We asked pastors of some of the nation’s largest churches to reflect on the wisdom they’ve gained along their ministry journey. There’s a lot we can glean in the words that follow, regardless of the scope and circumstances of our own ministry.
Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
We believe faith takes action. Love is a verb. We believe our faith in Jesus will make a difference in our community. As a result, our church is constantly looking for expressions of Christ’s love in tangible ways to the people in our city.
Several years ago, there was a massive need in the child welfare program in South Florida. We realized we had to do something about it. So we started a separate organization called Place of Hope to create loving homes for children in the foster care system. When we began, we didn’t have a clue what it would entail, but we knew God was calling us to step up and address a desperate need. Years later, Place of Hope is one of the largest state-licensed child care and protection agencies in the state, providing both emergency and long-term family-style homes, maternity care for teen moms and a safe house for minor girls rescued from human trafficking. Today, the state looks to Place of Hope for leadership in meeting the needs of the abandoned and neglected children in Florida.
Place of Hope is just one expression of the outward focus of our church. Through partnerships with local government agencies, our congregation also is feeding the homeless at the county shelter every week. We partner with public elementary schools to tutor second- and third-grade students in reading and math. And in the worst part of a nearby town, we opened a ministry center where we tutor kids after school, provide care and support to their families—all the while sharing the message of the gospel.
Recently we started Fourth-Saturday Serve. This “low-bar” service project has made it easy for people who aren’t engaged to jump in and make a difference while sharing their faith in Christ in the community. People meet at the church every fourth Saturday and head out to service projects in the community. As a result, the city has noticed that the church is stepping up and making a practical difference with some of the greatest needs in our region.
This outward focus is constantly breathing life into our church and calling people to step up and be a part of healing our community in the love of Christ. They see that they can do more than just give an offering—they can offer themselves to help heal the brokenness around them.
Like many churches, Christ Fellowship is a mulitsite church. A few years ago we sensed the Lord directing us to open a campus in New York City. South Florida and NYC are very connected. Several business leaders in our church work in New York and live in West Palm Beach. Much of our church has family in the New York City area.
After much prayer, we launched a campus in the Upper West Side, investing a lot of time, energy and money, but the campus had a hard time growing. We had a great location and the perfect team, and we saw many people come to faith in Christ. But it wasn’t growing like we anticipated. All of our other campuses were flourishing, but our New York City campus was struggling. After a couple years I knew something had to change. We ended up merging the campus with a fantastic church in NYC, Liberty Church, which was preparing to plant a campus right where we were located.
Our New York City campus did not go as we had planned or prayed that it would. I struggled to figure out where I had missed it as the leader. Was it all a huge mistake? Had I missed the voice of God in going to New York? As I was praying, the Holy Spirit brought to mind 1 Corinthians 3, in which Paul teaches that some are called to plant and others are called to water, but God is the one who makes all things grow. In that moment, I realized we had been called to plant the church in the Upper West Side, but someone else was called to water it, and God would be the one to make it grow. Since our partnership with Liberty Church, that location is flourishing and reaching hundreds of people for Christ. It wasn’t how we had planned it to go, but God’s plans always prevail.
Spiritual leadership flows from the top down. I must lead myself well before I can lead anyone else well. If I can’t lead myself to a place of spiritual growth and development, how can I help anyone else? I have a few spiritual mentors in my life, in addition to my father. One of those is Lance Witt. Lance has started a ministry for pastors called Replenish, with the goal of helping pastors stay healthy, holy and humble.
When my wife and I stepped in to senior leadership, I hired Lance to fly in to town every month to meet with me and my wife and our senior lead team. His coaching and counsel around guarding the heart and caring for the soul has been a priceless investment in our leadership.
Failure is your friend. As a child I had always been an overachiever—never wanting to fail at anything. I grew up thinking failure was something to be avoided at all costs, and if you failed, to make sure no one found out. Most of us try to minimize and neutralize our failures. We hide and cover up our weaknesses.
What I’ve learned in recent years is that failure is our friend. We are all going to fail many times, in many areas of life. Instead of trying to bury our failures we need to bring them into the light and learn from them.
I know I have a lot to learn. I have never thought that I’ve got it all figured out. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. As the church has continued to grow, it has made me realize even more how desperate I am for God and how desperate I am to grow. If I’m not growing, neither is my team or my church.
Several years ago, I went back to school to complete my doctor of ministry degree. It was hard to lead a church while completing this part of my education. No one was requiring it of me, but I did it to put myself in a place that would force me to learn and grow.
I also try to put myself in situations outside of my comfort zone. I try to accept invitations to speak at events or conferences or even to do interviews because these force me out of my comfort zone. I realize that if I stay in my comfort zone, I will never be stretched and challenged to grow.
This has been one of the most divisive times in our nation. The last election process brought division inside and outside the church. But I believe that in this season defined by criticism and deep division, we as the church have the responsibility and the opportunity to model unity. Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Notice the Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the peace-lovers.”
I believe God’s children will reflect the heart of their Father, and our heavenly Father is all about peace. God is the ultimate peacemaker, sending Christ to the Earth to reconcile man with God, and as his children, we, too, must go to extremes to bring peace and unity into our nation, into our churches and into our communities. We as the church can do what no other group of people can do. We have something that no other group of people has. The church has the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through her veins to bring hope and healing to a broken nation.
CHRIST FELLOWSHIP CHURCH
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
A 2017 OUTREACH 100 CHURCH
Growth in 2016: +2,355 (10%)