Dear Reader

The last 4 months of my life have been the greatest whirlwind of emotions that I have ever experienced. There have been seasons of laughter, excitement, fear, worry, peace, crying, and a plethora of other emotions. Solomon gives us some very deep words of wisdom in the 3rd Chapter of Ecclesiastes. He begins by telling us that, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” He then goes on to list many of the numerous seasons of emotions that we, as children of God, are apt to experience as we live this crazy thing we call life. I have learned over these months and weeks that there really is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

In late July/early August I was contacted by the pulpit committee of Clear Springs Baptist Church in Corryton, Tennessee. My initial response was “humbled”. When I was 19 years old I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ regardless of what that meant. For the last 18 years, I have been nowhere close to perfect and have made many mistakes, but I have tried my best to be faithful to God and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. This life of following the Lord has led me down some of the most adventurous paths, and across some of the greatest people that I have ever met. I can honestly say that being in the center of God’s will has produced and gave Hannah and I some of the greatest relationships and best friends in the world. Those relationships are what make moments in ministry. Upon being contacted, my response was that I was not looking for a church and was very content, happy, and pleased with where God had placed me. I, however, because of the decision I made at 19, gave them permission to place me on their list and agreed that I would prayerfully consider. In the last 10-12 years of my life this process had happened only three other times. Having churches and pulpit committees reach out, and make contact to gauge my interest. After short seasons of prayer, I felt promptings from the Spirit of God that these were not the places, nor were they the time. There never was any peace. I had convinced myself that God would let me retire or die from Valley View Baptist Church.

This time, this season, this church was different. Early into my prayers I began to feel God stirring something in my heart. Something was different this time. This is where one of these seasons of “weeping and mourning” came in. The emotions of ‘why would God lead me away from Valley View’? Why would He want me to leave my family? My friends? There was much I did not understand in my head, but I knew God was doing something in my heart. So, I prayed, I wept, and I agonized with the Lord to clearly and directly show me what He was up to. It was early on that I told Hannah, my wife, all that was happening in my heart. We both cried. We both laughed. We both felt excitement and we both hurt deeply. We knew there were many other candidates on Clear Springs’ list and had absolutely no way of knowing which direction this would turn. We, however, agreed to work in unity, to consistently pray, and be willing to follow God’s direction regardless of where He chose to lead us. It was a very lonely island that we walked together. Since then it has proved to be some of the sweetest moments we’ve had as a couple as we sought the Lord together on our own little island.

Because I worship and lead the majority of my family in church, I was not in a position where I felt I could discuss with them. In this I learned it was very difficult to not be able to communicate with your parents regarding something you needed prayer for, and they are some of your greatest prayer warriors. I love my mom and dad! I appreciate the way they have lead Derek and I by letting us watch them follow the Lord. It truly was the hardest months of my life, but it was a season that Hannah and I needed to walk alone with the Lord. No outside influences. No one giving us their opinions. We just wanted to know God’s will in this and His alone.

The process was very professional, and I commend the pulpit search committee of Clear Springs. They were professional, respectful, and most of all spiritual about the whole process. For that I am very thankful for these men and how they conducted their business. As time progressed these men communicated with me and how their progress was going along. I was made aware that men were being removed from the list, while at the same time never knowing who any of these men were. To this day, I still am unaware of any one single name that was on their list. This exemplifies the professionalism and confidentiality of these men serving on this pulpit committee. In mid to late October I was told that it had been narrowed down to one unnamed candidate and myself. It was at this moment that I reached out to my parents and informed them of what was happening in my world. I really think they experienced that Ecclesiastes experience of all kinds of mixed emotions as well. I ask them and we agreed that we would pray specifically regarding this matter. We prayed that if it was not within the realm of God’s will, that Clear Springs would choose the other candidate making it easy for us to know what direction we should follow. As time and fate would have, I received the call. The call that the pulpit committee has come to an agreement and every man serving was in 100% agreement that I was their selection to become the 3rd pastor of Clear Springs over the last 70-something years. It was at this moment that the “peace of God that passeth all understanding” began to come over me. It was still not without its challenges and concerns, but all the while, there was peace. All of the emotions of a lifetime of service to the same church. The emotions of, “This was the church I was saved in, baptized in, surrendered my life to Jesus in, announced my call to preach in, preached my first sermon in, ordained in” and all kinds of other emotions including the connection to family and best friends. To be honest, it, at moments, was breathtaking. This event in my life has by far been the hardest thing I have ever faced in my entire life. While it was difficult, God had answered specific prayers, moved in unbelievable ways, and has given me peace in my heart. It was becoming painfully and excitedly obvious that God was leading and His will was becoming apparent. Having peace that I could never explain, I agreed to meet with the pulpit committee.

It was at this meeting that things really began to change. For the first time I met Richard, Dwayne, Tim, Lowell, and Mike. Last names are irrelevant. This was a night that I will never forget. I went into that meeting emotional, nervous, and anxious. I left that meeting encouraged, strengthened, and at an even deeper peace. What happened in that room around that conference table can only be relived and remembered by the six men who sat in there. To explain it would be insufficient. They had their list of questions, and I had mine. We discussed testimonies, doctrine, philosophies, church vision, ideologies and everything in-between. Their list of 20-something questions and my list of 19. As we combed through these together it only further deepened our conviction that God had brought us to this moment. What you think would have been an intense time of interrogation between a committee and a potential pastor turned into a little mini-revival consisting of only six men. Again, back to Solomon: we laughed, we cried, we rejoiced, and even shouted! I have been in some great services where God moved, and this meeting rates right there with them. That night, I will never forget God’s presence that we felt in that room. After four and a half hours of deliberation and discussion we all walked out knowing God was moving and it was evident. I cannot speak for those men, but I think they would agree that none of us wanted to leave that night!

