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July 15, 2021

An Open Letter to the South Campus

Dave Zuleger

Pastor for Preaching & Vision, South

My soul is full of troubles.—Psalm 88:3

Dear South Family,

I could try to sugarcoat the troubles of my soul (and probably many of yours), but that wouldn’t be real or helpful. The reality is that this world is full of troubles and confusion, and that has played itself out on a macro scale over the past year with a pandemic, presidents, and protests. 

We also have troubles that have played out at Bethlehem over the past year. It’s been a taxing year for everyone, and it’s been a taxing year for ministry. By now, you have received notification of the resignation of Pastor Jason Meyer. This is another painful and confusing moment for us. It’s confusing and painful corporately because Jason took the mantle from Pastor John Piper and helped lead us to this point of campus-specific preaching. It feels jarring. 

It’s been more painful to me personally than corporately. Jason has been a dear friend and mentor since we met in his tiny closet of an office during my first year of seminary back in 2010. No one has influenced how I love my wife or my family more than him. No one has leaned in to care for my soul more than him. We talked weekly on the phone when I was called to my first pastoral role after seminary, he came and visited me and took me to lunch when times were hard in that pastoral post, and now I’ve had the privilege of serving alongside him these past three years. Our friendship is not up for grabs even a little, yet I’m personally heartbroken. I say all of that to let you know that it’s okay to feel sad and confused. 

The quotation above is from Psalm 88. It is the one Psalm you’ll find that never quite takes that hopeful turn we all love about the Psalms. In Psalm 88 it’s just lament. It’s just the pain and questions. And God put that in the Bible for us to read for a reason. Sometimes it just hurts. Sometimes it takes time to think more clearly or hopefully. Sometimes the Lord brings us through the valley of the shadow of death to make us depend on the God who raises the dead (Psalm 23, 2 Corinthians 1). 

We will have time to talk more about this together as a blood-bought family. But the point of this letter is not meant to be a start to that conversation or an explanation—but just to state the reality of things and to give you space to lament. I’m convinced that we live in a culture (Christian culture) that is constantly angry and shaking its fists because we’ve lost the place for and the healthy rhythm of grief-filled lament that the world is broken, sinful, and not as it should be. Let’s re-learn to lament together. 

What do we do when confusion and pain are heavy and we don’t yet see or understand much of God’s plans or purposes? We just keep talking to God. Talking to God—casting our cares on him and pouring out our hearts before him—is an exercise of faith. I wrote an article on Psalm 88 a few years back: When You Can’t Hear God, Keep Talking to Him. These days, I’m trying to take my own advice from that article. 

And while pain and confusion are very high for me right now, you should know two things: 

  1. I’m deeply encouraged by what the Lord is doing among us at the South Campus right now. I sense his leading, his kindness, his provision, and his Spirit among us to make us into a family that loves God with all of our hearts and loves our neighbors (including one another!) as ourselves. I often feel myself completely amazed at how exasperated and hurting I can feel in one setting and then how encouraged and hopeful I can feel in another. The Christian life is one of deep sorrow and deep joy. God gives mercy for us to walk in both simultaneously. 
  2. I love all of you. I hold you very dearly in my heart. To me, the ministry is worth it—even in these moments—because I love God and his people whom he’s called me to shepherd for these moments. I likely wouldn’t have chosen to shepherd through many moments over the course of the past year or so, but God has preserved in great measure my love for you and my hope in him. I believe he’s done the same for all of the South elders. He has been and will always be faithful to us because of the blood of Jesus. 

So, South Campus, pray for your leaders as we pray for you. Pray for me, and I’ll be praying for you. This moment is hard. Feel the freedom to lament. We will talk more in the days ahead, and please feel free to reach out to the elders to talk. I love you. 

Overflowing with tears and hope with you, 

Pastor Dave