“I was a pastor whose schedule kept me from being around anybody far from God. But a year ago something changed.”
The Billy Graham Center for Evangelism is conducting cohorts with senior pastors to help them connect to each other and live and lead outreach effectively in their churches. The pastors in the cohorts have seen immense progress in their personal outreach—no easy thing for busy senior pastors often overwhelmed by church activities. Throughout the year, we will be sharing stories from these pastors and their churches. Here, Reece Whitehead, lead pastor of Willow Creek DuPage, one of the multisite campuses for Willow Creek Community Church, shares what he has seen God doing.
It’s been three years since I was invited to join a local pastors cohort designed to help foster relationships among local church pastors and help us live and lead outreach better in each of our churches. We started every regular gathering by sharing our personal outreach temperature. (On a scale of 1-10; 1 was cold and not doing any outreach and 10 was white-hot, with many ongoing spiritual conversations.)
For the first several months, I played it safe and placed myself somewhere in the middle of the temperature scale. However, I soon shifted my contribution to information about an initiative going on at Willow. Occasionally, I threw in a reference to a spiritual conversation I’d had with my neighbors, but most of the time I was more comfortable focusing on activities at Willow.
Meanwhile, every other pastor seemed to be having great personal outreach encounters and sharing powerful stories about how the Holy Spirit was using them. It was becoming evident to me that if I wanted to fit in with this group, something had to change—in me. I had fallen into the professional Christian trap. I was a pastor who was being paid to lead others in their personal outreach efforts while my schedule kept me from being around anybody far from God.
But a year ago something changed.
In the pastor cohort meetings, I began regularly sharing how I had prayed for someone, or answered “Who is God?” questions from someone else. Then, I was asked to lead a group of non-Christians in prayer for a critically ill family member. Three times a week, I spent an hour with 10 people who were far from God. As they asked me spiritual questions, my outreach temperature soared.
I next joined a fitness team at the local gym where I came into contact with the same 10 people at the same place three times a week, which led to many opportunities for spiritual conversations. This became an aha moment for me. When my outreach temperature moved from a 4 or 5 to an 8 or 10, things also heated up with my staff. Someone on my team has started a neighborhood coffee club, a guy in one of my ministries joined a garage band and another began a sports team—all for the purpose of deliberately surrounding themselves with unbelievers.