Re-Engage Webinar Replay
Even as other aspects of life are returning to normal, we’re hearing from pastors across the country that are struggling to re-engage people in weekend services, groups, volunteering and giving. People went “church shopping.” Staff turnover got out of control. Hybrid ministry is still not supported effectively. Children’s and student ministry lost all momentum. And under it all, pastors never got a break.
We recently hosted a virtual roundtable event called RE-ENGAGE: Carrying the Mission Forward in the New Normal where I asked pastors from across North America to join me and share the successes and challenges their churches are experiencing as they begin to reopen and re-engage. We called it a webinar, but it was really more of a candid conversation between me and a few friends in ministry.
RE-ENGAGING YOUR CHURCH IN THE MISSION
For this roundtable conversation, I was joined by:
- Greg Hochhalter, Lead Pastor of Sherwood Park Alliance Church in Alberta, Canada
- David Meyer, Executive Minister of The Hills Church in Fort Worth, TX
- Andrew Brownback, Lead Pastor of The Crossing in Costa Mesa, CA
- Mark Stuenzi, Lead Pastor of Parker Hill Church in Scranton, PA
I really appreciated the honesty and vulnerability they brought to the conversation. Listen in on the insights and learnings these pastors are experiencing around the topics of:
- Re-gaining momentum around your weekend services
- Engaging your people in small groups and serving
- Navigating political and cultural division
- Protecting the health of your soul in this season
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- Designed to Lead by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck
- There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing and The Other Side of Languishing is Flourishing from the New York Times
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- CISM: Critical Incident Stress Management
- Discover The Unstuck Process
Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Recently, our team hosted a webinar on re-engaging our mission in the new normal. Over 700 leaders joined us for a conversation on how churches can find momentum again in a post COVID world. Because there are no experts on this topic, Tony was joined by several pastors from all over North America to hear how their churches have found traction and re-engaged ministry in their communities. Today on the podcast, we’re going to share their insights with you. As you’re listening today, don’t forget about the opportunity to join Tony and Amy on August 13th for an exclusive Zoom podcast coffee hour. All you need to do to get an invite is leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, take a screenshot of your review and tweet it to us @unstuckgroup or @tonymorganlive using the #unstuckchurch. You can also email us a picture of the review to Jordan@theunstuckgroup.com. Anyone who sends in a review will get an exclusive invitation to join Tony and Amy for an hour of coffee and conversation. And don’t forget if you don’t have them yet, jump over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and get this week’s show notes. Now let’s join today’s conversation.
I’d like to really just dive into the conversation with you guys. And I’d like to begin asking all of you to respond to this first question, and that is, are you fully reopened for physical gatherings at this point? And this is a question, I think, pastors are asking, how is your physical attendance now compared to pre COVID days? So, Greg, I’m going to let you go first. Actually I just saw, apparently I’m going to be able to come visit you in Canada at sometime in the near future. Is that right?
Greg Hochhalter (01:50):
Yeah. Come on up, but make sure you jump through all the hurdles that you got to get over, and you may not get out. We might just keep you. I’m not sure. Real quick. We just resumed as of July 1st in Alberta. Now like the United States, it depends on where you are, different jurisdictions. And so in Alberta it was started like wide open as of July one. And so we had been back for just a few weeks with all kinds of protocols in place, but as far as no restrictions, just two weekends. And so we’re just at the very early stages. And to your question, there’s a uniqueness about summer, especially in all parts of the world, but especially in Alberta. So we already have that reality, but we’re running roughly a quarter probably of pre-COVID attendance right now in the first couple of weeks, physical attendance.
David. And again, this is why I wanted to get voices from different parts of the country because your journey has been different in Texas. So tell us a little bit about that.
David Meyer (02:50):
Yeah. We started meeting back in person September of 2020, and then as far as full restrictions being removed, spacing, masks, all of those things, it would have been June of this summer. So relatively recent in that regard. And then for us, you know, we’ve seen about 75% of our folks that have come back. One of the interesting things is is there are pretty wild swings from week to week as people are traveling quite a bit this summer and trying to make up for the times that they haven’t been able to travel is kind of what we’re surmising. And then the other thing is, is of that 75% that’s back, there’s quite a few new folks, and I don’t necessarily mean new folks to Christiandom, but new folks to us. There’s just been a lot of changing of churches for folks through this. And so still trying to navigate through that a little bit and just kinda, you know, better understand what has happened.
