Calling: The Evan Butler Story

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Do you recall the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings and causes a hurricane in another part of the world?  This story is kind of like that.  Except this butterfly has a beard and a guitar.

You may have noticed this man leading worship at Living Stones on April 7th:

After you noticed him you might have also thought, "who is this joker?"  His name is Evan Butler, and the story of how he ended up leading worship that Sunday is worth telling because his calling to Reno can teach the rest of us about our callings.

It’s one thing to hear the story of a calling to preach from a convicted felon who saw a vision of Jesus commanding him to convert Eskimos during an acid trip at Burning Man - and quite another thing to hear from a kid raised in a suburban Christian home who heard no audible voice, yet packed up everything he owned to move to a city he doesn’t know and become a Worship Leader at a church that doesn’t know him.

Evan’s story is unique and frosted with supernatural flavor, but it can serve as an example for anyone who has ever asked “God, what are you calling me to?” (A helpful list of questions to ask yourself about your calling appears at the end of this post).

The Primary Calling

Any vocational or locational calling must stem from our primary calling - that we have been plucked from death and called by Jesus Christ for salvation (Romans 8:30).  If these two callings are blended, then it becomes very hard to answer this question: Are you serving Jesus or your ambition?

Evan doesn’t have a crazy testimony, but his is vital to this story.

Evan was born, raised, and schooled in a Christian home.  But like so many other Christians with (seemingly) impeccable upbringings, Evan found himself worshipping religion, equating his salvation with his service to the church (although he was trained enough to never verbalize this).  To summarize John Calvin, our hearts are idol factories - even the hearts of those who pray, tithe, and vote Republican.

But Jesus broke him of this idolatry at the age of 19 while reading Psalm 51:16-17 from The Message. These are the words:

“Going through the motions doesn’t please you [God], a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”

Suddenly Evan realized his motives, the concept of grace, the weight of his pride, and the depths of his sin.  How can any of us serve God, especially those who lead others in worship, without an understanding of this grace?  God gave this spiritual jolt to Evan, and the rest of the story flows from here.

The Man and the Music

God has designed each individual uniquely, and has given us talents and passions so that we can serve others (1 Cor. 12:12).  For Evan, this passion and ability takes the form of making music.

Before his face was capable of growing a forest, he took piano lessons (hated them), recorder lessons (hated them), and sang in a children’s choir at an Assemblies of God church in Sacramento, CA (apparently this was decent because he hadn't hit puberty yet and could sing really high notes, which people loved).

But while he has always loved music, he really wanted to play soccer.  Then, at the age of 14, he got chronic shin splints.  Apparently soccer is less fun (if this is even possible) when your lower limbs are burning and throbbing.  In our journey, God, in his providence, closes roads that we desperately want to stay open so that we go down the ones he wants. (Acts 16:7-8)

So Evan quit soccer and began to play the bass - and his parents offered to buy him one if he showed more dedication than he did with the recorder.  The gifts God has given us must be cultivated.  (2 Tim. 1:6)

So ask yourself these questions: What are my talents, passions, and aspirations?  What can I do?  What do I want to do?  What is stopping me from using my gift(s)?

The Ministry

How did Evan go from a bassist with shin splints to a worship leader?  At 15 years old he started a band with some friends called “Narrow Destination,” which was basically a Christian Blink-182.  With dyed hair, Dickies, converse, piercings, and a bass guitar, Evan and his “punks for Jesus” band started playing worship at a local church.  It was there that Evan knew that he wanted to continue playing worship music.

So he played more, and at the age of 17 he realized he was being called to lead worship, even though he had been content being a back row bassist.  This meant he would have to sing.  He didn’t want to.  This also meant people would be paying attention to him.  He didn’t want this either (I find this funny since he agreed for me to write a quasi-biography about him).  God rarely (if ever) calls us to lives of comfort - our lives are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Evan began leading worship to the youth at Radiant Life Church,  and the founding pastor gave him more opportunities to use his gifts to serve the church.

