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Pastoring (Shepherding) and Teaching

NOTE: Most of my posts come from letters I write to the congregation on the back of the bulletin each week. As a result, some of the posts apply more to people attending WCC, and this is one such post.

pastoring (speherding) and teaching

Ephesians 4:11 and 12 says Jesus “gave some to be…pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.” The Greek construction of “pastors and teachers” puts the words together; in English they could be hyphenated as pastor-teacher. Since pastor means “shepherd”, Ephesians 4:12 combines the pastor’s dual responsibility of shepherding and teaching. This has made me appreciate my church background…

I was saved in Calvary Chapel, which places a strong emphasis on teaching. 2 Timothy 3:17 says “Scripture equips the man of God for every good work.” If pastors are supposed to equip the saints, and saints are equipped with Scripture, it only makes sense pastors focus on teaching. As a result, I’m thankful for the emphasis on teaching I observed at CC; however, CC didn’t have membership and as a result didn’t seem to emphasize shepherding.

When I received a youth pastor position at Grace Baptist – which has membership – my pastor and mentor, Joe Gruchacz, placed a strong emphasis on shepherding: counseling, discipling, following up with people, etc. Basically he functioned as much as an overseer as a teacher. In Acts 20:28 Paul told the elders to, “Take heed…to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church.” Peter also told elders to, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (1 Pet 5:2). Since pastors are supposed to oversee or shepherd in addition to teaching, I’m thankful for the example I learned from Pastor Joe.

The church backgrounds God afforded me allowed me to observe the dual roles pastors have teaching and shepherding (or overseeing). With Pastor Doug’s arrival the two of us have been able to split these responsibilities with me focusing on teaching and him focusing on shepherding.

In an effort to ensure we’re fulfilling our roles and serving the congregation well, we decided to use Sunday night’s Evening Service to provide  updates on a few individuals. We haven’t done this before, but we (the elders) see this as a good practice and one we expect to repeat in the future. Considering the number of verses in the New Testament discussing the responsibilities believers have to each other, we think the only way these commands can be fulfilled is by being aware of how others in the congregation are doing, how you can pray for them, and whether you need to reach out to them.

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Our 2014 trip to CA (and Katie’s b-day)

Our 2014 trip to CA

I have to be a little more specific regarding which trip I’m referring to, since I have blog posts on our September 2013 trip to our hometown of Fall River Mills, CA, as well as Parts I and II of our December 2011 trip to Lemoore, CA.

Katie and I had a wonderful time. We visited many of our old friends as well as our previous church, Grace Baptist. We missed all of our Woodland friends and our church family – especially when looking at the pictures of the Harvest Party, but we really enjoyed the time of rest.

We arrived on Tuesday, October 21st in the evening and returned on Tuesday the 28th. We’re stayed with our wonderful friends Dave and Naida, whom we stayed with for our 2011 trip as well (here are previous posts I’ve written about them). We met in 2005 when we attended Calvary Chapel. They visited WCC in June of 2012 and shared during Sunday School, and they’re planning on visiting again in a few months.

Prior to arriving, Dave and Naida asked if we wanted them to fill our schedule with meetings and visits, but we told them we’d be happy relaxing at their house spending time with each other and with them. They’re the kind of friends we can talk with for hours, and even when we haven’t seen each other for years it feels like no time has passed between us. Plus, one of the main purposes of the trip was rest and relaxation…although we still stayed pretty busy…

Like I said, we arrived on Tuesday evening. We spent the evening with Dave and Naida, unpacked, then went to bed.

Wednesday, Dave invited me to meet with him and one of the young men he’s been discipling. In the evening Dave and Naida’s daughter Danielle and husband Charlie (two of our good friends when we were in Lemoore) came over for dinner and spent the evening with us.

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Thursday, Dave invited me to meet with him and an atheist he’s been witnessing to each week. Our previous pastor, Joe Gruchacz (I began my ministry under him at Grace Baptist as a part-time youth pastor and then full-time associate pastor), scheduled a “Marriage Toolbox” in the evening, which he invited me to lead. It worked out wonderfully since I was able to use the material from our Marriage & Family Series at WCC. I asked Katie to look through my sermons and find the lessons she thought would make good “tools” for people to take with them.