Yes, that’s helpful though. Andrew, I’m guessing in California, you’re probably somewhere in between these first two.
Andrew Brownback (03:49):
Yeah. We’ve been meeting. We were meeting outside in September. We moved indoors and recently we’ve gone mask optional, and we’re hitting between 40 and 60% of our pre COVID attendance in a given week.
Andrew and I actually had the opportunity to go to a baseball game the week that California lifted their mask mandate. So that was fun to do that together. Mark, how are things in Pennsylvania?
Mark Stuenzi (04:16):
Unlike Andrew, we weren’t able to meet outdoors in December, January, and February. We reopened for in-person gatherings in November and lifted all the restrictions mid-June. So we’re about six weeks, four weeks into church as normal. When we first reopened, we were at about 30% of our pre-COVID attendance. At this point, we’re at about 60% of our pre-COVID attendance.
Ok, Alright. Well, very good. So, in addition to attendance, I have been concerned from the very beginning of the pandemic about how this would impact churches financially. And I was actually encouraged the last time we looked at the data last quarter, giving year over year had gone up slightly in churches on average. But that’s the average, and I know some churches have continued to experience health and growth as far as giving is concerned. And I know that on the other side of that average too, are some churches that have been challenged during this season. Andrew, you mentioned, when we were talking recently though, that you’ve actually seen some healthy momentum when it comes to financials for the church and giving to the church. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Andrew Brownback (05:35):
Yeah, so our ministry year ends at the end of August, and so this year we’re looking at actually seeing an increase in giving. Going into the pandemic, like everyone, we had no idea what to anticipate, but we’ve actually had a really great opportunity this year to really step into some opportunities for local, like the sort of local organizations, like we’re very involved in schools. And so what we’ve done is a lot of like, Hey, if you’ve never given it to The Crossing, your first step could be provide headphones for a kid at a local school when they were meeting online, or there was another group of kids in our district that needed shoes and clothes. And so for $40, you can provide shoes and clothes. And so we saw a lot of first time gifts, which allowed us to really enter a process with people who jumped in at that. And so the end result that we’ve seen people go way above and beyond, but really a lot of new people jump in for the first time, which has been pretty exciting for us.
Andrew, that’s so consistent with what I’ve heard from other pastors too where giving has increased through the last year. It’s been directly tied to engaging their community in some way, trying to address the specific needs that people are wrestling with, especially in this season. So no surprise that you’re seeing that momentum at The Crossing as well. Related to this part of the conversation though, is just the challenge of getting people to come back for weekend services. And again, Mark, you mentioned recently that you sense that you’re learning some things about what it takes to reengage people in the weekend services. So could you talk a little bit about that?
Mark Stuenzi (07:11):
Yeah. There are a couple of things that we think are working, so I’ll just frame it that way. So something that we started doing during COVID was to contact all of our attenders in our database on a monthly basis. That contact would be a phone call, a text message, an email or a personal note, depending on the best way to reach someone. And we built some staff teams around that to make that happen. And so everyone in the church who was part of the database would receive a personal contact of some kind of once a month. And that helped people to stay engaged even when they weren’t in the church buildings. It worked so well that we’ve continued to do that. Now the frequency has moved to every eight weeks, and we’ll probably continue to do that indefinitely, but the conversations now are shifting toward not how are you doing and is there anything you need? That’s still part of it, but there’s also the conversation about, are you back in a service yet in person? Is there anything we can do to help you transition back in? And so those personal conversations seem to be helpful. Then there are some unique opportunities that we’re doing or we’ll be doing that are the kind of opportunities that you can’t fully experience unless you’re there in person. And so most of what we do typically in church, you can experience online and it’s close enough for a lot of people. So during COVID, when it wasn’t, you know, December, January, February, we did some outdoor worship services because people could come socially distance, all that. People loved them. We’ve continued to do those. They’re not streamed. You have to be there to experience it. And in this last outdoor worship service we had a couple of weeks ago, we did baptisms as well and had a ton of people get baptized. And so that was a draw in and of itself. So it’s kind of a baby step back toward an in-person gathering. And then this fall, we have a series scheduled called, “At the Movies,” and it’s an intersection between popular culture, popular movies and spiritual truth. And it’s a very immersive experience. All of our lobbies will be built out like movie sets and there’ll be done pretty well. And then actually we use a good portion of each movie each week and intersperse commentary with it. So it isn’t something you can experience to the same degree unless you’re there. And there are actually copyright restrictions on that anyway,
Mark Stuenzi (09:37):
Yeah, exactly. So that’s something you have to be there to experience.
