This was a milestone month as we completed almost seven years of pastoral ministry at Antioch Church and entered a new season as the Executive Director of Upstream Equipping & Books. The photo you see is from our first and last days at Antioch (2017 to 2023). Look at how our family has grown! Yes, that's four girls—Elisabeth (9), Charlotte (7), Anneliese (5), and Madeleine (1).
In August of this year I took a two-month leave of absence after experiencing cumulative burnout. The first month focused entirely on returning to good health. God ministered to me in countless ways and I experienced deep renewal. The second month then focused on the future—should I return to pastoral ministry or was God moving us into a new season?
During that time I was approached by The Upstream Collective, a missions organization that I have worked with part-time for ten years. They offered me a full-time position as the executive director over two of Upstream's three departments. The role would utilize my 20+ years of experience as a missionary, missions pastor, and lead pastor to equip churches all over the world to be sending churches. This would include overseeing Upstream's publication of books, utilizing my gift and desire for writing. It was a dream job offer!
The difficulty, however, would be saying goodbye as the lead pastor at Antioch, a congregation we dearly loved. Yet after much sober prayer and counsel we sensed that indeed it was time to move on. I announced this in November and then remained in the pastorate for another month in order to grieve with the church. The Bell family has shed many tears in these days.
But even that does not contend with our excitement about the days ahead. The work officially begins in January. We look forward to finding new rhythms, a new church home, and exponential joy in serving not just one sending church—but many.
A Journey to Spain
In preparation for my new role I traveled to Madrid, Spain to spend a week with Upstream’s CEO, Larry McCrary. It had been eight years since I had travelled overseas (due to having little ones and the responsibilities of pastoral ministry). This was meant to be a time for symbolically transitioning and also "learning the ropes" from Larry. However, I was not prepared for all that the trip would mean to me.
During my leave of absence in October I had visited a retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Each day there I found myself taking deep breathes and feeling the sensation of life coming back to me. I mention this because—that was the same sensation I experienced in Spain. Larry and his wife Susan didn't just put me to work or set me adrift in the city. They invited me to experience what their lives are like in Madrid. That meant in addition to our work we spent time with people, strolled in parks, lingered over food and drink, visited museums, and marveled at the rich history all around us. It was oxygen to my soul.
For more reflections and photos, see any of my social media accounts. But allow me to summarize the journey here by mentioning what compelled me most. My reading for the trip was Patrick Schreiner's The Mission of the Triune God: A Theology of Acts. His premise is that Acts ultimately shows us that all things are working according to the plans of the Triune God, plans "to glorify himself by blessing the nations through his chosen people." That is what I observed in Spain, through many different followers of Jesus, all from numerous traditions and approaches to communicating and embodying the gospel. I cried as I sat in a church that had over forty different nationalities represented. The global church is breathtaking. I want to be part of God's great plans through his church!
Building a Support Team
In December I began building a prayer and financial support team (my new role requires raising partial support). This has taken me back to the days when I was a missionary. During that time I put great effort into building a support team of individuals and churches, a task which I found to be joyful and fruitful. So here we go again!
However, if I'm honest, raising support as 39 year-old man with four kids is different from being a 20-something single missionary. It's intimidating! I have certainly lost sleep over the thought of asking people for support and receiving a collective "no". But already God has used this to humble my heart—I am reminded how dependent I am on his provision and others' encouragement.
December is not the ideal month to begin support raising, and so I haven't made many asks thus far. Even still, after a few weeks we are already at 12% funded. I was also given the opportunity to preach at my hometown church, Steubenville Baptist in Monticello, Kentucky. This was particularly meaningful as it was my first Sunday after preaching my final sermon at Antioch. I am praying that we will be fully funded for the year by the end of March. This would allow me to focus entirely on my work at Upstream—not to mention provide for my family! For more information about supporting us visit upstreamsending.com/bradley-bell or download our support letter below.
Join Us in Prayer
You can be part of what God is doing in and through us by praying in the following ways:
Strength for starting my new role in January. As I often said pastorally, transition is always traumatic, no matter how big or small it is. Entering this new mission will take energy as I learn and grow. It will also impact our family as we learn new rhythms and find a new church home. Pray that God would shepherd and renew us.
Provision in raising support. I will be laboring at support raising while also carrying my new responsibilities. This means I will need a slow pace, healthy boundaries, and eager supporters. Pray that God would reveal his faithfulness to provide all that our family needs in a short time.
Wisdom for speaking five times in January. I am already preparing to preach/teach at a sending church conference, a missionary pre-field orientation, and missions pastor cohort. I love having these opportunities (especially as I grieve no longer preaching weekly), but it will be a lot of work. Pray that I can prepare succinctly and deliver powerfully.