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Helping People Encounter Jesus

A discussion of church and ministry in a time of chaos

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During the stay-at-home orders, U.S. Alliance President John Stumbo talked with many Alliance leaders across the country about their experiences leading in crisis. In this conversation, John Stumbo and David Smith, the lead pastor of Fairhaven Church in Dayton, Ohio, discuss what church and ministry look like in this new era.

John Stumbo: David, recently your church has been very proactive with your community. Tell us about your outreach.

David Smith: We’ve been doing a ministry called Boxes of Hope, where we ask people to bring donations and then create boxes of food and other essentials for families in need. We’ve distributed 6,000 meals so far. Also, every single week for eight weeks we’ve had people give their lives to Christ through our online services. We’re going to make sure our online presence stays strong because it’s powerful.

John: How do you disciple and followup with those who give their lives to Christ online?

David: We lead them carefully through a discipleship next step and a lead step. The lead step is where we let people know that every person in the Kingdom has been called to lead in some fashion. We have seven leadership characteristics that we teach based on people in Scripture.

John: In your current journey in this season, you’ve gone from having lots of contact with people and speaking to big crowds to now talking to an empty room and making videos from your home office. What’s it been like for you to be thrust out of the norm and into a different mode?

David: In speaking to an empty room, to a camera, or to people through Zoom, I’ve learned that there’s a power of presence in companionship that has been hardwired in us that’s hard to be understood through technology. It’s a powerful tool, but there’s nothing like being together.

And as a pastor who is often distant from people because of our multisite campuses, I’ve often been impacted by this. I’m trying as best as possible to still relate to people and connect at a soul level. It’s not just a message I have to give, but there’s a connection point, a companionship. Being in my office at home, I’ve noticed I’d rather be in a room sitting next to you.

I’m also learning, however, that my job is not to convince people to come to church. Because of COVID-19, I feel like there’s going to be a new normal for churches in general around the country. If the stats are right, 22 percent of people who call themselves Christian attend a church. Through media we have connected with a lot more people, but our job is not to try to get them to come to Fairhaven. The mission is to help them encounter Jesus so that they’re launched from Sabbath into their faith throughout the week.

John: Isn’t it classic that a crisis would take us back to the fundamentals, the core of who we are as a group of Christ followers? And for a pastor of one of the largest churches of the C&MA and your entire region in Ohio to say it’s got to be less about getting people to see church as the end-all and more about connecting them with the Christ?

Obviously, attendance at a service is a wonderful connecting point for our souls with the Lord in corporate worship and teaching from the Word of God. And we believe in that. But there is a subtle temptation for it to become the end-all for us at some point in time as leaders. Am I hearing you right?

David: Absolutely. Reggie Joiner, CEO of Orange, posed an interesting question that has lingered in the chambers of my brain ever since—could it be possible that helping people in their homes is more important than getting people to come to church?

I would never want to say that home is more important than church, but what happens if we’re not careful in church ministry is that our chief goal becomes bringing people to church. Somehow we begin to act as though being in church will push them in their spiritual lives, when what we really want them to do is to encounter Jesus.

John: For me personally, being sidelined at this moment in time, I’ve felt that I can engage a sermon just as well online as I can in person, if I’m not multitasking. But I don’t engage worship as well in that setting. There’s something about corporate worship that is not replaceable to me even though Joanna and I do try to sing along from our recliners. I feel like it’s irreplaceable. David, is anything else in your heart?

David: I’d like to share three small leadership principles. First, a leader has to absorb chaos which is hard because it creates a lot of moral fatigue. We also need to create calm, which requires our souls to be a ripe soil for the Holy Spirit to work in our own hearts. And thirdly, we must provide hope. And when you have this extra time to be at home, you can begin to think through those three things and focus on what God is teaching each one of us. I think some powerful things are going to come out of this COVID-19 era.

John: Interesting three closing points, David. Absorb chaos, create calm, provide hope. But absorbing chaos is a risky one in that if we don’t process that well ourselves, then we’re just internalizing, and we’re going to be a wreck at some point after this. So Sabbath, for me, is one way of just one day a week, hearing God’s permission to not accomplish anything and just let it all go. And I don’t need to be the answer man for anybody. I just need to let the silt of my own soul settle down and get clearer thinking. That’s one strategy for me.

David, you’ve given us a gift. Would you pray for us?

David: Father, thank you that Jesus Christ has provided the substitute for us and in that we’ve been given complete freedom. Help us all as leaders as we make sense of this season and provide hope for all those around us. Remind us of Your great love because You tell us that perfect love casts out fear. We thank you, Lord, for the opportunities we find ourselves in now that we didn’t have before because people are wondering and looking for that hope. May we be people who provide hope as the Spirit works in our lives.

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