Yeah. I love that thought of creating something in your experience that you have to be in the room to be a part of that. And we can thank our friends at Life.Church for just kind of taking the lead on that “At the movies” concept. I know a lot of churches across the country have taken advantage of that concept, and it’s really been a powerful way to, especially in the summer months, to engage with new people. So let me jump ahead to engagement, speaking of that topic, but rather than engaging people in our weekend services, this is about engaging people in serving opportunities and continuing to engage people in groups. And I want to start, though, with serving because honestly in the earlier months, as churches were coming back to physical gatherings, what I was often hearing from pastors and church leaders is getting people to come back to serving roles was the most challenging aspect of reopening. And so I’d just like to hear from all of you really quickly, what you’re learning about re-engaging people in serving opportunities. And David I’ll go first with you this time.
David Meyer (10:50):
I think the first thing we’ve had to come to grips with is we need to go, we need to be on mission with the people that we currently have. And so we were just having this analysis of, you know, who’s here and who’s not here? And quite honestly, it was just paralyzing us and keeping us from moving forward. And so in looking around and going, hey, who has joined us? And if our attendances are down, also being released of we’re not recreating what we had right before the pandemic hit, but how do we serve who we are today and where it is that God’s leading us? And out of that freedom there’s just been a much more attractive messaging of joining us in mission. And then in seeing that joy returned, then there’s others that are going, man. You know, I need to be a part of that. And you find that it starts to perpetuate itself of others going, man, I want to be a part of something that’s bigger than me again.
That’s good. Andrew, what are you learning as far as volunteer re-engagement?
Andrew Brownback (11:46):
Yeah, it’s been a challenge for us as well. And so like David just shared, like one of the things we’re really trying to coach our staff and volunteers with is focus on who’s here, not on maybe who moved or who left or anything like that. And so really for us the focus has been, I mean, we’re taking it one week at a time. So are we stronger today than we were seven days ago or 14 days ago? Or 21? Because again, we don’t look at all like we did pre-pandemic, and so I think if that’s the bar, like, that’s an expectation we’re not going to meet for awhile. So just are we stronger today than yesterday?
Very good. And so, Andrew’s audio it sounds perfect in the fact that it’s coming from a vacation spot. So Andrew, thanks for joining us today. We were sensitive to the audio not being perfect, but it’s because you’re not at your normal mic.
Andrew Brownback (12:33):
So, I got a five and seven year old here. Always a risk with that, guys.
That’s right. Mark, what is your team learning about re-engaging people in serving opportunities?
Mark Stuenzi (12:46):
It’s been challenging because people got out of the habit of serving, and they also were disconnected from their serving teams because there’s a relational component there that draws people into serving and keeps them there. And then for some, there was the fear of COVID. They just didn’t want to be around groups of people and a lot of people and be exposed to it. So it’s been a challenge, but like everyone else has said, we also aren’t the church we used to be. So the demand for the number of people isn’t as high. So what we’ve tried to do is we try to be real intentional about thanking people publicly and telling stories about people who are serving to remind people of the joy and the community and the being on mission that’s a part of it. And just try to like a soaker hose, weave that throughout our comments and messages and announcements.
Yeah. Ok. And then Greg, any learnings from your end?
Greg Hochhalter (13:39):
Very similar in that, you know, a lot of ministries are starting over. It almost depends on the ministry, like the place where we have the greatest need to rebuild is our kids’ ministry because that’s the ministry that was out for the longest time. Other ministries, where you shifted over to online, you know, worship arts and those that are producing weekend service content and all of that, they hung in and their faithfulness and their team building was actually, it was kind of galvanizing in some ways. But it’s these other ministries that went dark for such a long time that, you know, as some of the colleagues here have said, people are out of the habit, so you can’t assume everybody’s ready to come back. It’s like starting from scratch in many ways.
Well, it’s helpful to get that feedback as far as volunteering engagement is concerned, but we’re also, in addition to connecting people in serving opportunities, wanting them to stay connected in small group communities and things along those lines. And Greg, you were mentioning that your sense is you’re learning some things about how to keep people plugged into groups in this season and to engage new people in groups. So would you share a little bit about that?
