What Church Plants Reminded Me About Ministry…

This was a great summer for our Student Ministry and Church and one that challenged me as a Student Minister, Christian, Father, and Husband on several levels. Between Youth Camp in June, leading students on a mission trip to serve alongside Crossroads Church of Long Island, NY in July, and leading a group of adults to serve alongside The Landing Church of Seattle this month, God has taught me some things and reminded me of truths that we (or I) sometimes take for granted. What I’d like to do is tell you a little about each of the church plants we partnered with (to the best of my recollection), what we did with them, then share with you what God reminded me of.

In July we worked with Crossroads of Long Island. Crossroads is a network of church plants. Crossroads Farmingdale will be celebrating their tenth anniversary this October, over the past few years CR Farmingdale has planted 3 other Crossroads campuses on Long Island: Crossroads East Islip, Crossroads Central Islip, and Crossroads Baldwin. Our students led a Kids Camp at their Central Islip campus each day from 9-3 (and they did a phenomenal job doing so). Long Island has a population of around 8 Million folks on 1,400 square miles with around 3% or so being active in an Evangelical church and faith in Jesus. I believe I was told there are around 400,000 folks within a 5 mile radius of the Farmingdale campus. Our job was to love on kids, teach them about Jesus, and create positive experiences for them and their families with the church so the church could follow up with those relationships and continue loving on them.

A few weeks ago our adults returned from Seattle where we served alongside The Landing Church. The Landing is a 3 year old church plant that is meeting in a leased space in a Senior Citizen Center. They are still considered a portable church without a permanent facility. While we were there, we worked alongside the pastor, Andy Brown (an Arkansas fella) the Connections Pastor, Rex Gorman (a Memphis fella), and their wives, along with several church members. We prayer walked downtown Bothell (the actual town the church is in) and tried to have intentional faith-based conversations with folks and handed out Starbucks gift cards on Friday. On Saturday we helped them serve in a community playday in the area of Kenmore (the church has created a reputation of serving the community over the past three years, and because of the work they’ve put in to serving and loving on the community, the city allowed them to be a part of the playday). It was a great day of service! Monday we made sack lunches and carried them to downtown Seattle handing them to folks working downtown, homeless people, and whomever else we came across with the goal of having more faith-based conversations and invite them to The Landing Church’s S.A.L.T. Community Ministry that takes place downtown. S.A.L.T. is where folks from the church set up to feed folks (some homeless, some transient, others live &/or work downtown and stop in for a meal and to check things out). There’s a worship service, food, gospel presentation and message. Our team had a great time, and we were even blessed to see a fella come to know Jesus that night.

Why do I tell you all of this? It’s because I feel like you need to know a little of what we experienced in order for you to understand the five ways in which I was challenged:

Ministry is Messy
Watching the way the church planters talked to folks I was reminded that sometimes as ministers we end up carrying the weight of others on ourselves. I watched as Jamie Rogers and Kendall Doles, to of the Crossroads staff, ministered to and shared the hope of Jesus with a young lady on the train after a long day in the city. When many of us were worn out and probably would have let this very intoxicated young lady stagger on board as we curled up in our train seat for a nap, these two guys had conversation with her. They encouraged her that Jesus had a better plan for her life than the hopelessness she said she was experiencing. They stood for over an hour, after walking MILES in the city in 95-100 degree heat, talking about the hope and peace of Jesus with this girl. It was a humbling moment for me where I had to ask myself “what would I have done?”

Discipleship Requires Intentional Investment
During my time on Long Island and my time in Seattle I had an internal goal of talking as much as I could to the staff at the churches to hear how they’re doing discipleship. I feel as though it’s an area I want to step in up in our student ministry, so I wanted to get ideas. I also wanted to hear from them about how they were doing ministry because there are so many things that are different about the dynamic and culture they are in compared to where I am. The recurring theme was that discipleship requires intentional effort outside of the “office hours” and “service times.” I listened to Jamie Rogers talk about a couple of guys he had built relationships with and how he was meeting with them and teaching them how to study God’s Word and helping to mold them into men of God. I listened to how both churches were doing small groups and how women in the churches (like Rex’s wife Kinsey) were discipling women one on one following their decision to give their life to Jesus.
My conclusion: I have to be intentional in discipling and it will probably be outside of the “normal hours and schedule.” It’s safe to say that relational discipleship has to be strategic and a priority for the long haul… or it won’t happen.

