I've only made a few decisions in my life that had the feel of destiny about them. There was the day I stood at the altar in Mayfield, Texas, and told my pastor—my father—that I wanted to accept Christ as my Savior. Then there was a day at a Conference Center in Glorieta, New Mexico, when a missionary asked those who were willing to become missionaries to stand, and I stood. I'll never forget the warm spring afternoon in 1982 when I stood beside Susan Miller on a bridge in the Japanese Gardens in Hayward, California, and asked her if she would be my wife, or the sheer joy I felt, and still feel to this day, that she said yes. It was with that feeling of destiny that I stood before the members of the First Southern Baptist Church of the Monterey Peninsula and accepted their call to become their pastor.
Six months before, when the church made their initial contact with me, I said exactly what I'd told other inquirers, "No thank you, I'm not interested in moving." I wasn't expecting what came next. The voice on the other end of the phone said, "Good, we're not interested in anyone who wants to move." Then she said, "Would you be willing to pray with us that if it is God's will for you to come here he will let us know and he'll let you know too?" What could I say?
This would be a difficult move for me. In all honesty it wasn't that a change in ministry position was totally unappealing to me; it was that I felt guilty for considering a move. The First Baptist Church of Alameda, New Mexico, had stood beside me through my battle with cancer, and I didn't think it was right for me to leave. I owed them too much.
But on the other hand, the idea of going back to California was appealing to me. And this church had potential. After much prayer I came to peace with moving. Yes, I owed a great deal to the people of Alameda, and I always will, but my first allegiance had to be to God, not to a specific church. As I boarded the plane to fly out to speak to the committee, three major obstacles remained.
First, the name—it said something about where the denomination's headquarters are located but nothing about the mission of the church. If I understood this church's ministry, the name was counterproductive to its mission and was hindering it. Second, the governing documents of the church were very restrictive and in my opinion were written to maintain an institution, not to release the people to be the church. Third, because the church was small and located in an expensive area of the country, I wondered if we could afford to live there.
When I hit the ground, I was careful not to let the beauty and raw grandeur of the Monterey Peninsula seduce me. Few places in the world can match its scenery or its climate. Instead, I spent my free time trying to get a feel for the heartbeat of the community, driving through the church's neighborhood and chatting with people in public places.
My interview with the committee alleviated the first two of my concerns and intensified the third. The members of the committee all wanted to change the church's name and felt a new pastor could lead the church to do so. They also felt the church would change its governing documents, or at least seriously consider any suggested changes. (As it turned out, they were right: within the first half year of my tenure, we changed the name of the church to Lighthouse Baptist Church, reflecting the teaching of Matthew 5:16, and changed the bylaws to help facilitate ministry, decentralizing control.)
But I left the interview wondering if we could afford to live on the Peninsula. One search committee member said, "I'm not sure if we can afford to pay you as much as we did our last pastor because we've lost a good portion of our financial base." From what I could tell by looking at the church's finances, she was right. If they paid me what was previously budgeted and Susan went from working part-time to full-time, I knew we could squeak by financially, but now it didn't look as if the church would pay what was budgeted.
When the previous pastor resigned, the church was fairly healthy. It had enough people attending to staff its ministries and pay its obligations. But during the eighteen months the church was without a pastor, most of the military families moved on to their next duty station, and they had not been replaced. It wasn't that they disappeared when the church was without a pastor and would return when they called a new pastor; it was that they were gone. The church atrophied to less than a hundred on Sunday mornings, a couple dozen in the evening service, and a scant handful attending the midweek service. With a heavy debt load contracted from when the church was much larger, the balance sheet had its share of red ink, and high personnel costs could potentially sink the ship.
I chose not to discuss finances with the committee; instead, I left it with, "Give me a call when you decide what you can afford to pay, and we'll make a decision about whether we think we can live on it or not." I know that conventional wisdom is to negotiate before accepting a position because it is the only time a pastor has the upper hand, but I didn't negotiate because the issue for me wasn't money. I knew God would meet our needs if he assigned us to this position. The issue for me was whether members of this church would be willing partners with me in ministry. Would they be willing to "live by faith" and trust in God to meet the church's needs, or would they say in effect, "You live by faith, and we'll live by sight"?
After I left the interview, I called Susan and told her about the wonderful ministry opportunities and how much I liked the people. But then I told her, "I don't think it is going to work out. Perhaps God sent me out here simply to be a consultant for the church." I told her, "During the interview I was able to point out several things the church needed to do to grow, and if they'll do those things, it will have been worth my trip."
During the time that elapsed until my next contact with the church, I prayed, "Lord, if it is your will for me to become their pastor, have the committee offer me more money than was in the budget, not less." An absolute impossibility, I thought. I suppose God was testing my motives with that prayer because at the same time a church that was a half-hour's drive from where my parents live asked me to come out in view of a call to be their pastor. The amount they indicated they were willing to pay me matched what First Southern had budgeted, and they would provide a house for us to live in. When you factor in the differences in the Kentucky economy and the California economy and the fact that I could be close to my parents, their new offer was too good to refuse. But that's what I did. I felt it was unethical to deal with two churches at a time, so I thanked them for their interest and promised them my prayers as they looked elsewhere.
Soon after that, I got the phone call. First Southern wanted me to preach in view of a call and would pay me more than was budgeted. Not much more—$200 a year more. But it was more. God answered my prayer. When I accepted their call, I said, "I can't do this job. Not alone. But if we work together, we can change the world from here."