Greg Hochhalter (14:47):
Sure. And if I can just mention something I’m seeing here in my colleagues, and I think this is true of church leaders across the country where they’ve not been devastated by the last few months, is that the focus has been not on what we can’t do, but on what we can. And so I just want to applaud my colleagues here with that. With that idea floating in mind, one of the things that happened for us is if I can just say it this way, historically for the last couple of decades, we’ve speaking bluntly, we kind of suck at small groups. We’re not that great at that concept. We have been a church with an ethos around big events. One quick example is a few years ago, we actually set a Guinness world record for the largest potluck party. Like it was just a silly thing we did at the end of the year. We set a Guinness world record. Now I reflect back on that and go that just fed that machine of that’s who we are. We’re the big event church. So we’ve never been really, really strong, not that we don’t have any, but in the words of Winston Churchill-ish so-to-speak, I think he’s attributed to this, “Don’t waste a good crisis.” That whole line. And so I think COVID for us has been the first, and as I say this, please, the caveat of all the suffering that’s, you know, with COVID and all of that, don’t hear me being flippant about the real human suffering that COVID has wrought, but this, for the first time, when we didn’t have that ability to gather, our congregation realized the value of small circles and we adapted the mantra, not original with me, it’s probably original with one of you all out there somewhere, but, “Good things happen in rows, but the best things happen in circles.” And the essence of church life is best experienced in a small environment where you’re known and loved and celebrated and served and all of that. And so for the first time, in a couple of decades, we have real tangible, momentum almost maybe a tipping point, with life groups. And I’m so thankful for that, because I think we’re a different church.
Yeah, Greg, you’re actually not the first church I’ve been working with in the season that has used COVID as an opportunity to make a shift from the larger group gatherings to more of the small group strategy. And sounds like you’re experiencing what I’ve seen in other churches, that this has been a time of momentum for them when it comes to group connection. My last question for you though, is in Canada, do they serve green bean casserole at potlucks as well?
Greg Hochhalter (17:19):
At the one I referenced, there was everything. Yeah.
All right. Let’s shift gears just a little bit for this next portion of the conversation. I almost hate to bring this topic up, but my suspicion is everybody that’s participating in the webinar today will acknowledge this is an issue, and it’s related to the political and cultural divisions that we’re seeing, not only in our communities, but how that has crept into the church. And again, I want to start by asking all of you, if you feel comfortable, to share just a little bit about how much these political and cultural divisions may have impacted the ministry at your church. So Andrew, are you willing to share some thoughts? Some of your experience?
Andrew Brownback (18:15):
Yeah. So, yeah, so I’ve been a lead pastor for about two and a half years. So this was my first election being in the lead pastor chair. And I would say I was constantly surprised by the amount of pushback we got. We are a church that doesn’t take strong political positions. We don’t endorse candidates. And I was surprised how many long-term people at our church in the last even few months have really risen up in frustration around us saying certain things or not saying others. And from our volunteer pool, it’s hurt some of our long-term, like just our long-term core people. It’s also hurt our staff. I’m seeing some people leave. So it’s been, it’s been super challenging. And just for me personally, also like there’s been some pain there, people I thought were, you know, in the trenches with us during the pandemic that all of the sudden were gone and never heard from again or on their way out maybe sent an email that was hurtful. So we have definitely felt it. And I will say I’ve been constantly surprised as it’s come up again and again in our church.
Well, Andrew, if it’s any consolation, I’ve been through a lot of elections while being in ministry. And this one was a little unusual. Mark, what has your experience been?
Mark Stuenzi (19:39):
Of everything that’s happened over the last couple of years, whether it was the death of George Floyd and the national conversation about racism, the election, and then COVID itself, the most difficult thing for us has been how to navigate obedience to our state government and what restrictions to put in place and how to explain them to people. That has been so divisive. The two lengthiest board meetings, I’ve been at my church for 33 years, the two lengthiest board meetings we’ve ever had, the longest discussion I would say in any board meeting and most heated, was when we decided to close our buildings for a period of time. And then when we were wearing masks, and we had to decide when to release that. That issue, all of it’s been very divisive and disappointingly so for me as a leader, but that one has been the most divisive one for us.
And Mark, if you’re like other churches, I’m guessing, that pressure has come from both sides of these different topics. Is that true?