We spent most of Friday relaxing at Dave and Naida’s, and in the afternoon we went to Pastor Joe’s house and spent the evening with him and his wife Janet. They took us to the Cheesecake Factory in Fresno, then we went back to their house and prayed together.

10325242_765315453504460_1857955430012611486_nSaturday, Katie and Naida attended a bridal shower and Dave and I spent the afternoon together. In the evening Dave and Naida put on an Open House for our friends from the area to come and hear about our ministry at WCC.

1801309_765881770114495_920414317427170050_oSunday I preached at Grace Baptist, again using material from the Marriage & Family Series…and again I asked Katie to choose the lessons she thought would be most valuable to everyone. After service, we went out to lunch with a small group of friends.

10623752_765881893447816_5623008548092812676_oThen Sunday afternoon and evening we visited our good friends Steve and Sylvia McCartha, who have really suffered since acquiring Lyme Disease, including not being able to leave their home at times because of Sylvia’s low white blood cell count.

Monday we had a really special morning with Dave and Naida. We spent hours after breakfast talking, and I feel like the Lord really guided and blessed our conversation. Then for our last day Katie and I spent our time together, going out to lunch and walking around the mall. In the evening we had dinner with Dave and Naida and our friends Barry and Pam came over too.

Tuesday morning we got up, had breakfast and headed to the airport. Katie’s father Rick picked us up at the airport, as he was staying at our house with Rhea, Ricky and Charis. My parents were visiting a timeshare and they’d taken Johnny with them. They said they were returning on Thursday, so while we were glad to be back and see our other kids, we were sad about not seeing Johnny (or my parents) for a few more days.

This also happened to be Katie’s birthday, and her sister Molly invited us over to their house in the evening. Molly and her husband DJ purchased a place right next to the church when they moved here a few months ago. Katie knew Molly was making her a cake for her birthday, but my parents surprised us by coming home from their timeshare early with Johnny. It ended up being a wonderful ending to a wonderful week.

photo 1Overall, I’m thankful for my parents and Katie’s parents watching the kids most of the time we were gone (a few other families watched the kids a couple nights and we’re thankful for them too), and I’m especially thankful for Dave and Naida’s hospitality and the love they showed us while we were with them. It was great to see old friends and our previous church, but whenever we’re away it makes us recognize what a gift we have in WCC as well.

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Learning to shepherd from being shepherded

We can all think of people God has used in our lives. Often when some time has passed it becomes even clearer why, and just how much those people were used. Pastor Joe is one of those people for me. In many ways I feel like God built my life around preparing me to be a pastor: the military, teaching elementary school, coaching, etc. all gave me skills I’d regularly use in the ministry. There was something really important missing though – something I didn’t even know was missing – and that was learning what it means to be a shepherd. If I had to briefly summarize what Pastor Joe did for me, I would say he is the man God used to show me how to be a shepherd. Many pastors might be great Bible teachers, leaders, organizers, visionaries, etc but they might not be great shepherds. Pastor Joe is a great shepherd.

Something occurred to me recently as I was reflecting on everything I’ve learned from Pastor Joe. I saw his patience and graciousness toward all the people in his care. That’s how I learned from him: watching his example…watching him shepherd others. Then it hit me: I think I learned the most about shepherding from the way he shepherded me. I learned the most about how to treat people from the way Pastor Joe treated me. It was the patience and love he showed me that really taught me.  When I started at Grace Baptist (GBC), you could say I was fresh out of Calvary Chapel. There was the way CC did things (aka: “the right way”) and the non-CC way (aka: “the wrong way”). Now don’t get me wrong: I like CC. I learned a lot at CC, especially how to teach God’s Word, but just like other churches, including WCC and GBC, CC isn’t perfect. I had lots of rough edges. I can hear some of you saying, “When you got to WCC you still had lots of rough edges” or “If Pastor Joe was such a great shepherd then why didn’t he get rid of those rough edges?” That’s fair…but believe it or not, my rough edges used to be even rougher. Pastor Joe was the very loving and patient shepherd God used to work on those rough edges. Something funny is now I deal with people and I think, “God, you do have a sense of humor, because this person is acting toward me exactly like I acted toward Pastor Joe. Please help me to be to this person like Pastor Joe was to me.”

