The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Category: Letters

A Good, Long Year

*On Sunday, at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on 2022. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

My Dearest Shades Valley,

We all know that the older we get, the faster time seems to move, and I would say that is usually true from me, but not last year… not in 2022. Last year felt long, but in the best way possible. Let me explain.

When 2022 began, we were still in two services. Doesn’t that seem like ages ago? When 2022 began, I was still preaching through The Sermon On The Mount, the SVCC kitchen was still under construction, and my son, Levi, was still shorter than his mom. All of that feels like forever ago, and I believe that is because God has been at work so much in our midst over the last 365 days. When I look at the great things he has done, there is just no way it feels like it could all fit into a single year. Let me give you just a few examples from our body, from our staff and from my own life.

In our body, we saw several long-standing projects come to completion. I’ve already mentioned the kitchen, which was years in the making and has already been a huge blessing, but in 2022 the first Shades Worship Album, also years in the making, released, and has likewise been a huge blessing. We also completed our training and policy development with GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) which will go into effect soon as we seek to care for the most vulnerable among us, especially our kids. Speaking of kids and completed projects, we finally finished installing a new kids’ playground! But, the beautiful thing about 2022 wasn’t that we just completed some long-standing projects, we also resurrected some long-ceased events such as the hoedown hootenanny, the men’s campout, and we got the return of a full-fledged women’s retreat. All this community connection was incredible after being apart for so long, and I’ve only named a fraction of all that happened.

Even more important than any event or building project, was the amount of life God graced us with in 2022. I cannot tell you how much the Lord grew my own heart as he fed us from his Word through The Sermon On The Mount, examining our cultural convictions and diving into Judges. And, as we’ve journeyed through the Word, he worked literal life in our midst through bringing so many new members and visitors who are fast becoming family. We’ve literally seen new families form through four weddings, families grow through eight births, and the kingdom expand as the Lord continues to let us see the baptismal waters stir and missionaries go forth, especially in Poland, Thailand and Cambodia.

The Lord also poured out his grace by walking us through hard things in 2022. We walked through hard truths in the Word, especially in Advent as we talked about the Gospel and racism… but from those hard truths came so much beautiful fruit that is still being born in our body week after week. We also walked through difficult suffering in this world. The most difficult being the death of Jason and Reena’s son, little Zeke. Even there, God has shown up in power. Through Zeke, we’ve seen him display his strength.

Oh Shades, so much life happened in our body… much more than it feels could possibly fit into a year. And not just in our body, but within our staff. Brad and Jordan Brown welcomed little Elizabeth Anne into the world, and she keeps rocking their world! The Doroughs are fully funded and ready to adopt baby Dorough number three! John Kegley finished his time at Shades with great fruitfulness and faithfulness. Sara Hersh completely took the reins of our youth ministry and it’s thriving. And Brooke Premo completed her incredible time as our Shades Kid’s leader and Joely Coker stepped into her place and joined this motley crew of a staff. Life came at us fast, but I mean it when I say there is no one else I’d rather work with than the staff of Shades Valley Community Church. Most pastors dream of having this kind of chemistry… and it exists because this place really is family.

Oh Shades, so much happened within our staff… much more than it feels could possibly fit into a year. And not just within our staff, but within my own life personally. When we came to Shades, Holly and I had two preschoolers… now we have five kids, and those two preschoolers are now teenagers… how did that happen? It happened because it has been more than a year. Shades, it has been a decade. February of 2022 marked ten years at Shades Valley for my family. I was so young when I came, which concerned a few of you, but I made you a promise… I promised you I would age. Shades Valley, I’m keeping my promise. This year, I’ll turn 40. I may not be old, but I’m not the young pastor anymore. No. I mentor them now. And Shades, that’s because of you. 

The only reason I have anything to offer as a pastor is because of God’s grace toward me through a patient and forgiving church, through you. Shades, I’m still here after a decade because you have loved me well and pointed me toward Jesus. I have long quoted Paul to describe how I feel about you, and his words only ring truer in my heart year after year… Shades Valley you are my joy and my crown. 

