It’s funny how much things change in a decade. Ten years ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe consisted of one film, Iron Man. The iPhone was in its infancy, and the iPad did not even exist. Billion-dollar companies such as Uber, Lyft and Air B&B were nothing more than ideas, while Snapchat, Spotify, and Instagram had not been invented. America was enduring a brutal recession. Nasa was still flying the Space Shuttle, and Donald Trump was just a billionaire real-estate magnate and reality TV star. The world was indeed a very different place ten years ago.
Not only was the world a different place, but I was a very different pastor ten years ago. Let me explain; in December 2008 I moved my family to Columbus after accepting the pastorate of Calvary Bible Baptist Church in Westerville. Then, on December 21, 2008, I preached my first sermon as pastor of CBBC. The funny thing is, when I came to Calvary, I thought I already knew a lot about pastoring, and I was convinced I knew exactly how to help the church get back on track after it had gone through a very challenging time. After all, every church we had ever worked in and every ministry we ever led had experienced remarkable growth. Therefore, it was only natural to assume that Calvary would not be any different. In fact, I had even formulated a plan to add a second Sunday morning service before we moved to Westerville—that’s how confident I was that Calvary was going to grow.
However, the reality we experienced was much different than my vision or any of my plans for the church. After immersing myself in the life of the church, I was confronted by numerous issues that were far more complex and serious than I could have ever been prepared to handle. Then, less than a year after we arrived, a mass exodus of members and regular attendees began, and it lasted for more than five years. While I expected to lose some people along the way, I never imagined that so many would leave before giving the church a chance to turn the corner. Additionally, I had to make important decisions about the direction of the ministry, while creating systems and implementing procedures that were mostly unpopular. All of this means that in the early days we faced declining attendance, lower offerings, sparse salvations and baptisms, diminishing volunteer involvement, and falling morale. Unfortunately, my lack of experience and driving ambition often made things worse—not better.
However, in the middle of everything that was happening, I came to understand the church I pastored was not in a position to reach our community today and into the future. The church was structured mainly to satisfy Christians and to attract believers who were unhappy with their current church. Our entire approach to ministry was designed to appeal to the saved of this and previous generations. We had no vision for attracting the unchurched. We had no plan to show people that the gospel is relevant now and has the power to impact multiple generations. Instead of confronting the reality of being a church in a post-Christian society, we were content to do ministry the way we had always done ministry, and we expected the same results we had experienced 20 years before. It wasn’t long before I came to understand what was happening at Calvary—I was not leading a troubled church through a transition, I was leading a dying church that desperately needed revitalization. This realization changed everything. From that point forward my goal was to lead the church to do anything short of sin to make disciples in our community while, at the same time, encouraging believers to grow in Christ and equipping them to do the work of the ministry.
Admittedly, some of the changes over the last four years have been very controversial, and some members have chosen to walk away. Yet a core group has stayed and I am increasingly thankful for those whose commitment to God and His church has prompted them to remain faithful over the years.
Today, God is working and the church is becoming healthy and increasingly stronger. Is the church still a revitalization project? Sure. But is the church closer to a breakthrough today than we were five or ten years ago? Absolutely! Do I like all the changes that have been made in the church over the past decade? No. Were the changes necessary for the church to move forward and make disciples? Definitely. In fact, if you would have told me ten years ago that I would lead the church to make the kinds of changes we have made, I would have called you crazy. However, I’m convinced—now more than ever—that every shift we have made has been necessary for this church in this community. Additionally, I’m grateful that amid all the changes, we never have, and we never will compromise our doctrine or our Baptist
It’s true—the world is a different place than it was ten years ago. The church is a different church than it was ten years ago, and I am a different pastor than I was ten years ago. However, I’m thankful for the journey that began on this day a decade ago when I stood before the church for the first time as her pastor, and I’m looking forward to seeing what our unchanging God has for us as a church in the years to come.