Dear Stonehouse Church family,
It is with heavy hearts that we close our doors at Stonehouse Church. As you read and learn about what has happened and what is next we invite questions, comments, or conversations about anything that comes to mind for you. This is a wide open process and there are no reasons for anything to be hidden whatsoever. We give thanks to God for the fact that this situation has not arisen due to some grievous sinful nor divisive occurrence. We also glorify Christ for the work he’s done through the amazing people that make up Stonehouse: he has comforted us, encouraged us, and pulled us all together in these days, he has done great things for us.
We want to begin by sharing more about what this isn’t and then what this is.
First and foremost, this isn’t a matter of pastoral disqualification. There has been no “moral failure” here by either of your elders. While we maintain, as the scriptures do, that we are indeed sinners in need of grace every single day we can also say that Stonehouse closing it’s doors is not due to any glaring, unrepentant, disqualifying sin going on in the lives of your pastors. Thankfully, because of God’s grace at work in our lives, both of our marriages are strong, enduring, and there has not been any marital unfaithfulness whatsoever. We praise Christ for his goodness to our marriages in times of significant, life-altering days like these. Also, of note, there has not been any mishandling of money here that has brought about the decision to close the doors of Stonehouse Church. In addition to this, your pastors are not “losing their faith” or making changes to their Biblical convictions, nor are they giving up on the (big C) church at all.
We want to assure you that we do not view this as though we have lost some kind of battle, this is no spiritual defeat. We have not failed to endure with Christ here. He is close as he’s ever been, and we are following him just as we have all along. It is important for us all to recognize that this decision is not the result of anyone’s failure. This isn’t someone’s fault. This isn’t a time for us to ponder what could have been different if we had done this or that thing. Failures, mistakes, and missteps are part of every person’s life and every church’s life, and the lack of them is not what leads to churches carrying on through the years… the presence of them is not what has brought us to this point.
Finally, you should know, this isn’t necessarily our desire either. We are not taking these steps because we want to. Neither of your pastors ever imagined this day when we began to labor for the gospel in this city. Jason has had his hands to this plow since 2011. Derrick has been in St. Pete laboring to this end since 2013 with about 6 years of buildup before that point. We both planned to labor in and see this church blossom among the people of St. Pete. This, in part, is what makes these decisions so difficult. It has become apparent over time that this is in fact where things are. It has become more and more obvious to us that—as mysterious as it may be—this is the sovereign plan of a good, loving, and supremely wise God.
What this is, then, is letting go of something that isn’t ours to hold on to. This is, in a way, recognizing the way that God’s hand has worked things out and surrendering to his will. We have had a lot of conversations over time and the way was narrowed as the path became more clear. Even though it is still a very tough decision, we are confident that it is the right one.
For me (Derrick) this decision, in part, is me admitting that I am no longer healthy enough to lead a congregation well at this point in my life, particularly a congregation that finds itself in a church-planting type of situation. In all honesty I just need to stop carrying the load of pastoral leadership, I need to stop trying to bear up underneath this weight. For the sake of my wellbeing, for the sake of being a faithful and present husband, for the sake of my own spiritual vitality, and for the sake of whatever future the Lord has in store for me I need to step down. Life is always full of hard things and this is true whether we are in ministry as vocation or in ministry volunteerism but these last several years for me have been filled with heavy burden piled upon heavy burden. The intense labor of leading a church, the ongoing work at an extra part-time job, the lack of sufficient rest, the stress of financial strain, and the heaviness of lingering grief are all wearing me down. In the words of Bilbo Baggins “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Rachel and I both recognize that this is the case, it is no longer simply a matter of enduring in difficult times, it is a matter of allowing myself to be human and to say I shouldn’t and can’t go on. Closing the doors of Stonehouse Church is, in part, me saying that it’s not right and good and glorifying to God for me to be doing this anymore. It is not right for me which in the long run means it’s not right for Stonehouse.
I (Jason) too have come to a point in my life and with my family to say that this is a good and right decision for us. I shared in our meeting last week how I do not believe that I can be the husband and father that I am called to be while continuing in this pastoral role. With my full-time job outside of Stonehouse and with the coming arrival of our second child, there simply is not enough time for me to fulfill each calling faithfully. My calling as husband and father, according to scripture, supersedes my calling as pastor. Additionally, it has become clear to both Kelly and I that we are in need of a break. We are tired. We were created to rest, and to ignore this reality is to be unfaithful.