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The Importance of Home Fellowships

When we visited our previous church Grace Baptist I realized just how many home fellowships they have during the week…seven I think. For a church of their size (about 180-200) it seemed like a pretty big number, and each fellowship had about ten to twelve people. Two different families have talked to me about the fellowship in our church, wanting to be more involved with others, wanting to know others better, etc. I think that can be partially accomplished at some of our events, but the special events we have are usually more of a superficial nature. By that, I just mean there’s a larger focus on fun and enjoyment than sharing serious things that really let you know what’s going on in other people’s lives, while letting others know what’s going on in your life.

I’d love to see another home fellowship start (on a different night of the week than Wednesday so that people who can’t make it Wednesday might be able to attend). While I wouldn’t mind people from our Wednesday study attending, my hope is a new home fellowship would involve people who aren’t already attending the Wednesday night study…unless a night other than Wednesday would be better for them.

I’ve seen people experience a lot of success just choosing a book of the Bible they like and going through it verse-by-verse. If you’re not comfortable with that, Chris Booker has numerous videos you could borrow that would facilitate discussion and take some of the load off  regarding having to come up with your own material each week.

There are two important rules I’ve learned for home fellowships to be successful:

  1. Meet each week.
  2. Meet at the same place.

It’s been my experience when these rules aren’t followed, home fellowships don’t usually do well. Also, don’t be discouraged if it starts off small. They usually do start off that way and then grow over time. Six to eight people, or three to four couples is a great start!

Pray about it and see if God puts it on your heart to open your home and invite others over! If there’s any way I could support you, please let me know.

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Our time in CA with old friends

Katie and I are having a wonderful time in California. Every day has been packed meeting people in the morning, then for lunch, dinner and evenings as well.

We’ve been staying with Dave and Naida, our very good friends that spoke at our Sunday School some months back. When Dave and I are together, I feel like we can spend hours talking; it’s like no time has passed between us. I feel like we’re constantly sharpening each other discussing the Bible and practices in the church. It’s been great for me to be able to share things with him from WCC and get an outside, objective opinion.

Tuesday night we surprised the home Bible study I used to lead. It was great to see a lot of the same people as well as some new people. Dave leads a Bible study on Thursday night that I also used to teach, and he invited me to lead it like old times. A number of our very good friends were in attendance. Friday night we spent the evening with Pastor Joe and his family. He promised me (again) he would visit Woodland! They said they’re going to make it up this summer. I told him we go to camp twice, so maybe he could join us for that. Actually, I’ve told a number of people about our summer camps and invited them to join us. Last night (Saturday) was Grace Baptist’s annual Christmas dinner where Katie and I were invited to provide an update on our ministry at WCC.

Seeing all these great people has been bittersweet as you can imagine. It’s wonderful to see everyone, but it will be a pain saying goodbye to them again. A number of times in Paul’s letters he talked about the longing he had to see other believers (Rom 1:11, 15:32). I think visiting California sort of gives me an idea what that was like for him. In many ways, all of this makes me more excited about heaven, because that’s when we’ll finally be united with all the great friends and family we’ve come to know in this life.

Despite how enjoyable things have been, California isn’t our home anymore. We’re looking forward to getting back to our friends and family in Woodland (aka: each of you). Philippians 1:3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.

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Update on our trip to CA – Part II

Hello Everyone,

We made it back home safely from our trip to California on Monday evening about 5:00. My wonderful parents came over to our house before we got home to build us a fire and prepare us dinner. The church made a sign welcoming us back that hung in the kitchen, and a friend of ours got us flowers and some nice bread. It was very good to be home.

