This past weekend Real Life Church celebrated 20 years of ministry and it has me feeling very reflective.
So much has happened over 20 years, specifically in the 17 that I’ve been a part of. Check out our weekend service celebration for some of those memories.
I’m so grateful for the legacy of leaders who got us to this point. And, of course, we are so grateful for God’s leading as we are just passengers in this ride he has us on.
But in thinking of decisions I have made in the past 17 years… Some were good ones, and some not so good. Here’s a few to chew on:
3 Things I’d Do Differently
1 • Talking people into staying.
Over the years I’ve seen thousands of people show up, get baptized, and join the church… But I’ve also seen hundreds decide to leave.
And since I’m such a loyalist (still a KC Royals fan) I have a hard time understanding why some people tell me they love our church and then so easily bail when something isn’t to their liking. More times than I would care to admit, I would chase these people. I’d sometimes argue with them, sometimes bargain with them, sometimes promise to make changes for them.
And even though some would stick around, they most always would eventually leave. I’ve learned that sometimes you need to meet with people to explain yourself, but not to beg people to stay.
Now I’ve learned to take the approach of appreciating people and then helping them find the next right place for them. Which leads me to the next one:
2 • Seeing other churches as my competition.
Early in my ministry I would hear people talk about other churches in town and how great they were, and I would walk away from those conversations either try to be like those great churches… or I’d try to outdo them.
But one day it hit me: other churches aren’t the opposition, they are different players on the same team.
(I know, I’m a slow learner…)
I started meeting with other pastors of other churches, buying them lunch, praying for them, having them speak at our church. This all helped me to see them as equals, and not as my competition.
Now when someone leaves our church, I try to help them get connected to another one by introducing them to their pastor. I can’t say I always do this gladly and without clinched teeth… it still hurts… but I’d rather see that person still connected to a church, any church, than to let my hurt feelings get in the way.
3 • Worrying about things not in my lane.
You may have heard me talk about this in my Four Pandemics talks, but there are 3 lanes in this road of life: Our lane, other’s lane, and God’s lane.
People make bad choices… I can encourage and assist, but I can’t take blame for it. It’s not in my lane.
God gives and takes away… I can’t worry about it, it’s not in my lane.
In fact, the majority of things I’ve worried about and lost sleep over were often in someone else’s lane. And I honestly just can’t do anything about it.
So, I’ve learned to pray about it and then let it go. As I often whisper to myself, “stay in your lane.”
3 Things I’d do the Same
1 • Team Based Ministry
From day one I wanted to surround myself with the best people possible and do ministry together.
Though you run the risk of some people trying to hijack your ministry, the majority of the time people rise to the occasion and make great decisions. I love our Board of Elders and our Central Leadership Team. They have saved me so many times from bad decisions.
In fact, I begin most of my brainstorming with, “Here’s a bunch of ideas I have… tell me what’s good and what’s bad.”
It will take time for your team to trust that you won’t take it personal, but it’s worth it. In fact, the best advice I can give leaders is to share every idea with one of these clarifying statements: “This is an idea I want to do… help me do it.”
OR “This is an idea I’m not sure of… help me decide if it’s good.”
In other words, your team wants to know “Do you want input or just execution?”
2 • Clear mission.
From the beginning we have been about reaching people far from God.
We’ve said it a few different ways, but it always comes back to the person who has never been in church before. How do we help them find hope in Jesus? Or as we say at RLC… “helping people find and follow Jesus”.
In many meetings all it takes is for someone to say “find and follow!” And we all know… Does this help us accomplish our mission, or is this just sideways energy? Which leads to the last point:
3 • Cup holders, Halloween, and Giraffes.
I know, I know, that’s three things, not one… But it’s all the same idea.
We have theater type seats in our auditorium… with cup holders. We actually throw a Halloween party for our community…and no, it’s not called a “Hallelujah Harvest”. And we’ve had a Giraffe on Easter.
We have been blasted by other churches in our community for such “sacrilegious” things. But in all of these decisions, we had specific purpose:
We wanted a person who has never been to church before to feel comfortable when they walk in – like they did when we met in a movie theater.
Hence, the theater seating. And we wanted to invite our people into our building on the one time of year everyone is looking for a great event for their kids… AKA, Halloween.
And while parents may not want to go to church on Easter, they’ll do whatever their kids want to do… And going to church to see a giraffe is an easy win. Thus, Stanley the Giraffe has been with us several times.
While we may not always do these 3 specific things, I pray we always do whatever it takes to help people connect with a God that loves them.
It’s been an amazing 20 years of RLC, I’m so lucky to get to lead and serve and be a part of it all. God is so good.