But in Feb. 2009, the church went rogue and its pastor was revealed as a wolf and false prophet.  As a result, one of the remaining faithful pastors, Timothy, started Reflect Church in Elk Grove.  Evan was the first to join and offered a 3 month term of service. God even uses sin for his glory (Rom. 8:28, Hab. 1:5-11).

3 months turned into 6 months, which turned into a year, which turned into 3 years and 10 months.  Evan was given the opportunity to lead worship and build the ministry from the ground up.  Our calling is revealed when our gifts meet opportunity.

The Stirring

Evan was living in suburban Elk Grove, but in the beginning of 2012 he began to feel that it wasn’t his home.  Pastor Timothy, during a sermon, asked “Do you love this city?”  Evan was honest with himself: “No.”

Then in June 2012, he woke up one day with intense depression.  “What is wrong with me?” he asked himself.  He wanted to quit everything.  He read the book of Job a lot (if you’re depressed, this may not be the route you want to take), and he even thought about moving to Seattle so he could have Mark Driscoll yell at him.

He sought counsel and asked himself, “Am I in sin?” “Is this attack?” and, finally, “Is this you, God?”  God answered in a quiet way, “If I had to take everything from you, would I be enough?”  Our calling, no matter how great it is, is not our God. Jesus alone completes us (Col. 2:8-10).

The Open Door

This is very important: Evan did not use this budding turmoil over living in Elk Grove to stop serving the church and jet off to faraway horizons.  He would rather serve Jesus than move to a sexy town and serve his ambition.

But in July 2012 Evan came to Reno for an A29 conference.  He had never been to Reno before, and while walking from Harrah’s to Living Stones he thought “Reno is intriguing.” He attended the 7pm service and loved the experience and the ministry at Living Stones

That Monday, he met Mike and Liz Mumford (who are on staff with LS' Worship and Creative teams) at a worship leader meeting.  Liz told me that Evan was extremely quiet and guarded.

Then he walked into a pole.

While on the walk back to Living Stones from lunch, Evan was looking up at Mike and suddenly “took a handrail to the junk, Three Stooges style,” said Mike.

This moment of slap-stick comedy loosened Evan up, and while at Silver Peak for beers later he found himself sharing personal things he never would have with people he’s only known five hours. As a result, Mike casually offered for him to crash on their couch whenever he wanted.

So that week he texted Mike, “Was your couch offer serious?”

“Yep."

“You’re going to regret this,” Evan responded. (Mike later told me, “I didn’t regret it, but he made serious use of our couch.”)

The next Sunday Evan came to Reno and stayed with the Mumfords.  He started doing this weekly.  He would lead worship at Reflect Church, drive to Reno to attend the PM gatherings, stay at the Mumfords, then drive back to Sacramento in time for work at a pathology lab on Monday evenings.

How does his relationship with the Mumfords fit into this story?  Mike told me that he genuinely likes Evan.  They had connected like kindred spirits.  Liz describes his stay with them as if it was “like having a sibling around.”  Because of this relationship, the Mumfords were instrumental in helping Evan plan and equip for the move. Your calling is not just between you and God. The words and actions of others are instrumental. 

“How good of a friend he has become to me was a big assurance of his calling to Reno,” said Mike.  “He is eager and willing to serve.”

The Move

Doors soon began to open for Evan.  On Labor Day weekend 2012, he was offered the chance to lead worship at the Living Stones AM services without Pastor Donald Zimmerman having heard him play.  When asked how this happened, Donald answered, “We were desperate.  And Jesus.”

That night, Evan stayed at Donald’s and was put on the spot.

“I've heard a little bird - and you're here a lot - are you moving to Reno?” Donald asked.

“I’m not getting a clear yes, but doors are effortlessly opening,” Evan responded.

“Don’t wait for God to write it out in the sky,” Donald told him.  “Move or don’t - just honor God in the process.”

Donald then gave him two questions to ask himself: 1) “Is this move missionally minded?” 2) “Are you going to grow spiritually?”

Donald said, “If the answer is yes to both, do what you want and enjoy doing it.”

This conversation was the turning point for Evan, who was deliberating a major life change and didn’t want to make a bad decision.  When you understand that God is in control, you can make a tough decision and know within your soul that God has willed it.  We can easily become paralyzed with indecision if we forget that God is sovereign.