So here’s another day-by-day recap of our time in Lemoore/Hanford…

  • We arrived at Dave and Naida’s house Tue afternoon, Dec 4th. Dave and Naida have been two of our best friends since we first met them in 2005. Katie and I started attending a home Bible study Dave was leading, and in a few months Dave invited me to start leading it. Although I’d led Bible studies for kids and young adults, that was my start having my own study to lead each week. In the evening we had dinner with Dave, Naida and their daughter Danielle and her husband Charlie (two other good friends of ours before we left) and this was the first time we’d been able to see their son Levi. After dinner we surprised a home Bible study that I used to lead. It was great to see more old friends and see the study was going well.
  • Wed, Dec 5th I studied in the morning and went out for lunch with Dave. Katie stayed home and relaxed with the kids, and then met up with some girlfriends. Wednesday evening Charlie and Danielle came over for dinner again, and Katie went to a women’s study with Danielle, and Dave, Charlie and I hung out at the house watching kids and talking about ministry.
  • Thur, Dec 6th I met Pastor Joe in the morning at 9:00 until we met Dave for lunch. It was great to be able to discuss our churches, sharpen each other and share stories about how things are going. That evening we attended Bible study with Dave and Naida, which happened to be another Bible study I used to lead. Again, it was great to see so many old friends and meet some new people.
  • Fri, Dec 7th we met our good friends the Shifflets for lunch, and in the evening we went to Pastor Joe’s for dinner.
  • Sat, Dec 8th, I attended Grace Baptist’s men study in the morning, then we went back to Dave and Naida’s house. Charlie and Danielle came over again and in the evening we attended Grace Baptist’s Christmas dinner, during which I shared a devotional and provided an update on our ministry in Woodland. The highlight was being able to see so many wonderful friends.
  • Sun, Dec 9th was obviously church. I went early with Dave for prayer, then I preached at both services. The message isn’t on Grace Baptist’s website yet, or I’d provide the link, but you can probably check back in the near future and it will be up. It was wonderful being able to see everyone and see how the church has changed (and stayed the same) over the last two years. I only wish I would’ve had more time with everyone. We left after church so we could make it to Redding at a decent time. We stopped in Yuba City on the way to have dinner with Elwyn and Britta.
  • Mon, Dec 10th we left Redding in the morning and made it home in the afternoon.

It was a really, really great trip. I have to say it was somewhat bittersweet, seeing so many awesome friends, but knowing we wouldn’t see them again for a while. Glad to be back in Woodland though. Thankful to have so many great friends here too.

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Update on our trip to CA – Part I

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to provide an update on our trip to California, which basically consisted of two purposes/parts:

  1. Attend Katie’s father Rick’s wedding reception in Roseville (which is near Yuba City where I used to live/teach and is where I became a Christian; therefore, a number of important people in my early Christian life are in this area, including people who served as mentors to me).
  2. Since we were in CA for the reception, head further south to Lemoore to visit our previous church Grace Baptist and see all our friends.

I figured the easiest way to provide the update would be with day-to-day info:

