“We lacked a clear language and a clear strategy. We had become a strategic hybrid of every big church out there.”
If you had not approached your ministry with a commitment to longevity, it would have been very difficult to see solutions. It’s like a healthy marriage, right? We don’t say, Well, based on the stats, my marriage is probably going to last five years. We say, I’m here for the long haul. This is a commitment. That changes the way you work things out.
I love that analogy. I would say, to add a little bit of the story, we got pregnant and our daughter was born three months prematurely, a few months after I became senior pastor. So we were in and out of the hospital for three or four months. It was touch and go—brain bleeds, lung collapse. Then Allison’s mom was diagnosed with cancer; her parents had just divorced. She moved in with us; we were caring for her, trying to dig out of all the behind-the-scenes stuff here at the church, while still writing sermons. I wasn’t in a rhythm to know what I was doing. I mean, I was so lost in terms of leadership. Then my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I was driving back and forth to Missouri, trying to relieve my brothers and my mom. My dad died and four weeks later my mother-in-law died. It just was heavy and hard. There was a season there for about six months to a year where I didn’t have anything left in the tank. I was totally done.
I flew to New York to see an older, wiser preacher, and I sat in his office and honestly, I just cried. I felt like I cried for four hours. I was so tired and I didn’t want to hurt the church. I didn’t want to hurt the family. I didn’t have anything left to give.
He didn’t say a whole lot. He just listened to me and at the end of it he gave me permission to admit I was tired, to get some perspective. And that’s really what I needed.
I came back and I told the leaders, I need prayer. I need help. Man, they were so gracious. They’ve been gracious through the whole process. They came around me.
It’s amazing how God expresses his grace and his goodness, not usually through some overtly supernatural, part-the-skies kind of moment, but more often it comes from a friend. A hug. An understanding ear.
Well, I don’t deserve any of it. I know that. I’m still trying to figure out, why me? I pinch myself every time I pull in the parking lot because to me, ministry’s a privilege. You know, my job description is to wash dirty feet. And I don’t want to complicate it. I’m not the smartest guy. I’m not the best preacher. I’m not the most dynamic leader. So I’m just very grateful and I don’t ever want to lose that sense of gratitude. I want to be the most grateful person who’s ever lived—that’s one of my goals in life. I look back on some of the things we’ve been through and I think, you know, if we can survive that attack from Satan, we’re going to be OK.
How have you instilled vision with leadership?
I have one word that I love to use for discipleship, and again, maybe this is oversimplification, but the word I use is exposure. It begins by being exposed to the person of Jesus as represented in the Gospels and then the way the church in the book of Acts put that personality into play through the working of the Spirit in the church.
When the leadership becomes familiar with Jesus, he’s irresistible. And when you fall in love with Jesus, you’re going to have a burden for people.
The other exposure is to service. Discipleship is all about serving. And if we want people to be actively involved in serving, the leaders have to model that. I love taking them on mission trips, taking them downtown and exposing them to different ministries. And then I talk about that from the stage. I’m not just challenging the church. I’m doing it. I started riding the city buses and getting to know people that I would otherwise never get to know, and I would stand on the street corner and just make myself available to people, just a guy offering an ear. Listening is a great form of love. And I would walk that into my weekly sermons.
It started to shift the culture—the DNA, if you will—that word exposure. Modeling what it looks like to love your neighbor.
There is power in just taking faith seriously, isn’t there? Maybe that’s the secret of leadership: Just do it.
Absolutely. Your energy is what’s contagious.
You know, I chose the title “lead follower” for a reason. I don’t want any sense of ownership over the church. This isn’t my deal, it’s his. I’m in it with everybody else. And I think we’ve created a culture here and we’ve reached critical mass. The ball’s rolling.