As he juggled a full-time job at a local warehouse in Pasco, Washington, and a pastorate in October of 2018, Troy Woolever knew something had to change—and quick. It wasn’t just the long hours. It wasn’t just the limited time with family or the lack of visible ministry fruit.
Above it all was the nagging question, “Am I doing what God called me to do?”
But something else was going on inside Troy at the time, something he wasn’t ready to talk about with anyone. For the previous month, chest pains had come and go. He didn’t tell his wife, Chellsey.
“I had noticed he had been sleeping all the time,” Chellsey said. “He would come home from work and go straight to bed. And he was very grouchy. I just figured God was dealing with him on something.”
Eager for a night out, the couple visited a friend’s church for a “worship night.” On the way home, Chellsey noticed that Troy kept rubbing his hands, but she still didn’t know he was experiencing chest pains. That night, as Chellsey was trying to fall asleep, the chest pains got worse until Troy sat on the side of his bed, holding his chest.
“I’m having chest pains, and they won’t go away,” Troy said in tears.
At the hospital, the doctors diagnosed him with ischemia, which is a restricted blood supply to tissues causing an oxygen shortage. The next morning, while still in the hospital, Troy had a heart attack.
“It was pretty intense and scary,” Chellsey said. “I didn’t think we were bringing him home.”
Over the next nine days, Troy had three stents put in to relieve blockages. Those ten days became a turning point for Troy and Chellsey, though they didn’t quite know which way life was turning at the time.
One of the consequences of the heart attack was that Troy couldn’t continue at his warehouse job. The Woolevers hoped the time away would be short, but the warehouse gave away his job. Even getting short-term disability pay he was due proved to be difficult. Although the church still paid him as he mended, most of his income was lost.
“As the head of the household, I always felt like it was my responsibility to provide for the family,” Troy said. “When I had the heart attack, one thing I couldn’t do is provide for my family like I thought I should. It really took a toll on me.”
Troy and Chellsey had no choice but to lean on God during the time. They saw God come through repeatedly. Troy remembers one time, right after he had looked at an empty checkbook wondering where the money would come from to pay the month’s bills, an anonymous person dropped off an envelope of cash with the exact amount of their need.
At other times, groceries showed up on the family’s doorstep unannounced and unexpected. Often the budget balanced even when it made no logical sense as to how.
“We always joked that God’s math was like common-core math,” Chellsey said. “It didn’t really add up.”
But every month, God came through.
Just as God showed up in caring for the Woolevers materially, He also began to clarify His purpose for them as well. A conversation with Garry Benfield, a church planting catalyst with the Northwest Baptist Convention, helped to clarify that calling. Troy remembers one specific question from Benfield that helped to redirect him: “What’s your joy?”
Troy had no idea how to answer the question at this point. That troubled both of them. “You need to find your joy,” Benfield told him. A few days later, Troy participated in a men’s retreat where two of the three speakers talked about joy.
Troy says that’s when God began reminding him of his passion for worship and youth. God had developed a love of music in Troy years earlier. At sixteen, God called him into worship ministry. He started learning to play the guitar and the piano. “It’s how God always drew me closer to Him—through music,” Troy said.
God had also cultivated a passion for youth ministry during past experiences serving as a volunteer youth leader in Tennessee and then later as a youth pastor. Just a few months after the heart attack, Troy knew he couldn’t just go back to life as usual.
Troy loved the people of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pasco. He had been at the church for ten years, first as a worship leader and youth minister and then as the senior pastor when his father-in-law retired.
In February of 2019, Troy told the remaining members of the church that something had to change. The church could consider replanting elsewhere or it could dig deep and try to engage the community more. Instead, Emmanuel Baptist decided to close its doors at the end of August 2019.
With that decision, Troy started praying for opportunities to serve elsewhere in worship and music. He sent resumes across the country. And for months, the couple waited and prayed. In September one church in Louisiana flew the family in to consider Troy for a role, but ultimately decided not to call him.
Although the Louisiana church’s decision was painful, the Woolevers continued to trust that God had a new assignment out there for them. In January of 2020, First Baptist Church of Lepanto, Arkansas, asked the family to visit. Troy, Chellsey, and Josiah (the couple’s youngest son and only child still living at home) immediately hit it off with the church’s pastor and his wife, Kyle and Rebekah Rhea. Over that weekend, the church and the Woolevers realized God had made a match. On Sunday the church called Troy to be its new worship and youth pastor by a nearly unanimous vote.
Some have asked the couple what it’s like to take a step down in ministry, from serving as a lead pastor to a youth pastor. The Woolevers don’t see it that way.
“It’s actually a step up,” Chellsey said. “If you’re doing what God wants you to do, it can never be a step down.”
At the end of January, Troy, Chellsey, and Josiah took the cross-country trip from Washington to Arkansas to start their new ministry assignment. Although the last fifteen months had been some of the most difficult of their lives, God’s faithfulness was clear.
“I think as pastors we get that Superman complex. We think we can do it all,” Troy said. “I thought for a while I could, but I can’t. I’ve learned to rely on other people. I can’t do it all myself. I’ve got to seek Christ, let Him fill my tank, and let Him keep my joy.”
Tobin Perry is a freelance writer in Evansville, Indiana, and is a member of Center of Hope Church in Evansville.