In October of 2002 I begin speaking at Missouri Valley Baptist Church simply to help “fill the pulpit” after their previous pastor had left. I was familiar with the church as they had supported and prayed for Tracy and I while we were serving in Africa. My father-in-law grew up in the church and much of my wife’s family was still in the church. The church asked me to consider becoming their pastor and I was not interested. Initially Tracy and I were opposed to the idea for a variety of reasons. The church was a small, bi-vocational ministry that was very traditional in nature and filled with many of my wife’s family. All of these features were one’s that gave me pause in thinking about a future with the church. I knew that if we were to lead the church, and see success in the church, we would have to help them reshape much of who they were and in that process I knew that it would, at times, be painful to various people an!
d I did not want to damage our family relationships. The church asked us to at least consider it, and so we chose to pray about it, and on the Sunday we were to give them a decision both Tracy and I believed that we should say no to the church and yet, in the worship service, we both felt clearly that God was directing us to commit to Missouri Valley. We said yes to them and became the pastor in January of 2003. Our first month there the Sunday School average for the month was 31 and the worship average was approximately 50.
One lesson that I have learned, in my time at MVBC, is the necessity of casting vision and helping your people to buy in to the vision. To get from where we were, traditional, small, with a small vision for growth and the future, to where we needed to be; healthy, growing, evangelistic with a passion for God and the people of our community, I knew that we would need significant change. I know that most pastors hate using marketing terms in regards to our churches, but as a guy who also works in marketing I have a tendency to embrace marketing in partnership with the gospel message. To be perfectly frank about what the church needed, I knew that they needed a phenomenal “sales job.” Now, let me clarify that I could not simply waltz in and try to “sell them” the latest and greatest. What the church needed was a pastor who had a big vision for the future of the church and who was able to communicate that dream effectively in such a way so as to enable them to both see t!
he dream, and recognize the potential of that dream becoming reality.
It has taken almost 5 years now and we are still working on communicating that vision. In order to simplify the process of communicating vision I tried to take our task and break it down into bite-sized chunks and introduce the basic overarching themes of the vision initially and reinforce them constantly, and then to slowly bring in the more specific, nuanced, portions of the vision as time went by.
Let me try and explain the simplistic version of the vision that we began to communicate, and are still hammering home constantly. We have taught, since the day that I arrived, that we have two great priorities. These are no great surprise to anyone, but it’s amazing how often people move away from them. We believe that we have two great purposes in life, as a church. 1. We need to please God. (i.e. reflect His glory, worship Him, be committed to biblical integrity, etc.) and 2. We need to reach people (i.e. evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, etc.) Love God – Reach People, those two phrases have been repeated over, and over, and over again since I arrived. The simplicity helped us all gather together and understand our motivation for change, when it came. Beyond that we created a purpose statement that is somewhat more vague than what many others may have, but is easy to remember and is to the point as to what we are trying to accomplish. It states: “We exist to lea!
d people to KNOW God, encourage them to GROW in God and work beside them to SHOW God to our community and the world.” That simple little phrase is always before as a reminder that we are not committed to ourselves, but rather we are committed to God and others.
Another aspect of what we have done, that I believe has been instrumental in our success, has been a commitment that I made to the church from day one. I explained, and continue to explain, that I am committed to first of all be faithful to scripture. We will be students of scripture and if it is clear about something, we will be clear. That commitment exists to the support, and often detriment, of church history, SBC history, etc. None of those gets to play a trump card in our church. We are going to be Bible people. The second commitment I made was that when scripture is not clear, we will always defer to what helps us most effectively reach people. That means that personal preferences of those within our church may have to take a backseat to other forms, or methods, if we can employ other methods that will effectively reach others.
Once you take all of these factors into account, we have transitioned greatly. In so many cases, however, these changes have been embraced. I have learned that I need to do a much better job casting vision. Even as I have tried to cast vision, I have still not done so often enough. Praise the Lord, however, we have only lost approximately 5% of our folks who were involved in the church at the time of my arrival. Beyond that, we have grown tremendously. This past Sunday we had over 80 in Sunday School and had close to 120 in worship. That’s not a large church, but it is something that we are excited about. We believe that God is doing miraculous things at MVBC and we are passionate about the future.
In conclusion I would say that lifeLESSON #1 that I have learned at MVBC is to cast vision, cast it loudly, cast if often and practice it yourself. Then, just as you think everyone is starting to buy into it, cast the vision even more. Beyond that, remember that you are constantly assimilating new folks into your church community and they need to see, hear, and experience the vision as well. Vision casting has to become a great priority and is one that can never be sacrificed in the process of starting, transitioning and/or growing a church.
lifeLESSONS is a series of articles I am writing to share the experiences I have had as the pastor of a transitioning church outside of St. Joseph, MO. You can view the other articles in the series by clicking on the appropriate link below.