So, I don’t care how long or how short 2023 feels, or the year after that, or the year after that… my heart’s desire is to walk through those years with you going into the world in peace, having courage, holding on to what is good, honoring all men, strengthening the fainthearted, supporting the weak, helping the suffering and sharing the Gospel. Let us love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all… 

I love you all,

Pastor Jonathan


If A Grain Of Wheat Dies

*On Wednesday, at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on 2021. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

My Dearest Shades Valley,

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus spoke these words in John 12:24 most specifically about his own death and resurrection, but also about his followers who would find true life by losing their life to him. The entire notion of “life out of death” lies at the very heart of our faith. This is what our God does. This is who he is… a God of redemption… a God of resurrection.

On January 13th of 2021, I felt like a dying grain of wheat in the dirt. I had the closest thing I have ever experienced to a complete breakdown. Poor Brad walked in on me weeping uncontrollably in my office. He prayed for me and sent me home for rest. My poor wife took one look at my state and called the elders. They were at my house within hours, praying over me and washing my feet.

I think we, as Shades Valley, can collectively identify with what I was experiencing. In many ways, 2020 felt like it knocked us to the ground. Nearly every ministry we’d ever had ground to a halt. Often, we felt less alive and more like a community on life support. And yet, we continued to confess, to hope, to believe that God was at work. And Shades… he was. He is.

“…if [a grain of wheat] dies, it bears much fruit.” God was sovereign over my breakdown in January of 2021, and today I testify that he has sovereignly used it to build me up and, I pray, to bear much fruit. The elders and staff came around me in support, responsibilities were removed from my plate, I got into counseling, and I was surrounded by so many of you in love and prayer. When most other churches would have sought out a new pastor, you embraced me and repeatedly said you were proud to call me your pastor.

And Shades, after having some of the hardest pastoral experiences of my life the past few years, I can stand and say that by God’s grace flowing through you my mental health is in the best place it has ever been. I know who I am and what I’ve been called to do, and I am confident that he who began a good work in me will be faithful to continue it until it is brought to completion in the day of Christ Jesus. In 2021, God has done a redemptive work of resurrection in my life… and I believe he has done the same in Shades!

“…if [a grain of wheat] dies, it bears much fruit.” After falling to the ground in 2020, I believe God has been at work through Shades Valley Community Church all throughout 2021 to bear much fruit! Ministry that felt like it had ground to a halt has sprung to life! And our community that felt like it was on life support?… I believe I have seen it thrive! 

What am I talking about? I’m talking about things like the eruption of joy we experienced at our outdoor Easter service. I’m talking about the healing we felt in our hearts as we journeyed through the Psalms over the summer and sang songs birthed out of the Psalter and out of our community. I’m talking about the night Shades Valley took over the outfield at Regions Park. I’m talking about the Women’s weekend, Beau Armistead’s Trauma Seminar, and the Wolnski worship and prayer gatherings. I’m talking about Shades showing up the Birmingham AND Campaign launch and showing out for our 30th anniversary celebration. I’m talking about the birth of seven babies, the baptism of three believers, and the addition of twenty-two members. I’m talking about celebrating Leah’s fifteen years of service, hiring Sara Hersh to work with youth, Brooke Premo to work with children, and doing a total children’s ministry makeover. I’m talking about nearly 100 episodes of Shades Midweek, multiple families pursuing adoptions, and continued global mission support with a new effort in Thailand. I’m talking about Groceries for GreenSprings, picnics in the park, including the Christmas Cornhole Tournament, and concluding the year by insanely making and surpassing budget. And yes, I’m even talking about the parking lot revolution!

And Shades I could keep going, but I think what I’m saying is clear… I’ve seen life erupt over the past year. And yes, we faced many difficult days. Yes, things are still not exactly how we want them to be with us being in two services. But, amidst everything, even the hard, I can confidently say that yes, God’s resurrection power has been and is redemptively at work, and I’ve watched it bear much fruit through you! I’ve seen the lives you’ve impacted. I sit and talk with people who tell me story after story of how this community has met and ministered to them amidst their pain as well as met them and magnified their joy amidst celebrations!

And I know they’re telling the truth because their story is my story! I know God is at work bearing much fruit through you because I see that fruit in my own life. Want to know how?… Just reread the first half of this letter!

Shades, no doubt, we’ve seen difficult days, but even on the darkest ones that feel like death, remember our God is he who brings life out of death. That’s what he does. That’s who he is… a God of redemption… a God of Resurrection! So let us continue to confess, to hope, to believe that God is at work. Shades, he has been… he is… and he will be!