Donald introduced Evan to Pastor Harvey and told him about the possible relocation.  Harvey’s response? “You need to talk to your pastor and find someone to replace you.”

So the Thursday after Labor Day weekend Evan laid everything out to Pastor Timothy.  His response? “Evan, if I was in your position [single and kid-less] I’d be looking at how I could move to Reno ASAP.”

In a day rife with church divisions and ministry envy, Evan’s story contains a beautiful example of local churches working together for the global mission.  Pastor Timothy didn’t want to be territorial, and Pastor Harvey didn’t want to be a sheep swiper.  Reflect Church couldn’t provide the resources to match Evan’s drive, passion, and dreams, but Living Stones could.  Pastor Timothy gave his blessing for Evan to leave.  The blessing of your pastor is a huge confirmation of your calling.

Evan found a gifted replacement and transitioned out of the ministry at Reflect.  On Jan. 13, 2013 had his last Sunday there (and gave this farewell address).

He moved to Reno Feb. 1 and is now interning as a band leader and central worship administrator, and is part of Living Stones' fledgling Worship Leader Residency Program.

Liz said that when she first met Evan she sensed a “Big fish in a small pond” mentality from him.  But then she realized, “[The move to Reno] wasn’t just a calling for him to become a bigger fish - he fills a gap [in ministry] that we have.”

This would be a bad situation if Evan was an intern who needs more help than he offers, but his calling fits a tangible need in the community.  He even led Easter at the nubile Carson gathering and Good Friday at the Sparks Church.  Ultimately, a calling is not for individual fulfillment - it's to serve others. 

What’s in a name?

Mike pointed out to me that Evan was leading worship for a church of 100-200, and is now doing that at a church of close to 3000.  “He shouldn’t have been equipped to do this - but God has been preparing him for a long time,” he said.

In Evan's case, you might say that God has been preparing him to lead worship since birth.

The name Evan is Welsh for "John," specifically John the Baptist.  It’s easy to think of David as the Bible’s worship leader because he wrote a grip of Psalms, but John the Baptist existed to prepare the way for Jesus, the Word of God.  This is the exact role the worship leader plays in the church gathering.

When Evan realized this, he told his mom, "I was meant to have this name."

She said, “I know.  God told me.”

While Evan was growing up, his mother kept getting the word "worship" from the Lord, but she didn't know this meant musical worship until Evan asked for a bass.  His mother has been praying that he would be a righteous man of God since he was born, and without her influence it is certain that Evan would not be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally equipped to lead others.  We are to use our calling to equip future generations so they can fulfill theirs.

The Future

There was a point in his life where Evan realized he will get tired of singing songs about past relationships, experiences, and philosophies, but he will never tire of writing and singing about Jesus. Why?  Because this is what is eternal.  It is crucial to evaluate your talents and aspirations with the eternal Kingdom in mind, regardless of what God is calling you to do.

At this moment in time, Evan says he feels called to Living Stones long term.  While he’s not sure of details, the specific mission of this church is one that he desires to continue on.

What is God calling you to do?  This is something worth deliberating over, and, with Evan’s story as an example of key principles, move forward without hesitation.  We all play a little part in God’s grand narrative.  He is putting together a puzzle with pieces he created, and the small puzzle here in Reno was just given a new piece.  Welcome him.

Here are some questions to help aid you in discerning your calling:

1) Am I serving Jesus or my ambition?

2) Am I living in remembrance of God's grace?

3) What are my talents, passions, and aspirations?  What can I do well?  What do I want to do well? 

4) Am I cultivating my gift(s)?  What is stopping me from using my gift(s)?

5) Am I seeking comfort?

6) Are there open doors (opportunities) for me to use my gifts?

7) Do I think my calling is what completes me?

8. Am I seeking the wisdom of godly leaders in my life?

9) Do I believe that God is in control?

If you're contemplating a move to a new job or city, here are some additional questions to ask:

1) Is my desire for a new setting missionally minded?

2) Will a move enable me to better grow in faith?

3) Am I leaving a ministry hole in my current church?

4) Do I have the blessing of my pastor(s)?