Mark Stuenzi (20:43):
Yeah, that’s how I knew I was on target with decisions because everybody hated it. We lost people along the way, to be quite honest with you, who felt that we weren’t, we were living in fear or we were compromising the gospel in some way. And that was again, sad to see. But at each one of those points, whether it was the death of George Floyd or an upcoming election, we just try to keep teaching through it and remind people that we are apolitical. We have a kingdom that’s not of this world. And talk about what Romans 13 says about respecting government authorities and all of that, but it was, it was difficult, but I think that the decisions around COVID restrictions were the most difficult for us.
Greg, when we talked recently, I was asking, I mean, in Canada, are you experiencing some of these same pressures or not? My suspicion is it’s not, if you are, it’s not to the level, maybe that pastors and churches in America are facing, but what’s your experience been in Canada?
Greg Hochhalter (21:46):
Yeah. What happens in the United States impacts what happens in Canada, much more so than the opposite. You know, we are impacted by the political realities, but maybe more similar to Mark, we were quite unified within our board and our structure, but within our community, there were a couple of churches, one in particular, that railed against health restrictions and became very prominent within our country. A local pastor here was arrested, went to jail, and the social media buzz, even Tucker Carlson. Sorry if I should not have done what I just said there, but, you know, railed against pastor jailed for preaching. No, he wasn’t jailed for preaching. He was arrested and jailed and refused to abide by orders that would suggest, okay, we’ll let you go if you commit not to violating health restrictions. But he can’t do that. So he stayed in jail for a few weeks. And so that got all kinds of publicity. So we were as a church contrasted, and I did a bunch of media around that time, in which we were kind of held. And I didn’t go on with anybody to take shots at my brothers and sisters in Christ, but we just said, we’re going to take a different perspective because we’re very aware of the fact that our congregation is being watched in our community. We’re not a massive community. We’re outside of Edmonton. We’re a community of about a 100,000 people right next to the city of Edmonton, but we’re in a very prominent corner. We’re being watched. And for several months I was not allowed to have people into my home for dinner. I couldn’t have my children around the Christmas dinner table, and I couldn’t justify, even at that time, we could put a couple hundred people into our building, our church, we voluntarily said we were going to go above and beyond the restrictions to play a leading role in tamping down the pandemic because we feel like the longterm witness in the community matters. And so we’re going to lean into that.
And David, again, it feels like Texas and some of the other portions of the country have almost taken a completely different approach to this whole season, but how has what you’ve experienced impacted the ministry of the church?
David Meyer (23:52):
Yeah. I just want to commend Greg real quick on just taking that posture of how you’re going to love your neighbor. And I think that’s what’s most winsome, and that’s what we have to continue to be known about. But for us, I will tell you, as far as the election and the racial unrest and all the things that are associated with that, that was significantly harder for us than the pandemic. And just a challenge from a sense that you find yourself questioning, you know, are people being discipled more within our walls and what it is that we’re doing, you know, we gather to scatter, but it felt like they were being discipled by the respect of news outlets of choice and all of those things that they’re ultimately bringing in. And, you know, and just continually trying to battle, just the truth of God’s word and driving them back to that reality. But I would say personally that that’s where it was just the hardest for me and some of my lowest points of just folks that were responding in a way that was surprising and didn’t necessarily align with other ways in how they were living their life.
It’s been a challenging season. And I think what we tend to forget is the media, whether that’s television or social media, they make more money when we are more divided. And so it’s almost like we’re battling something that’s completely contrary to what scripture would be teaching us. And so, David, I want to stick with you here just to maybe help us consider if we’re trying to keep our churches united in mind and purpose in such a divisive time, how should we respond and how does that impact our ministry? How does that impact our teaching?
David Meyer (25:38):
Yeah, I think, Tony, truly important in times of uncertainty and quite honestly, times of fear, we’ve gotta be mindful that so many of our folks are just fearful, and we don’t necessarily know what they’re fearful of. But when we, when we recognize that we’re talking to somebody that is scared, it just impacts the impacts the way that we will communicate with them. But there’s a great book, “Designed to Lead” by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck, that really helps walk through change. We’re a predominantly a white church that is trying to make intentional steps to better represent the community that we’re in. And so we need to be more, not just ethnically diverse, but culturally diverse. And so out of that, how do we build conviction first? And you’ve got to do that through the word of God and you go back to the promise of Abraham that God made. And we know that all of his promises end in yes, and amen, but he said that a multitude of nations will come from you, and you look forward into Revelation and you see that played out by the vision that he gave John in Revelation 7:9, that it was a vast crowd too numerous account, of every tongue, every tribe, every people. And you just, you get excited about that, that God’s saying so in the in-between, I want to partner with you and I want you to help. I’m going to use you to bring heaven to earth. And Paul says things like I’m going to be all things to all people, but we’re going to find common ground to do that. And so out of that conviction that can only be found in his word and by the conviction of His spirit, you build constructs. What are some things that you can do that are relational, that you, you get people to live in proximity and do life in ways that, historically, maybe they haven’t. Because when issues become people, then hearts are transformed and that only happens in relationship. And then lastly, just what’s the culture that you have? And it’s just a culture of humility and one that’s willing to listen. And just a challenge to everybody. When somebody says something that you may not disagree with, instead of firing back with what it is that you believe, might you just ask the question, could you tell me more? And there’s something that happens when you go from what somebody knows to what somebody feels in their heart. There’s just easier ways to build bridges at the heart level. And empathy can be expressed there differently than if we’re just operating at the intellectual.
