I'm going to post below what I shared with the congregation this past Sunday.
It was not an easy day, but it was a very good day. Now that the transition is out in the open, I'm free to share a lot of the thoughts I've had lately. While I won't share many now, I do want to share how amazed I am at how well everything was recieved on Sunday. Yes, it was hard and people were crying but people were also understanding, encouraging and excited about the future.
One guy, who has been with us since the beginning, immediately came up and gave me a hug saying, "it takes a lot of courage to stand up and do what you just did."
I was also later sent this message from a leader in our church, "I know what you did today had to be one of the hardest things you ever had to do but I have to tell you again what a great job you did articulating all the details about the transition we are going through. You went over and beyond how I thought you would present it. You and the family are always in our prayers."
For so long, I thought leadership meant having it all figured out, having all the answers and knowing exactly where to lead. I've learned to let that go and be more honest about not having it all figured out while also learning how to suggest rather than demand. Ironically, my influence as a leader has grown a lot during that process. I guess another word for that process is simply "maturity." But I'll blog more on that later...
It's just amazing the level of affirmation and support I recieved after sharing this (below) on Sunday. It seems that during my greatest weakness came my strongest leadership.
7 years ago, I was finishing up my last semester in Seminary and preparing to move to Gardner to start the yet-to-be-named Church. My all-consuming passion for starting this church was to reach people who were currently not in church, what we pastor-types call the “unchurched.” And we have been able to do exactly that. Even before our church officially launched, we had unchurched people joining our community. And it has continued to happen throughout our church’s existence. For many of you, TFC is your first church ever or your first church in a long time. I’m hoping he can share his story soon, but Brett Limer, just recently made the decision to live for Jesus. And he hung around TFC for almost 2 years before making that decision. And on Wednesday evening, Shelby told me we’re the first church she’s called home since the 80’s. She told me, and I quote, “you restored my faith in church fellowship.”
Well, as I shared in a likely too-brief email this past week, we’ve got a big announcement to share with everyone. The announcement is this. After 7 wonderful years of reaching unchurched people, we’ve decided to stop. It’s been a good run, we’ve helped a lot of people, but it’s a LOT of work. It’s exhausting. Let them build a relationship with God on their own, the church doesn’t need to help with that anymore. I’m kidding – obviously
If you were here two weeks ago, you heard Pastor Andy and his Love Wins team share how they were able to influence a lot of CHURCH leaders at the M-11 conference. The impact came as they shared stories of how TFC Midtown is reaching the people that no other church is going after. Which follows the example of Jesus we see in the gospels. Jesus hung out with the people that good, respectable, religious people would never be caught dead with.
You also may remember that last summer, I began sharing a dream for a new way of doing church. Although we’ve never been conventional and we’ve always been others-focused, TFC was still started, and basically still operates, under a more institutional model. What I mean by that is organization lead by a paid pastor, programming and all the other stuff thought to be ‘normal’ in today’s church culture. I started having a dream for a church structure with several unpaid pastors, a form of gathering for worship that is in the midst of a community and a budget that gives away more than it spends on itself. You may also remember, that when I shared that dream in June, I promised to do my best to lead us there. But I wasn’t sure whether I personally would have what it takes to get us there.
This past year I’ve been working part-time at FedEx, going to school, trying to be faithful in my role as pastor, while still being a dad and husband. Honestly, it’s just about killed me. There have been times in which I’ve been sitting in my office chair, staring at the upcoming Sunday morning like a deer in the headlights, trying to muscle-up another biblical teaching to give to the congregation that deserves it from me. Other times, I’d pull back up to a dock at one of my stops on my FedEx route and just sit there for a few minutes, overwhelmed by the weight of everything. Sometimes a few tears would slip out before I forced myself to go make the delivery.
Eventually, I realized, while staring at the cold, hard numbers, that TFC was quickly going the wrong way financially. While we’ve had enough money in savings to last through June – the end of our fiscal year. The reality is that our current institutional model of church is no longer financially viable. We simply don’t have enough money coming in to continue in this model of church – rent, pastoral salary, programs, etc. And that puts me and my family in a tough spot. Because while I believe in that model of almost-volunteer staff, my two degrees are training for just one job – leading a church as a paid pastor. And I’ve got a lot of work to do still before finishing a degree that makes me marketable outside the institutional church.
I can sum up where we’re at with these two statements: 1) The church no longer has the financial means to pay me what my family needs. 2) I no longer have the ability to give what a church needs from their lead pastor. repeat
But in the midst of my own struggles. And the financial and people struggles of TFC Gardner. God has been faithful to us. In starting TFC Midtown, we have continued to reach people not in church. And we’ve effectively began a church community that follows this non-institutional / missional model.
Over the last month, the Advisory Council has been weighing the good and bad of what I’ve just shared. They’ve assessed the promise of TFC Midtown and the resource-deficit of TFC Gardner. And they’ve come to a decision that is both exciting and painful. We’ve decided to move Trinity Family Church out of Gardner and to the midtown area. Repeat Trinity Family will continue to exist, but with a new address. TFC Gardner will no longer exist, but the history, mission and community of TFC will continue on through the Midtown campus.
I realize this is a hard thing to hear. It’s a hard thing to say, honestly. That’s why I wrote everything out word-for-word. It’s just that in considering all the options, this seemed like the best thing to do. A lot of the New Testament is letters written to churches. None of those churches still exist in the same form in which they existed 2,000 years ago. The Church as a whole still exists, and there are churches and Christians in those same cities – but they’ve changed. All churches change. But what could be hard about this change is that it’s happened more quickly than a lot of church change. With this change, there’s a lot of hope, but also some pain. I realize this.
You probably won’t process all of this as I share it with you, but here are the main details which you need to know.
1) Pastor Andy will be elected as the lead pastor of TFC-Midtown Pending DS’ approval.
2) We’re encouraging everyone to consider moving with TFC to Midtown
However we realize this isn’t possible for everyone, especially people living in Gardner or south Johnson County and/or those with kids. So, we’re proposing another step that can help to maintain the relationships we’ve built over the past several years.
3) We’re encouraging those who want to stay connected with a church in Gardner to transition as a group into the Indian Creek – Gardner church
Let me reiterate, this idea is to help preserve as many relationships as possible. We encourage you to consider making the move to Midtown. But if that simply isn’t do-able for your family, we’re asking you to consider transitioning into ICG. Let me share some reasons we’ve chosen ICG to be the church into which we transition.
ICG is the closest thing to TFC that we could find in Gardner. We’re fairly similar in several ways – theologically (they’re Wesleyan), missionally (they’re outward focused and the little bit of growth they’ve had over the past two years has come not from transfer growth but from formerly unchurched people), worship style (their worship style is a lot like ours was when we still had the manpower to put together a full band on a regular basis), atmosphere (they seem to have the same “safe place” feel that TFC has), and even size (they’re the same size we were two years ago before we started our numerical decline – right around 100 people in worship).
While best-case scenario is that we continue as-is, that simply isn’t possible right now. We’re trusting that transitioning into ICG will be the second-best-case-scenario.
I’ve known the pastor for a couple of years now. Some of you may remember Ben, he preached here one Sunday last April. And while we’re not best friends or anything, what I’ve seen of him has impressed me. I trust him. And I’d better trust him, because I’m leading some of the people I’ve come to love – come to love with the love that only a pastor knows - into his church.
If you choose to transition into ICG, you’ll have the advantage of coming into a new church with pre-existing relationships. Of course, you’ll get to know other great people as you get involved in the life of ICG, but you’ll have a safety net of sorts by having other TFC families come with you. Let me re-state, we’re doing this in an effort to help keep as many people together as possible. Ideally, everyone would choose one of two places – TFC Midtown or ICG.
But we also realize that one of these two options may not be the best for some of us. So we’re encouraging another option, too.
4) Pastor Donnie and the Advisory Council will work to help those not joining Indian Creek Gardner or TFC Midtown to transition into another church
This is particularly for those of you who would like to stay in the CoTN but don’t feel that Midtown works for your family. But even if it’s not a CoTN, we’ll help you transition into whatever church works best for you.
5) Pastor Donnie and the Advisory Council are willing to meet with families and individuals to help them process their decision We’ll be doing this for as long as it takes. I’ll be here through at least June, helping with the transition. Sign ups
But that leads to the other question you’ve probably all been asking.
“Donnie, what are you going to do?”
6) Pastor Donnie will focus upon the transition into Indian Creek Gardner and other churches besides TFC Midtown
7) Pastor Andy is willing to meet with anyone considering joining the move to the midtown area
Again, we want to encourage everyone to make Midtown their first option, with ICG being their second option. Having lunch after worship with anyone interested.
Those are the main details. Let me know give a timeline of how this transition is going to happen. It might feel a bit abrupt, to be honest. But again, we thought a quick move would be the best thing for everyone.
March 20th – follow up with congregation during regular worship time
We’ll gather at our regular place and time next Sunday for worship and for a chance to continue discussing all of this. It’s going to take some time to process it all and you’ll likely have more questions, so next Sunday will be a chance to have another church-wide discussion. You can also always email me.
Thursday, March 24th and Sunday, March 27th – “Previews”
This will be your chance to join TFC Midtown for their Thursday evening worship gathering and to worship with ICG on a Sunday morning. Pastor Ben is planning to meet with whatever TFC people come for worship that Sunday morning.
Sunday, April 3rd – last regular worship gathering of TFC Gardner
This will be a time of sharing some stories from the past seven years and looking ahead to how the story of TFC is going to continue. Be prepared to share some stories that day. It’s going to be an emotional day. It will be a good day and a difficult day.
Sundays April 10th and 17th – possible times of meeting with Pastor Donnie and the Advisory Council
In order to process your decision on where to go next. Might also be working on taking inventory of all our equipment those mornings.
Easter Sunday, April 24th – Encourage everyone to worship in their new church home that morning
Our hope is to have big groups at both Midtown and ICG on that morning. While it may not be your long-term decision, we encourage you to be in a church that morning – hopefully with fellow TFCers.
That’s everything. If this just hit you like a ton of bricks, I greatly apologize. Please know that our leadership is open to letting everyone process and even grieve this change for however long it’s necessary.