About eight years ago, when my brother Jamie and I were about to start a new church development in Paso Robles, California, we were insanely eager to learn from any church that was having success. To this end we read all of Robert Schuller's church leadership books, we plowed through The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren, we drank in all of Bill Hybels' leadership tomes. We couldn't get enough. Our basic premise in researching these churches was that; 1. We loved the Presbyterian Church, 2. We knew it was dying and needed to change, 3. We were HE - (double hockey stick) bent on doing whatever was necessary to save it.
In the process of this learning binge we also met with many successful large church pastors. One of whom was a pastor from a suburb of Sacramento, we'll call him Jim, who had started a church that we'll call, "Cyprus Brook," (even though the real name of the church is much better than that). Cyprus Brook had grown to 6,000 members in just six years. The truth is that we had waited about a month or two to get on Jim's calendar. And then, when the vaunted day of meeting was about to occur, his secretary called and cancelled, and we had to wait another month. So, it was with no uncertain degree of anticipation (and a little agitation) that my brother and I waited for a face to face with Jim.
We drove up to the church that day, and waited in the church coffee shop. The appointed time for the meeting came and went, the time seeming to drip through the hourglass, like a bad rerun of "Days of our Lives" (has there ever been a good one?) Finally Jim came. He was wearing a rumpled shirt, and torn shorts, and flip flops. He was kind and completely unassuming. He had a boyish flair, not "Dead Poet's Society," but more, "Easy Rider." But it didn't matter what Jim's appearance was, or what the differences in our styles of church were, or what the varying flavor of ministry was at that church, Jamie and I were focussed on figuring out what we could from him. We wanted the recipe to the Gordian knot of church growth, and church success. And so, we asked him what it was. This is what he said. "It's simple, just...
Love People One Person At a Time
Jamie and I furiously wrote those seven words on our pads, clearly expecting that more important, more complex, more nuanced information was yet to emerge from this modern day totem and prophet of all things of clerical success. "Good," I said, "And what else...." Jim said, "That's it, let me repeat it...
Love People One Person At a Time!
Jim was clearly a little exasperated that this simple but oh so important dictum was not permeating our grey matter in a more effective way. So, he clarified. "Look," there are a lot of things you need to do to grow a church. You need to have a good name. You need to go out and hang out at stores and have something that people need, like drug prevention therapy for moms and dads of teens. You need to hand out Bibles at every service. You need to have a facility that can facilitate growth. And a lot of other stuff. But that stuff all fits into place, if you get this one thing right....and let me repeat,
Love People One Person At a Time!!!
"I've got to go," said Jim. "Good luck in your new church." And with that, Jim was gone.
So, I have had the chance to reflect on this sagacious piece of advice for about 8 years now. And I have come to see the true wisdom in what Jim was offering. So, this is how I have tried to love people one person at a time in my ministry. When people are talking to me, I try to be fully present in that conversation, even if it is only for 5 seconds. When new people come to the church, I try to remember their names, and then I follow up with a phone call soon there after. When people are hurting in church, I try to lay hands on them right then and there and pray for them. When I am writing a sermon, I don't write it to the masses, I write it for a handful of people in church, who's names I know, and who's problems I understand. I have tried to see the Christ following faith as not a group effort, not a mass movement, but an individual exercise in living out the gospel, in unique and REAL ways. So, I really have tried to;
Love People One Person At a Time.
You Should Too,
All For Now,