David. That is so good. I mean, you’re a preacher. You’re not an executive pastor. You’re a preacher. Well, let me to wrap up with, in this final topic here, I want to personalize this a little bit. I mean, I don’t know what you four have experienced in this last year. I know for me personally, it’s been a roller coaster of emotions and levels of anxiety. And, of course a lot of that is just the uncertainty of what’s next. And, you know, as the leader of The Unstuck Group, I’m not just concerned about my family. I’m concerned about all of the families represented on our team and through this season, I’ve been challenged to pray and look to God for comfort and guidance like I’ve never been in my past as it relates to my leadership of The Unstuck Group, and at the same time, facing the challenge of trying to help pastors and church leaders navigate a new course when no one knows what the real answers are because none of us have ever been here before. And so it’s been a challenging season for me, personally in leadership, and what I’m hearing from pastors and other church leaders across the country is that same thing is played out and almost every church across the country. And so I don’t want you to have to share your darkest moments of the last 12 months. I think I’d like to actually look ahead and hear from you. What are you doing in this season to protect the health of your soul? What are you doing to renew the call that God has placed in your life? Help us maybe consider some next steps that we need to take if we’ve been facing some of those pressures, some of that anxiety that I just shared. Help us consider some next steps that we might be taking. Mark, would you be willing to go first?
Mark Stuenzi (29:53):
Yeah, my situation is unique. I’ve had some stress-related health challenges, and so I made a decision in 2019 that I would phase out of my current role at the end of 2020. What happened with COVID is that I didn’t feel I could do that. So I had to extend that by another year, and I’ll be phasing out at the end of this year. So my situation has been unique. The discouraging part about the current situation is even now, after postponing it a year, there’s something inside of me that hates to step away when there’s so much left to do to rebuild. But I think we found a good solution. This is for another podcast or webinar for another time, but we actually merged with another church and that’s been a great thing. And I really feel like I can hand off leadership well, but I can speak on behalf of our entire staff to say that it’s been very challenging, and we’re blessed with a larger staff. We’re a larger church. And as you guys all know, and anybody who’s a church leader knows, it’s hard to explain to people outside of this vocation the pressures that you feel and how complicated it is. And so my best help has been found on in leaning on the guys I work with, the women I work with and other pastors who really understand what it’s been like.
Andrew, what’s your perspective? What can we be doing to protect the health of our soul in this season?
Andrew Brownback (31:28):
Yeah, I felt like, and this was actually somewhat recent, but a few weeks ago, I really felt like God put a verse on my heart. Isaiah 59:1 is “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save nor his ear too dull to hear.” And so that verse has spoken to me like more times than, I’ve given that verse to like everyone who’s going through a challenge as well and stuff like, Hey, this is a verse like God’s put on my heart. And really what I’ve seen him do is two things because I identify, Tony, with when you talk about the rollercoaster, like I’ve felt that. And so first I’ve like, I’ve looked back and overall, I feel like God has really come through. Like the arm of the Lord is not too short to save. And so for us at our church, I’d say like over the last year, the impact our church has made locally is incredible. And so like, I am so grateful for how we’ve seen people step up. So when I get these angry emails, I’m like, I first think of that. Our impact locally. Financially, our church is in the best position we’ve been in in awhile. We’re utilizing our facility. We’re in Southern California. So, you know, property is at a premium. So we’re using our facility more than ever before during the week. And so I look back at all those ways, like here’s how God has provided for us. And to me that’s really helpful. And the second thing I do, honestly, to help my soul, and this may just be for me personally, is we’re seeing a lot of new people show up at our church. And so I’m spending a disproportionate amount of my time doing like coffees and lunches with people who are brand new, who’ve been at our church three weeks to three months, and a lot of them are unchurched or de-churched. And that’s just good for my soul that these people who are moving into California are looking for a church, that just had a baby. And they’re loving what they’re seeing or have questions about our church, or they’ve never been in a small group before. Like that’s just been good for me personally. And so that’s really helped my soul.
