The plant stays. The planter goes.
One thing that makes the Calvary Chapel movement unique is that most pastors are church planters. The church I pastored in San Marcos, Texas was born in my living room. We spent twelve incredible years riding out storms and sailing through the calm. Together we grew. To the degree I gave up my life for her, she gave me life. I couldn’t imagine leaving her after all we’d been through. Like most planters, I thought it was till death do us part. Then I got the phone call that changed everything. I was asked to pastor Calvary Austin.
Because of my many years with Calvary Chapel, church planting was a concept well engrained into my DNA. This being the yellow brick road for wannabe pastors in our movement, assuming an existing work, especially an established one, was never on my radar. Nor was there time to take courses or read “how to” books on the subject. In my particular case, circumstances demanded immediate availability. For this reason, everything happened very quickly. One day I was asking God for a sign, the next day I woke up in Austin. At least that’s how it seemed.
I did begin this journey with a plan, not one out of a book, but one I received straight from the Lord. It must have come from Him, because it actually worked. It’s true; we beat all odds. Statistically, churches don’t fair well after changing hands. By the grace of God, ours did. Things could not have gone more smooth. I’d like to share what got us through this transitional period. Hopefully those who find themselves in similar shoes will benefit from my experience. In three words, this was the plan: familiarize, analyze and socialize.
There was a lot of drama preceding my arrival to Calvary Austin, which left many in the flock weary and wounded. The introduction of a new pastor would obviously be a dramatic change. I wanted it to be a positive one. That’s why I determined not to create further upset with any additional change – unless absolutely necessary. A grace period was needed, one that allowed everyone to get used my teaching style, relationship skills and quirky personality.
For the most part, I kept everything ‘as is’ for an entire year. This required that I die to my personal preferences, but it was important to focus more on people than policies or procedures. Besides, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that even slight modifications can create a whirlwind of backlash. For many, change is the dreaded land mine that gets dropped in their comfort zone by brain-dead zealots. They don’t want to step near it for fear someone else will lose their head. Realizing this, it was important to win the people’s trust before implementing new ideas. They needed assurance that I was on their side – a friend, not a foe.
With these concerns in mind, I sought to acquaint myself with the operations already in place: how they were done and who the key players were. This alone was quite daunting. My first several weeks I endured endless hours of explanation for every function of the church. My office was wallpapered with giant post-it notes, itemizing all the need-to-know information. This was the ‘familiarize’ part of the plan.
The next step was to analyze. This came quite natural to me, as I worked as an analyst prior to my call into ministry. Although I was a network analyst, the idea was the same – see how things work and determine if there is a more efficient or economical way to do it. Obviously, this wouldn’t apply to anything Spirit led, so that was also put on my checklist. Any works of the flesh had to be weeded out.
As already mentioned, I took an entire year to do this. I attempted to understand existing operations, keeping personal preferences and prejudices at bay. In many cases I observed staff and volunteers getting clobbered by the unnecessary. I’m a big proponent of the KISS method – keep it simple, saint. However, many were under the yoke of WTTO – work thy tail off. This had to change, but not without giving current operations a fair chance. Maybe it was me who had it wrong. I had to at least be open to the idea.
The third step was the most important – socialize. After all, God called me to be a pastor, not an operations manager. That’s just a side gig. I attempted to get to know each and every person by name. This seemed like an impossible feat, but God truly helped me in this area. And people appreciated it. It means something. It shows interest. Even I like to be called by name.
Quite frankly, I’ve never been a green room kind of guy. I honestly don’t understand why any pastor would sequester himself and not be with the flock. Maybe it’s the Perrier and relish tray that keeps them secluded in that hideout for so long. I really don’t know. It doesn’t make sense to me. I guess I’m more like the Little Mermaid who sang, “I wanna be where the people are.” So, that’s where you’ll find me. I worship with them in the auditorium. After service, I join them in the lobby. I want to know their names, their stories and their love for Jesus. I need fellowship as much as anyone else. I also enjoy it.
The ‘socialize’ part of the plan truly paid off. And forgive me for referring to socializing as part of a plan, as if this were some scheme or calculated strategy. Making friends at Calvary Austin was born out of a pure heart and genuine desire. But it does take effort to get to know people, especially when church attendance is in the hundreds. So, yes, I did plan on how to best accomplish this.
Socializing was definitely key in winning the people’s trust. As a result, when time did come to introduce changes, they were all well received. Those directly affected knew I had the church’s best interest at heart. And for those on the brink of burnout, it meant a lightened load.
My wife and I have been at Calvary Austin just over three years now. We’re still amazed by how smoothly the transition went. And we are so blessed by the people here. This truly is our family. They are a loving bunch. And we love them like crazy! I’m glad we went slow and took time to familiarize, analyze and socialize. Had we not, I fear we might be hiding in a green room from some unhappy campers.
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Calvary Chapel of Austin Church
1601 Pecan St., Pflugerville, TX 78660