The Lord makes his way known to us in different ways and when we first began to discuss the possibility of Stonehouse closing its doors there was a mixture of sadness and relief within us all. This is a tiresome task to be sure and without Stonehouse becoming more self-sufficient we grew to see that there would be no way forward without leaders. Simply put, your pastors are in a place where they need open-ended breaks from laboring in ministry in this way. We don’t know what it means for our futures at this time but we do know what it means for Stonehouse Church.
We want to emphasize that this decision was not a light-hearted one. There was nothing flippant about it. It has been an ongoing conversation, and one that we, with our wives, took very seriously. We tossed around scenarios, we explored options, we sought counsel, and through tears and wrestling, we have determined that the decision to close the doors is the wisest, most God-glorifying action to take.
Serving within this local church is and has been an enormous privilege for us. We are so grateful for all that God has done in forming us alongside this local body. Our hearts are lifted in numerous ways when we think of the good that has come to us all through God’s work at Stonehouse. We have amazing relationships because of this church. We have watched hours and hours of life poured into this beautiful place and into all of these valuable lives. To take part in Stonehouse Church has been a heavenly glory on earth. Beholding the gospel, serving together, walking through life, and enjoying the fellowship of these blood-bought brothers and sisters regularly has been a highlight in all of life for us all. We will never look back on the years of Aletheia St. Pete/Stonehouse Church with regret but only with fondness and with thanks to God.
As we close the doors of Stonehouse Church we want to urge you as followers of Jesus who have made a beautiful and meaningful connection to the local church to continue on in the same way elsewhere. Yes, we are the church and yes, the church is not only one local church, but to truly respond in obedience to the Lord and be part of his body, his family, we all need to be connected in a local congregation. It may take some time to sense that the connection is meaningful again but as many of you discovered at Stonehouse it is worth finding. Some of us at Stonehouse have connected in this meaningful way for the first time in our lives, or at least the first in our adult lives. This is the will of the Lord and as we are going to be here in St. Pete for the foreseeable future we’d love to help you make this transition. Our first recommendations for churches here in St. Pete are Local Church and City Church. Making either of these churches your new home church would be a wise choice. We know the theology, the mission, the leaders, and the direction of these two churches and have strong confidence that you will be shepherded well within these congregations. While both of these are younger church planting churches they would both be blessed to have you. If the thought of joining another church plant causes pause that is understood. Please know that the pastors of these two churches know about Stonehouse and have voiced to us that they hope to welcome anyone from Stonehouse who chooses to connect with them. They are more than happy to embrace you as you attend, rest with them if needed, are encouraged in the gospel, and take one step at a time as disciples of Jesus. Some of you are very tired, like us, and need a time of resting and washing in the Word. Take that time and trust the Lord as he leads you on. Please let us know how we can help during this transition as well, we will be doing some of the same things and can offer our own encouragement together on the journey. What we know, even in closing the doors of Stonehouse Church, is this: the mission of God continues, the Kingdom of God advances, the Word of God bears fruit, and Jesus—our coming King—ever reigns on high.
We take great comfort in the fact that we serve a God who is perpetually trillions of steps ahead of us, who is infinitely wiser than us, who transcends time and space, who is restricted by no person or thing, who does all that he pleases, and all that he pleases to do is good. We are grateful that this God, in all of his power and knowledge, has steadfastly committed himself to the good of his people. So much so that whatever comes our way, we can look it in the face and without wavering, declare, “God is for me; God is for us.” There never has been, and there never will be a moment in time in which this is not true. The Apostle Paul posed the following question in Romans 8:“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”What Paul is saying here is that, in Christ, we have all things worth having. God has not and will not ever keep from us anything that will lead to our ultimate good. Paul later goes on to say that nothing can separate us from the love of God: neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The eternal creator God has promised good to us, and so we will take him at his word.
Though we often find ourselves in trying, confusing, and sorrow-filled circumstances, we believe him when he says that“all things work for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
That is the backdrop of this news,and it is thetrajectory of this news — this hard, difficult, confusing moment will one day find its fullness in Christ. Local churches, glorious as they are, come and go, but God’s commitment to his people does no such thing. His promises to us are surer than creation itself; for creation will pass away, but his words will not. Let us take great comfort in these realities.
we are amazed at the fact that god has alowed us to behold the glorious good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ in these wonderful years together. as a beautiful family brought together by grace we have tasted the bread and drank the cup. Together we have heard God’s eternal Word proclaimed and have lifted our temporary voices to the everlasting King. for all of this and for so much more we give thanks to God for “he has done great things for us, and we are glad.” (Psalm 126:3).
We love you dearly.
In Christ, with great hope —
Jason Morris & Derrick Phillips