Yeah, I concur with that. My volunteer role at our church is in the connections area, which is kind of the place before or after the service where primarily new people, those that are also taking steps into serving and groups and things like that, stop, but it’s primarily new people, and it’s just been really refreshing for me and encouraging to my spirit to see all these new people coming to the church in this season. And so, I totally agree with that. David, any thoughts for us to consider, here?
David Meyer (33:47):
You know, I don’t want to get too, you know, pastory on you I guess, but I, you know, obviously leaning into His word and then, and then praying, and my prayer life changed in this and that it’s not just me talking to God, but it’s me entering into the presence of God. And so I think, you know, I think at some point the Lord is going to tell me that I got a lot more honest with him through the pandemic. And so, you know, whatever it is that you’re wrestling with, express those things. You know, unexpressed doubts are what hurt faith, not when you express those doubts, but similar to what Andrew is saying, if it’s the one thing for me, man, by gifting, I’m an evangelist. I love to tell people about Jesus. And so I hang out with lost people and just an opportunity to be able to tell them how life can be different and who Jesus is and that they can trust him. And that’s just something that I’m constantly going to seek out because that’s what feeds my soul more than anything.
And Greg, any final thoughts on this topic?
Greg Hochhalter (34:45):
Yeah. Real fast. And I don’t mind admitting that I’m one of those that is now, I think, languishing more than I was in most of 2020. There was a New York Times article in April that talked about languishing as that mid-point between thriving and depression. I’ve used that article a lot with different people. I’m finding a lot of folks are in that space. And if I can just jam in here, one other little reference. I do a lot of work with first responders. I’m a former first responder myself, and I do a fire chaplaincy. I have a lot of, that’s my kind of my personal, community service. And we have, something called CISM: critical incident stress management, that usually leans into the impact of events that are high stress events with first responders. There’s something very similar, I think, that’s happened to all of us collectively. It’s not a one day event or one hour or one moment horrific event. It’s the duration of this last few months has resulted in sort of that languishing sort of funk. And I’m still kind of negotiating that personally. And I would say the two things that have helped me the most navigate this is in the CISM world, critical incident stress management, world. It leans heavily on peer support as a model, since COVID, I have a group of six other pastors that we had met from March 2020 until fall, we met weekly by Zoom and then transitioned to bi-weekly and now we’re every third week, but we have faithfully gotten on, and they’re all peers and colleagues here in Alberta with similar churches. And we have just walked this journey together. And so community of a small circle, and then I have a spiritual director and that practice of engaging faithfully with a spiritual director has, those two things probably have been most sustaining for me, but I’m still wondering what the psychological, emotional, mental health, spiritual impact of this long duration event is going to be. I don’t, you know, it’s pretty obvious. We’re not just going back to 2019 and picking up where we left off in all ways. And so I’m curious to know what the impact of this whole experience is going to be ongoing.
Tell, tell us a little bit about the role of your spiritual director, Greg.
Greg Hochhalter (37:01):
Well, I’ve been working with a spiritual director for probably 10 years. He lives in Portland, and I do see him from time to time in person, but we have been for 10 years monthly meeting to do just classic spiritual direction, right out of any number of books will tell you how this works, but that has probably been for me the most holding my feet to the fire, where we talk about disciplines and practices and he just practices incredible soul care with me. And it’s just something that I’ve, you know, it’s one appointment may not be that was the greatest thing ever, but it’s that cumulative attention over time that I think has served me very well. So I’m a big advocate of spiritual direction, especially for pastors.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Don’t forget to reserve your spot at the upcoming coffee hour with Tony and Amy on August 13th. You can do that by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts and then tweeting us a picture of your review @unstuckgroup or @tonymorganlive using the #unstuckchurch. At The Unstuck Group, we work every day with church leaders to help them build healthy churches with coaching and planning to focus them on vision, strategy and action. And if that’s a need in your church, we would love to talk. You can start a conversation by visiting us at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.