From that moment I knew what God was calling me to do. No fears, and no reservations. I requested a meeting with the deacons of the church because I wanted to be very forthright in my vision and purpose in coming. The church accommodated that, and we met. The purpose was really just a message from me to them on the importance of following God for His glory and the good of the church, and doing it always in the spirit of unity. They agreed, and I left with an assurance that they were a great group of men that I could work with. There is another great group of men in this story as well. They are known as the deacons of Valley View Baptist Church. For the purpose of transparency, I called a meeting with my deacons to discuss with them all that was taking place. I shared with them my heart and what I felt God was calling me to. Valley View Baptist Church has been my life, they have been very good to me and my family, and I knew all along I wanted whatever transpired to be done the right way. This began by me talking with the men who have stood firmly by my side for almost 11 years now. I got exactly what I anticipated: spiritually sensitive men who loved God and encouraged me to know and follow God’s will even if it broke their hearts. And it happened again, we laughed, we mourned, we cried, and we rejoiced. I will forever be indebted to these men for not only helping me do the will of God, but encouraging me to do it regardless of what that meant.

The most dreaded and difficult day of this journey came on the last Sunday of November when I had the dreaded task of telling my church all that God had done in my heart. As I shared with them I was overtaken with a flood of memories that brought with it some of the deepest emotions that have ever poured from my heart. Thirty-six years of memories and eleven of those as a pastor are not easily erased. The lives that have been changed, the friends that we have met, and the memories that have been made are things I will hold onto for a lifetime. I really had no way of knowing how my family of faith would respond. Would they be hurt? Would they feel betrayed? Would they understand? As always, Valley View did what Valley View does: they loved my family and gave us nothing but support and words of encouragement. Did they hurt? Sure. We all were hurting. This particular Sunday morning will be forever etched into my heart because of the outpouring of love we received from people who I knew were hurting. There is a reason that we always say Valley View Baptist Church is the place to be! It’s a fact.

I conclude by saying the emotions are still very real. The pain is still there. If you could see my heart you would see that this is still not easy. However, in the midst of such heartache there is a real excitement in knowing and that I am doing the will of God for my life. After informing Valley View, one my church members texted me, “The safest place you can lead your family is into the center of God’s will.” I can assuredly say I feel that I am doing that very thing. Hannah and I have peace. We are in an agreement. My kids are young and may not be able to remember much of this adventure, but I look forward to telling them one day how good God is and how he led us in this season of our lives. I hope they can somehow learn from their mother and I that God’s will may not always be easy, but it is always best. I will be able to share with them and the world that God has been beyond good to us. He has permitted us to pastor some of the sweetest people and greatest churches in the world. Valley View has loved us, stood with us, supported us, and let us lead. I have absolutely no reason to believe Clear Springs will not do the same. One song writer said it like this, “It’s been a long journey but I’ve been blessed, walking with Jesus I have no regrets, He is so good to me and I must confess, the way has been long but I’m blessed.” I truly feel that I have been one of the most blessed men in the world to have had both the privileges and opportunities that God has given me. I am beyond thankful! I am living the dream that God placed in my heart as a teenage boy.

Solomon concluded his disposition on life by saying, “He hath made everything beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” I can truly say that God has put something in my heart to share with the world. For 11 years He has given me the privilege to do it from one of the greatest churches, and with the greatest people in the world at Valley View Baptist Church. All that has been accomplished there has been due to the greatness of our God, and the goodness of these people. I leave following the will of God being able to say that He really has, “made everything beautiful in his time.” We have seen some great things that we will never forget! I make this journey to Clear Springs believing with all of my heart that God has some great things in store. This is an opportunity to serve the Lord with some more great people and see God get the glory from it. One day heaven is going to be so sweet. A place where we will never know the sting of heartache and separation. A place where we will never be limited by space or distance. A place where local assembly of believers are not separated by the name of a church on a sign or a building. I am talking about a place where we all sing in the same choir, we all worship in the same place, and we all have our focus on one Person, the Lord. I really do long for that day, but until that day come may we all continue working for Jesus in the place He has called us to labor. And may we do this while at the same time loving one another and never forgetting the memories made.

Valley View, I am going with you forever in my heart, and thankful for the path that God has given us together. Thank you for the privilege you’ve given my family to lead our church.
Clear Springs, I am coming looking forward to all that God is going to do and making some of those same memories. Thank you for the opportunity to come and help lead into all that God has for us.

I am one blessed man and very grateful for all that God has done in my life and the opportunities He has blessed me with. If God sees fit for me to leave any kind of legacy when I am gone, I pray I will be remembered as someone who loved God, loved God’s Word, and loved God’s people. Someone who sought to find, fulfill, and finish God’s will for my life. If I can just do these few things, I will leave this world feeling like I have accomplished the very purpose for which I was born.

From my heart,

Justin Pratt