  • Thur, Nov 29th we left about 11:00am and headed to Redding, CA to spend the night with the parents of Katie’s high school best friend. This served as a nice halfway point for us. Although there was a lot of rain, this kept the roads fairly clear and made a relatively comfortable 8 hour trip with the kids.
  • Fri, Nov 30th we left Redding and headed to Roseville, CA where we stayed with Kathy and Barry Branaman. I became good friends with them in 2003 while living in Yuba City when I became a Christian. I met their daughters when I started attending a young-adults’ Bible study, and soon after Barry became a mentor to me. Our time with Barry and Kathy was really, really wonderful. Katie gets along very well with Kathy and I love spending time with Barry. I wish we could have spent more time with them, and hopefully there will be more opportunities to see them in the future despite the distance. We stayed each night with them from Friday to Monday.
  • Sat, Dec 1st was the day of the wedding reception. We spent a lot of time with Katie’s family who were in the area from out of town. When I lived in Yuba City, my best friend was a fellow teacher named Elwyn Ordway. He taught next to my classroom and he was very instrumental in me becoming a Christian and in mentoring me, especially in regards to reading my Bible. We were both single at that time, but since then we’ve gotten married and God’s blessed us with wonderful families. Elwyn, his wife and two kids came to the wedding reception, which was really great because it allowed me to spend the evening with him. Plus our kids get along well and were happy to be together. There’s something very, very satisfying about being with Elwyn and having our wives and children together, because of the years of singleness we spent wondering if we’d ever get married. I don’t think it would be too much to say it’s a real blessing to me just to see him with his wife and children.
  • Sun, Dec 2nd Katie’s father had a large breakfast for all the friends and family in the area. After breakfast we went back to Rick’s new wife Kathleen’s house where we hung out for a few hours with family before going back to Barry and Kathy’s house. One of the real difficulties with traveling back to California is the limited amount of time to spend with numerous close friends. Barry and Kathy knew this and graciously invited us to have a potluck at their home Sunday night and invite some of our friends from the area. At one point Katie was sitting at the table with three of her girlfriends she lived with in Chico when they were all single, and now they’re all married with children. One of Katie’s girlfriends married one of my groomsmen. They were actually part of our wedding party, and Katie and I joked that one day maybe they’d get married and we’d be part of their wedding party…which is exactly what happened. Sunday night we said goodbye to all our friends, including Barry and Kathy as they’d be getting up early for work the next day and we’d leave before they got home.
  • Mon, Dec 3rd we headed to Yuba City to stay with Elwyn, his wife Britta and their kids. I got to see Elwyn’s classroom and probably one of the highlights of the trip for me was a walk we went on together, talking about what God has done in our lives since the years when we taught next to each other as single guys. Now we’re able to look back on how gracious He’s been to us and how much He’s blessed us despite the stupid things we’ve done at times.
  • Tue, Dec 4th we left Elwyn’s house in Yuba City and headed to the Hanford/Lemoore area where we’ll be through Sunday. Dave and Naida Gomes were our best friends during our years in that area and they invited us to stay with them for the next five or six nights.

I’ll probably provide another update when we get back to Woodland. Our week is already filling up with Bible studies, dinners, and speaking engagements the entire time we’re here. Going back to Grace Baptist, our previous church, preaching there and seeing everyone is something I’m looking forward to more than I can put in to words. GBC is where I entered full-time ministry under Pastor Joe’s leadership and it was two years ago this week that I made the announcement that I was transitioning to Woodland. In other words, I’ll be be back at GBC preaching on the two year anniversary of when I announced I was heading to WCC!

I need to wrap this up as dinner will be soon, then Bible study tonight that we’re looking forward to crashing. This is actually the home fellowship I used to lead before passing it on when we moved. We’re going to show up and surprise everyone.

Will write more when we get back to Woodland :).

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Church Membership

We’ve had a number of new people to the church. We don’t approach people about becoming members, because we feel like it’s a decision people should come to on their own; however, we still want want people to know we’re a church that has membership. I think because I was saved in Calvary Chapel (which doesn’t have membership), I always held a pretty negative view of membership until I received my first pastor position at Grace Baptist. Then I saw some of the advantages of membership for the congregation and church leadership.

Membership is basically just a way to formalize commitment and call WCC home. It’s also a way for us to respond that we view you as part of our church family and will do everything we can to love and support you. While it sounds nice to say, “You should love and support everyone” it should be pretty obvious that if we tried to do that we wouldn’t help anyone effectively. I can definitely say from a pastor’s perspective many times people come to WCC and spend some time in a season where I wonder if they’re still looking around. I understand choosing a church is a big deal, requiring people to spend some weeks at different churches while they’re looking around, which is why I see the “looking around period” as a necessity. The problem is sometimes this makes it difficult for me to know who’s part of my flock. When people choose to become members, I can tell they’ve become my responsibility. Again, it sounds nice to say, “You should invest in everyone and not just people you consider to be part of your congregation” but God has called me to pastor WCC. He hasn’t called me to pastor people at other churches and He hasn’t called me to pastor people that aren’t part of WCC. If I tried to pastor all the people outside WCC I would fail as the pastor of WCC.

