could easily translate into a primary role.” He said I had the ability to speak clearly and inspiringly to staff and students, that I would be able build on what he had begun; that it would look different from what he had made, but the foundation was firm.
Then he played his best card. The trickster encouraged me to think through the ministry’s vision and values and rewrite them in my own words, keeping the meaning and intent but changing the wording to suit my tastes and style.
I should have known as soon as I was given a writing assignment it was over. The moment I started writing, my imagination went to work: dreaming, hoping, reframing, and percolating a million ideas at once. He knew me too well, the bastard (said in the most affectionate way possible).
Properly hooked, I accepted the position pending Board approval.
That, however, would be a battle all its own.
1. You might think relating this in an email was a dick move, but Brad knew me well enough to know I process the written word best and would then be able to engage in conversation later. It was exactly what I would have chosen had he asked.↩
2. Much too grand a title for a hack like me.↩