This church is strategically located to influence the world. The Defense Language Institute (DLI) and the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) are both on the Peninsula. The students at DLI are primarily fresh out of boot camp and are there from six months up to two years to learn a foreign language that they will use as counterintelligence agents and in other areas of service to their country. Most students at NPS are officers working on advanced degrees to enhance their careers. They are all eagles—highly intelligent achievers with uncanny leadership abilities. Rarely do we have them for more than two years, but during that time we have the opportunity to help them become make-a-difference disciples who will be missionaries to the nations where they are stationed in the future. We teach leaders to be servants.
The potential was there, but the people weren't. When we arrived, the church was down to two DLI students and one NPS student. We had two other military families: one was a sergeant assigned to the support staff at DLI, the other worked at Fleet Numerical, a weather forecasting post. All of them had one thing in common: they would go on to their next duty station within a year. Beyond the military institutions the area also has a two-year and a four-year college that the church wasn't impacting at all. There was a lot to do and not much time to do it in. The church was overextended financially, and soon it would lose its only contact with the institutions that provide a golden opportunity to touch the world.
And then there was my inner conflict. I wasn't sure I should try to transition the church from its traditional model to become a contemporary church. I was beginning to question the contemporary church's relevance. I was leaving a church composed predominantly of senior citizens. We toyed with doing a contemporary service there and were taking steps in that direction, but it didn't really work.
Those who attended the contemporary service were coming because of the time, not the style. Some who were attending the service before we introduced contemporary elements to it stopped coming when we began the transition. Within a year we grew the service out of existence; there wasn't enough interest to support continuing it. So we went the opposite direction—we became more traditional. I advertised the church with an ad in the paper that asked, "Are you looking for a church where you can still sing 'Amazing Grace?'" Every time we ran the ad, people came. And the church began turning around.
Before moving to Albuquerque, we had a contemporary service at Berkeley Avenue Baptist Church in Turlock, California, that grew like wildfire and soon overtook the traditional service in attendance. But then again, that was in the early 1990s, and the ultimate result was conflict. Those in the traditional service were willing to tolerate the contemporary one, as long as it was the smaller service. But after the contemporary service grew, the conflict reached a boiling point. This was a major contributor to my departure to Albuquerque.
A contemporary service may have caused conflict in Turlock, but it certainly worked. Why didn't the contemporary model work at Alameda? Was it that the church was older? Or was it because the times were changing? I began to question whether the contemporary church was really contemporary anymore, or whether twenty years had eroded its relevance. Has the movement institutionalized as it matured and become outdated? I questioned. As the Amish are time locked in the nineteenth century and the traditional church is time locked in the 1950s, I came to believe that the contemporary church is time locked in the 1980s. One thing I knew for sure: it certainly didn't resonate with the young adults I longed to reach. So what should I do?
The first six months were easy. We had work to do on the governing documents and the church's name; besides, the church needed some time to adjust to me and I to them. But time was running out. Soon we'd lose the few young adults we had. At some point we'd have to make some strategic decisions.
I knew about my church experiences, but what was happening at other churches? I'd just finished covering an Innovative Church Conference for Baptist Press and met some church leaders who were moving away from the seeker model and adapting to a post-seeker approach. I became interested in finding out more, so I secured writing assignments from Christianity Today International, Growing Churches magazine, The California Southern Baptist, Baptist Press, and Rev magazine to explore some of these emerging issues and to interview some of the key leaders of the movement. Assignments fell into place. Later that research would expand and become this book. But in the beginning, I just wanted to find out for myself what God was doing in these times and what changes our church needed to make to reach young adults.
My training was telling me to sit down with the church's leaders and write out a purpose statement, a mission statement, objectives, goals, and action plans. But something deep inside my soul was telling me not to. At one deacons' meeting we discussed the issue and decided that we would pray for the Lord's leadership and do whatever he told us to do. That was the extent of our planning. We planned to do whatever God told us to do. And we agreed that when God speaks, he would bring consensus to the body.
Prayerfully we began a faith journey that would transform my ministry and our church—a journey into the future. I worshipped with and interviewed church leaders from across the country who are reaching young adults most churches don't and are effectively transitioning into the future. Some of the leaders were intentional; others were intuitive. Some of the churches were large; others were small. Some were new church plants; others were established churches. Some were traditional churches at one time; others were contemporary. Some were artsy; others weren't.
From these churches I learned seven fulcrum points that helped my church leverage the current culture to reach young adults. I've applied some of the things I've learned from these churches to my church. As you read, don't feel like you need to do all of the things these churches are doing. What you choose to do isn't the point as much as the attitude you choose to do them with. My goal in writing this book is not to give you a recipe to follow; I just want to give you a taste of what other churches are doing. I pray that God will use this book as a catalyst to release your creativity as you leverage culture with these seven fulcrum points to proclaim the gospel in our ever-evolving culture.
In the pages that follow, I explain those seven fulcrum points with three types of sections. Portraits are snapshots of some of the churches I visited that illustrate a fulcrum point at work. Although many of the churches could illustrate several of the fulcrum points, each seemed to exemplify one more than others. The Values section presents some values Future Churches share and shows how they support the fulcrum point at work in the churches. In the Issues sections I examine some changes in our culture and consider how to leverage them for the church's good. In the Conclusion I show what happened to the church I serve as we began using these fulcrum points to move the world.
Please also visit our interactive Web site at www.thefuturechurch.com, where you can contribute your own practical ways to implement these fulcrum points in the local church. The site also contains helpful links, interview transcripts, additional information, and pictures of the churches featured in this book.