An Executive Pastor Calling
Sutton Turner spent his first 35 years accumulating everything a man could want: a successful business, a beautiful wife and kids, a golf swing, lots of money, and plenty of free time to enjoy the finer things. But he could not buy enough, earn enough, or drink enough to escape the haunting question: What’s the point?
From childhood, I had set my sights on achieving goals, mostly related to all the stuff I wanted. By the time I entered business school in the late 90s, my bucket list had grown: I wanted nothing short of my own little kingdom over which to preside in perfect luxury and happiness.
Then a strange thing happened: all of my wildest dreams started to come true.
I neglected my family to pursue other things, but I convinced myself that as soon as we had the ranch, the vacation home, and $1 million cash in the bank, I would turn my attention back to them.
I wanted nothing short of my own little kingdom over which to preside in perfect luxury and happiness.
We got all of those things, and guess what? I turned to drinking instead. I was 35. I had already accomplished everything I had set out to do in life. But rather than feeling satisfied, I was miserable. At least with alcohol, I could get a nice buzz and escape the crazy life I had created.
In 2005, I left home and spent $30,000 to go hunting in Africa, in search of meaning yet again. Before I left, Marci, my wife, had one request. “Come with me to church,” she asked. I fought. I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to. Three days before I left, I gave in. I wasn’t going to like it, but I’d go.
When the pastor took the stage, however, something began to stir in my heart. I was interested. Intrigued.
“DIFFERENT” IN CHRIST
When I got back to the house, I spent the day downloading two years’ worth of the church’s sermons and put them on my new iPod to take with me. Toward the end of the expedition, I heard a very powerful message about biblical manhood and leading your family, which ended with a call to respond. My hunting guide was there with me, and I’m sure he thought I was crazy when I got down on my knees right there in the blind.
When I stepped off the airplane in Texas, Marci noticed immediately. “There’s something different about you,” she said. “Different” was an understatement.
With a new heart granted through repentance and faith, God also gave me new desires. I wanted to spend more time with my wife and kids. I wanted to take care of my body better. I wanted to pray and read my Bible. I started going to church as well—this time of my own free will. I got baptized. I joined the prayer team. I introduced myself to the pastor. I actually started to enjoy spending time with God and his people.
You see, my wife’s prayers and my midlife despair were fully met by the presence and power of the risen Jesus Christ.
When I stepped off the airplane, my wife noticed immediately. “There’s something different about you,” she said.
My pastor, Joe Champion, and I struck up a friendship and started playing golf together. I look back now and realize my time as a new Christian hanging out with him was model discipleship: he simply became my friend. Over the next year, Jesus used this relationship to teach me, care for me, mature me, and sanctify me.
I WASN’T CRAZY; I WAS CALLED
At one point, one of the pastors asked if I would take a look at the financial books. The church was growing like crazy, attendance was up into the thousands, and everything appeared healthy on the outside. I reviewed the data and, to my absolute shock, discovered that the church was in significant trouble. The staff was huge and we only had sixty days of cash left. Operations were unsustainable, and it was only a matter of time before the church would fail to make payroll.
I had to tell Pastor Joe that he would be up against a huge mess unless somebody made some changes very, very fast. I was completely shocked when Pastor Joe turned to me and said that I was the man for the job.
Jesus made ruins of the life I had known. He changed my heart, my priorities, my goals, and my direction.
The financial bind that threatened my church wasn’t the result of any malicious activity or misappropriation. The guy in charge of operations simply didn’t know how to run a business.
Before Pastor Joe asked me to come on staff and help the church through its financial woes, I had spent the better part of a year praying that God would show me what he wanted me to do, since my life now belonged to him. I was really encouraged by God’s confirmation: I was to be an executive pastor at Celebration Church in Austin, Texas.
Not everybody was excited by the career change, however. Several members of my extended family thought I was making a huge mistake. At the time, the property management company I founded was a big, profitable piece of cake. It churned out plenty of money and afforded me about as much free time as I could want. I wasn’t looking to completely upend the good life, but now I loved Jesus, and he made ruins of the life I had known. He changed my heart, my priorities, my goals, and my direction.
I wasn’t crazy; I was called.