So, in 2022 let us go into the world in peace, having courage, holding on to what is good, honoring all men, strengthening the fainthearted, supporting the weak, helping the suffering, and sharing the Gospel. Let us love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all… empowering us to bear much fruit.

I love you all,

Pastor Jonathan

The Sovereign Surgeon

*Tonight, at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on 2016. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

My Dearest Shades Valley,

fullsizerender-7Our community turned twenty-five years old in 2016! The Lord has blessed me to pastor you for five of those years, and every one of them has been his grace upon my life. Last year was no exception. I’m not saying that everything has been easy. We’ve been at this thing called community far too long to naïvely believe it is pain free. But, our sovereign God of redemption uses even the deepest of cuts for our ultimate good and his glory.

fullsizerender-9That truth has expressed itself in a very physical manner in my own life. As you know, since 2011 I have lived with a herniated L5 disc. Two months ago, I finally gave in and went under the surgeon’s knife. The obvious goal of surgery is not to harm, but to heal. However, there must be a cutting in order to cure, and right now, just eight weeks post-surgery, I can tell you that is exactly what has happened. I am virtually pain free!

As I look back over 2016 at Shades, I feel like I can see this same “cutting in order to cure” at work under the Sovereign Surgeon’s hand. Tonight, we have surely seen an example of this through reflecting on last year’s budget. Just a few months ago, God invited us to trust him with our $40,000 gash in our gut… I mean talk about needing surgery! Then, somehow we finished the year with a $36,000 surplus? There is no “somehow” to that, there is a “someone” behind it… to God be the glory!

Once I started thinking about it, I quickly discovered that the examples of God “cutting in order to cure” at Shades during 2016 are countless. I only have time to point out a few, and please know this is not a “brag-on-ourselves” list! This is a “boast-in-the-Lord” list! He alone is the great physician, and his healing touch can be seen all throughout our history! These are just a few of his 2016 miracles…

fullsizerender-6Our building had a literal surgery last spring, and it wasn’t just a cosmetic facelift. No. Our dying and decaying roof was finally replaced! And by God’s grace we were able to pay cash for our new-giant-metal umbrella, and we have been leak free since!

In 2016, the Great Physician also performed many open-heart procedures through the leaders of various ministries! I wish I could go through all the details of things like new song writing projects in the worship ministry, the women’s ministry writing their own curriculum, the men’s ministry taking their first retreat, Lenten prayer meetings hosted by the prayer team, or how about the fact that there are now over one hundred and twenty volunteers working with our children’s img_4188ministry! God has cut-open and reworked so many ministries this past year, like the West Homewood Farmer’s market. Through the market’s leadership, the Lord surgically shifted their approach resulting in the most successful summer season yet. God is using the market’s positive impact to cut into the surrounding community with the Gospel!

fullsizerender-10The Lord has also performed surgical additions to our own church community through a second full-time pastor, new means of communication via The Realm, new members, new community groups (there are now 16 total), and new births (physical and spiritual). And, all this growth is not without inevitable growing-pains. As our church enlarges we must all press into community all the more, and we must press out of our own social circles, through the pain and awkwardness in order to pull others into this family we call Shades.

The Lord has given us much this past year, but, surgeon that he is, he has also taken away. We have again felt the pain and grief of loss, and as we have held each other in hospital waiting rooms and at gravesides. We’ve wept together, prayed together, and helped one another to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord who is with us through it all.” We have pointed one another toward the rock-solid hope that the day will dawn when we will experience no more harm, but only healing… no more cuts, only cure.

Until that day, we will be a people who embrace the harm for the sake of the healing! We will be a people who commission forth families like the Smiths (name changed for safety). We feel the pain of the Sovereign Surgeon cutting them out from our midst and calling them far from home. But, we send them forth to carry the cure of the Gospel to unreached peoples. This is a picture of identity that belongs to each of us at SVCC. Whether we are called across the ocean or to high there in Birmingham, we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the Gospel! We cry out for God to continue cutting into our lives and our church in whatever way is necessary for the cure of the Gospel to spread!

fullsizerender-3This is our prayer as we head into 2017. It is the prayer we speak over each other week after week. We pray that we go into the world in peace, having courage, holding on to what is good, honoring all men, strengthening the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, helping the suffering, and sharing the Gospel. We pray that we love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the grace of our lord Jesus Christ is with us all. And, to this prayer we, the people of God, say again and again, “Amen.”

I love you all,



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