There’s nothing required for membership other than being a baptized Christian and attending a meeting with one of the leadership and myself and our wives. This meeting is casual and is to ensure people have the opportunity to ask us any questions about the church, while making sure you’re aware of WCC’s beliefs and distinctions. We also invite potential members to share their testimonies.

If people struggle with membership it usually relates to a perceived absence from Scripture. While I’d say the word membership isn’t in Scripture, the practice of membership allows churches to obey other areas of Scripture. For example, in 1 Cor 5:12-13 Paul challenges the church to judge those inside the church and leave judging those outside to God. How did the Corinthians know who was in and who was out? They knew whom Paul was talking about because some people had formally, publicly identified themselves with the church in Corinth while the rest of the city had not. Those who had were inside the church. They were the church’s members. Those who hadn’t were not.

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A pastor's honeymoon period

This past Sunday was our church’s annual meeting. We go over the budget for the new year and the different offices (like elders and deacons) give a report regarding their activities for the past and upcoming year. Of course I present a report too, but Jim Donald, one of our elders said, “The church really just wants to know how you’re doing, how the ministry is going, etc.”

I thought I would put my notes into a blog, and I decided to give it this title because I’ve heard more than enough times something like, “For the first few months after you arrive at the church you’ll enjoy a honeymoon period with the congregation. Then the real work will begin.” You hear it so many times you almost start to wonder, “Do things really have to stop being enjoyable?” I don’t think they do. This isn’t to say there aren’t problems or difficulties – there have been some, and I’m sure there will be more – but I don’t think it can’t continue to feel like a honeymoon. Maybe it’s like marriage: it can stay enjoyable…even after the first few months.

On to my notes from the meeting (NOTE: some changes have been made to the notes to change them into a blog).

First, I’ll say the greatest blessing associated with my job is the opportunity I have each week to study and teach God’s Word. You’re the recipients of my messages, but I’m the one who’s the most fortunate because I get to spend time studying the Scriptures for a living. I can truly say I have a job that I look forward to each day.

I see two reasons I’m able to invest the time in God’s Word…

  1. The leadership as well as some other individuals in the church have put forth tremendous effort to allow me to study each week and do the rest of the work of the ministry. I always had a fear of pasturing a church and having to be a deacon instead of a pastor being unable to study, meet with people, counsel, disciple, etc. I’ve said before that I have no excuse not to be able to respond to the congregation quickly, , because of the situation the leadership as well as a number of other individuals have put me in.
  2. Second, I’m only able to study the Word like I do each week because I’m at a church with people who desire to hear God’s Word and that’s something I really appreciate. I’m thankful that each time I stand behind the pulpit you desire to hear God’s Word as opposed to craving gimmicks or stunts with no sanctifying benefit.

I’d also like to share a brief story. When I was at Grace Baptist before coming here, my old pastor (Joe Gruchacz) would regularly take me to pastors’ conferences and retreats allowing me to spend time with a number of other pastors and hear about their ministries. I learned very quickly that many pastors in their ministries were at best struggling and at worst miserable. Their problems always related to two issues: their relationships with their congregations and/or their relationships with their leadership.

With that said I feel very blessed to be here…

First, b/c of the relationship I have with the congregation. It seems like every family God has added I keep finding to be a really wonderful addition to our church. Also, I’ve told Katie before that I feel like God has given me a real love for the people here. At the same time Katie and I feel very supported and loved. Some people in the church have made a point of being a blessing to us. I really feel like I couldn’t ask for a better congregation to pastor.

Second, I think it’s beneficial for a church to have a strong leadership team with good relationships. At Grace Baptist a number of people commented on the great relationship Pastor Joe and I had and I think it gave them more confidence in the church. You don’t attend our board meetings or Sunday morning leadership meetings so you might not know how we get along, but I really couldn’t imagine better chemistry with a group of guys.  I feel very fortunate to be able to serve with each of the men in leadership.

So those are my notes from the meeting. Hopefully I’ll be able to use the same ones next year J.