Ministry Requires Relationship
One of the things that impressed me so much was watching Andy in Seattle. Walking through Pikes Place Market (an AWESOME market in Seattle where the Landing does the S.A.L.T. Ministry) it was obvious that he had spent time cultivating relationships with people in the market, many of which were completely non-interested in anything Jesus. From the Chinese shop owner who called him by name, to the fish thrower at the fish market, to the ladies at the candy shop that said, “you get the Friends and Family Discount  since you’re with Pastor Andy.” Oh, and the barista at Storyville Coffee Shop (hands down the best coffee I’ve ever had!) that new Andy and even came to S.A.L.T. to grab some barbecue and visit for a little bit before he headed home.
It reminded me of high school and college when I worked retail or with construction crews. I was able to meet people where they are… on their territory. One of the toughest things for me personally as a vocational minister is that I’m surrounded by “church-people”… not to say they are all Christians… I do miss getting to talk to people and getting to know about them. I miss getting to visit with people and not get the “I have to watch what I say because he’s a minister” conversations. I like when people are themselves.
I absolutely LOVED the fact that most of the pastors I worked alongside on these trips don’t have an office. They do their emailing and planning, and lunch meetings in coffee shops, at diners, and around people. Now, I don’t like Starbucks, so you’ll never likely see me posted up in one studying and sipping on a double-shot venti of their over-roasted bitter coffee, but I do want/need to find my way out of the office and meet folks. This is something I’ve worked towards over the past year by visiting third places and trying to be Jesus there, but I don’t do it well… at all.

Ministry is for the Long Haul
To be honest, I’ve always been embarrassed of the statistical nightmare that is a minister’s average tenure at a church, especially student ministers. I’ll be honest and say that I often times question a minister saying “God is moving us” when they haven’t even finished unpacking their house and office from last summer when they came. (Throw stones at me, it’s okay.) Jenny and I have always had a Long Term Ministry mindset, that’s been our goal at least. These staff guys in NY and WA moved their families from TX, SC, AR, TN to go tell people about Jesus… and it’s a long process. Sometimes we want to have a 40 yard dash mentality when it comes to ministry: we sprint off the blocks, give it all we have, and expect to hear “well done, good job” seconds later when we cross the finish line. Ministry is like a quadruple marathon: 130 miles of a grueling run. Burn out happens when ministers have a sprint mentality… they take off expecting immediate success and when it doesn’t happen they have no juice left. Some of these guys put in 6, 9, even 12 months before they led their first person to Jesus and even then they may not plug in to the church they’re planting.
I need to not only serve with a Long Term Ministry Mindset, I need to be prepared to run the race when I can’t see the finish line… to not slow down when there is no one else running and I find myself on the course alone… and to not measure my success by the bar set by men, but by the calling set by God.

Some of us Need to Cowboy Up
The Crossroads campus we served at in Central Islip was an old church building that Crossroads acquired. There were some physical/cosmetic needs in the building that would have probably had church folks in the south complaining… but they worshipped Jesus there. With the Landing, a group of us arrived at 6:30 to start setting everything up for the morning. Six carpeted six foot rolling cabinets in a closed-in trailer carried their supplies and set for worship: Kids play rooms, beautiful worship background, sound, lights, signage in the halls, hospitality tables, and everything else we take for granted at our churches. With the extra help we were finished around 8:15 or so. I believe a typical week has them finishing up around 8:40, just in time to sound check and gear up for a 9:00 service. All of this is typically done with 1-2 staff guys, and about half a dozen lay members of the church. Once the 11:00 service is finished, it all has to be torn down. We finished around 2:00, then went to lunch. Through that entire process I was thinking, how many of our church members would be willing to show up this early to set up for worship and how many would stay this late… every single week?
For those of us blessed with a church facility, let’s be honest… we complain and whine when it’s too cold, too hot, too loud, too soft, too long, too fast, too slow. We don’t like the pews because they’re too hard or the chairs because they’re too soft. We put our bible in our seat early then go talk to people and get mad to find someone in “our seat.” We have become so accustomed to coming in to something that somebody else has set up and leaving the mess for someone else to clean up that we don’t truly appreciate what goes in to making a worship service even happen
For me, I was reminded that when I get irritated about the small things I need to Cowboy up and suck it up. If I’m not going to be part of the solution, I need to quit harping on the problem.

All of these points are things I know. These are all things I would tell a new pastor. But these are not all things I have kept in practice. Getting older, with more responsibilities, a busier schedule, more kids, and everything else, I have dropped the ball on some of these key points of ministry. So, for the past several weeks and months, and in the weeks, months and probably years to come, I’ll be working on how I can do better at these while ministering to and leading my people in my home. I don’t necessarily know what that will look like, but I do know I want to do better. I want to be a better husband to my amazing wife that does way more than she has to, I want to be a better dad to my three boys that blow me away everyday, and I want to be a better minister to my students and church that God has blessed us with.

I never will have it all figured out, but who knows, maybe I can get closer to the goal!

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