Learning From Others, Caring For Self: Christ Community Evangelical Free Church

Christ Community Evangelical Free Church in Overland Park, Kansas, is committed to being a church for Monday—discipling people with strong faith, work and economic integration.

“We focus on equipping people for where God has called them, particularly in the workplace, whether that’s an entrepreneur, CEO or stay-at-home spouse,” says Tom Nelson, lead pastor, president of Made to Flourish and author of Work Matters (Crossway). “Everything we do on Sunday is about equipping people for their Monday world.”

They are also intentional about helping others thrive.

“So much of our culture nourishes generativity and leadership development not just for the institutional church but for the world,” says Nelson. “We want to develop leaders for life.”

Their multisite church spans most of Kansas City with five campuses that serve both the city and the suburbs.

“The context is quite diverse in terms of economics, education, vocation and ethnicity,” says Nelson. “We are a wonderful Midwestern city that has all the joys and heartaches of cities.”

Over the past several years, he has gained an understanding of the greater stewardship of his own self-care in order that he might help others.

“The self-care of a leader emotionally, physically and spiritually is increasingly vital in stewarding our calling,” explains Nelson, who is learning a great deal about leadership through the lens of interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB), an interdisciplinary framework associated with human development and functioning. He recognized the importance of IPNB when he saw that a lot of people around him were not doing well. When he got reflective and honest with himself, neither was he. Therefore, in the last year, he has made a number of changes in his life to ensure that he become healthy and whole.

“Personal well-being is not selfish,” says Nelson. “It’s a high stewardship of leadership.”

Being emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy is especially vital when church leaders must step up to the plate in times of crisis. And 2020 has been full of crises between the pandemic and mounting racial tensions. After the George Floyd killing and the protests that followed, all pastors at Christ Community delivered a message on racial injustice. They made sure, however, to do more than speak.

“Our primary response has been to listen with humility and understanding,” says Nelson. “We have done a little talking but mostly a lot of listening and lamenting, especially given that Kansas City has a lot of deep historical racial injustice wounds.”

As for the pandemic, the hardest piece is the unknown.

“Apart from God and his sovereignty, nobody—no economist, no medical person, no business person—knows what to do or what’s going on,” says Nelson. “Therefore, we have had the highest level of macro uncertainly we have ever experienced on multiple dimensions.”

He shares the acronym VUCA, which he learned from a military leader friend. It stands for Volatile, Uncertainty, Chaotic and Ambiguous. Nelson maintains that it’s a brilliant way to sum up our world right now. As a result, people seek hope in Christ.

“We are training our lives for the long haul,” says Nelson. “The church staff and leaders have talked a lot about deepening our discipline, our exercise and our spiritual well-being so that we can navigate the challenging terrain for a long time because the terrain is going to change significantly.”

In order to develop some sense of context, not to mention helpful information, Nelson has begun to delve into history books, read biographies and engage in conversations with older generations who lived through the Depression.

“I try not to look forward but rather look back at yesterday’s history and glean wisdom from our elders during other hard times,” he says. “I think reflecting on the past really matters right now rather than trying to figure out the future and imagine all of the different scenarios and contingency plans.”

—Christy Heitger-Ewing

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Overland Park, Kansas
Senior Pastor: Tom Nelson
Website: ChristCommunityKC.org
Founded: 1989
Affiliation: Evangelical Free Church of America
Locations: 5
Attendance: 3,114
Growth: +368 (13%)
Fastest-Growing: 54

Christy Heitger-Ewing
Christy Heitger-Ewinghttp://christyheitger-ewing.com/

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a contributing writer for Outreach magazine. In addition, Christy pens the “Now & Then” column in Cabin Life magazine. She also writes regularly for Christian publications such as Encounter, Insight, and the Lookout. She is the author of Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat.