The Journey of One Pastor and His Church.
Pastors can be tough on churches. After all, we take the church along with us on whatever crazy journey we might be on. I think that may be a good thing; especially if the journey is real and necessary.
I wanted people to like our church. I wanted people to love our church. I didn’t even see anything wrong with that goal.
During the days of very slow growth and uncertainty, I wasn’t sure of what we were doing or who we were reaching. I just wanted to figure something out that worked.
I didn’t realize it then, but I wasn’t sure who I was or who I wanted to be.
I think I just wanted to be “successful” in our ministry. So if I thought one kind of music was effective, I would try that; if one type of small group system was working, I went that direction or if one kind of teaching was popular I did that.
I tried to make everyone happy. The result was an unclear vision.
“The services need more of God’s presence, we need to worship longer.” One person said.
“More worship? We can do more worship.” I thought.
I introduced what some call “Christian Karaoke”.
“The service was kind of long today.” Another attender remarked.
“We can do shorter services. A shorter sermon? I can do that!” I know some of you don’t think so!
“You want to hear more teaching on faith? Sure thing. I’m pretty sure I can make that happen.”
My secret thought was, “If I change what we are doing will you stay? Will you help?”
I remember a season in our church when I said to Sandy, “If I wasn’t the pastor of this church, I don’t think I would go here.”
In other words, “we worked really hard at building this ministry and ….I don’t really like what it is.“ The church was a result of my leadership. Who were we creating this church culture for? Who were we trying to reach? Hummm…
I needed to ask and answer some basic and crucial questions: Who are we anyway? Who am I? What is God leading me to do in this church? Who are we trying to reach and how are we going to reach them?
I think it was Rick Warren who did a neighborhood survey and found that the 3 main reasons people who were not going to church did not go were: They thought church was boring, irrelevant and they talked too much about money.
I decided I was going to do something about 2 of those 3 things!!!
(BTY, most people think any talk about money is too much talk about money… But they sure do want a lot of prayer for financial needs.)
We decided to lead the kind of church that we would enjoy going to. I just decided to be who God made me to be. I knew I still needed to grow and change, but also I needed to just be me.
First of all, the dress code changed.
I used to wear a suit every day. Some of you didn’t even know this… but its true!
Yes, every day.
It created a formality that worked against the authenticity that I really wanted. Suits and ties were the first thing to go. Nothing wrong with suits – it’s just not North Park.
I loved it immediately. I own about 8 or 10 suits. Today, I basically wear one suit... It’s my wedding, funeral and special occasion suit. It’s getting a little dated…
Secondly, I decided to have more fun.
I’m serious about my faith. But I want to enjoy the journey. I decided not to take myself so seriously. I learned the 3 parts of shepherding God’s people the hard way: My part, God’s part and their part…
I did my part. I worked hard. Let God build the house. I CAN’T do God’s part. I stopped trying to do that. I stopped worrying and struggling over people doing their part. I was handing my joy over to circumstances that I had little control over.
I tried to quit living or dying with every comment on the messages I preached. When someone left our church – I said, ”Thank you for coming here for the time you did, thank you for the help you gave – I hope being here was a blessing to you…love you, bye.” Ok, the truth is most people don’t tell me when they are leaving so I don’t have an opportunity to say those nice things. But I would if I had a chance to…
I let them go - in my head and in my heart. It was hard sometimes because I love the people. But some people just didn’t want to be at our church. I want people who want to be here; not people who need to be talked into staying and need to be convinced why they should stay. That’s a big mistake.
And I trusted God. God builds the house. Those who labor on their own, do so in vain.
Lastly, I started speaking about the needs people had in their lives and how the scripture provided answers. I talked about how to trust Jesus in their situations.
More recently I have started to really dig into scripture. Honestly, we’ve gotten very doctrinally centered. I no longer attempt to be relevant. I just attempt to be accurate. I do a lot of praying about messages… I pray for the people who will hear them and for myself to be tuned into God (for Him just to be with me- that is everything). I think God is changing more lives than ever.
We moved to certain brand, style and type of contemporary worship songs because they spoke to these needs in the lives of those we have been given (Pastor Ryan has really developed this). We began to put more focus on compassion, outreach and the value of relationships.
Bible classes became invaluable wide open discussion groups where discipleship happens because we look at our Bibles and ask God to help us understand.
We strongly emphasized LIFE Groups because that’s where real life discipleship happens and needs can be met.
Our world changed drastically. Our church changed dynamically.
I love this church… I like attending this church!
PS Many of you have been a big part of building the things I have mentioned here. This is a brief history from my inside perspective. I am grateful for each of you- that Jesus saw fit to put us on journey with Him together. Thank you! I love you guys!