30 Days of Faith: Day 18
When I was 19 years old, I heard a pastor speak to a large audience of teens about serving God in full-time ministry. The Lord communicated to my heart as clearly as if He had pointed me between the eyes and said: “I want you to be a pastor in the suburbs north of New York City.” The idea of becoming a pastor had never crossed my mind once in my life; I was a jazz and classical pianist and, frankly, I detested the idea; but God, nevertheless, placed it within my heart.
Fourteen years later, after teaching at a Christian college for 10 years, once again I felt like God spoke to me and said, “It’s now time to make plans to become pastor of the church I called you to start.” I felt anxious and scared, but also excited and even relieved at the prospect of seeing the God-sent dream fulfilled. In 2005 I gave a one-year notice to my employer, and made the executive decision to start a new church in Westchester County, New York, just north of New York City.
Entrepreneur and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote:
If I don’t seize the opportunity, if I don’t step out of my comfort zone and risk it all, if I let too much time tick on, my moment will pass. I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, I would replay it in my mind for my whole life, wondering, What if? Why didn’t I? . . . It’s one thing to dream, but when the moment is right, you’ve got to be willing to leave what’s familiar . . . That’s what I did in 1985. If I hadn’t, Starbucks wouldn’t be what it is today.
And I felt the same way. For 14 years I had pondered and envisioned the launching of a musical church that aggressively loves God and serves people—where the theme wouldn’t be religion, but a vibrant relationship with God. It appeared like the timing would never seem exactly right on all counts; and if I didn’t step out now, I never would.
Have you ever felt like the poor pitiful man in the old story, The Elves and the Shoemaker? Do you know what it means to work and work, yet grow poorer and poorer? Have you ever gone to bed wishing that tiny elves would appear and skip to your workbench and do their magic—but the elves never show up? That’s where my family was at the time: we had no money, and no elves. I had some solid ministerial experience by that time, a great wife, a 5 year-old boy, a newborn girl, a dream, and $500. But $500 and a dream won’t pay for housing and food in New York. In the summer of 2006 I had a serious discussion with God, one of those “If-you’ve-ever-been-there-you-better-be-there-now” talks. I said, “Lord, I’m either called to start a church, or I’m crazy. There’s no middle ground. This is either the fulfillment of your calling, or the stupidest decision of my entire life. There are people who think we should do this and others who think we’re insane; but it’s not about what people think; it’s about what you want.”
On September 2, 2006 we moved into a friend’s one-bedroom basement apartment an hour west of Westchester County in order to first find a place to live. After a month we moved into our own tiny but expensive apartment. When I found a location in which to host a grand opening Christmas concert, I began knocking on doors in the community and telling people about People’s Church. Then for a month and a half, I went door-to-door, extending invitations to our grand opening. I was excited about our church’s mission: “to inspire and instruct ordinary people to become extraordinary followers of Jesus Christ.” But sometimes on my more exhausting days, my mind would get cynical and think thoughts, like: Do you realize you’re inviting people to a church that doesn’t exist? And I would muster up all the spiritual energy I could to counter myself and insist that People’s Church did exist—in the mind of God, and in my heart, too. I’m a spiritual entrepreneur; I’ll take the risk, and I’ll live like the invisible is visible.
Sometimes on Sundays when I see how our church family has coalesced, and I observe them serving—or listen to the musicians play and sing—I recall the fears and insecurities I had when we first moved here, when the church family wasn’t visible in any shape or form, before there was a People’s Church family of loving, praying, giving, and serving people. Today our diverse congregation is comprised of caring individuals and families spread an hour radius around our church. Now when I recollect the risk my family took, I can relish the reward of having assisted God as He assisted me in materializing a dream He conceived in my heart 15 years before. And when I relive the darkest moments and most excruciating pains from giving birth to a new ministry, I genuinely mean it—without a dash of pretense—when I say: “I couldn’t have done this myself,” except that “He was there all the time.”