The Darkest Days
October & November 2016 were two of the hardest months I had ever experienced. I don't think that I have ever felt so spent. So empty. Tapped out completely. I've been tired before, even exhausted, but I have never felt like this. Sleep didn't refresh me, nor did the usual things like physical exercise or days off. Something was off and I needed help.
There is a strange thing about church: it is often said that it isn't a club for the healthy, but a hospital for the sick. That is, those who are hurting, suffering, looking for hope and healing, should be able to come to the church to find love, health, healing and community unlike anywhere else, because it is centred around Jesus.
However, too often, it is exactly when someone begins to feel imperfect, broken, hurting or confused, the idea of attending church while broken can start to feel like a repellant to the soul; as if they aren't good enough, or don't have their life put together enough to be there.
Perhaps its a pressure that I put on myself, but there is a notion that hurting people are welcome at the church, but the pastor better have his life put together.
In a way, that can be true: scripture is pretty clear about the qualifications for anyone who leads, and having your household in order, having character above reproach and a certain level of spiritual maturity are definitely needed.
But it is just nonsense to think that the leader is above the issues of the congregation that they minister to.
Leaders are broken people, too. They hurt, they fall, they struggle with sin. They aren't immune to brokenness.
So when November came around, I was face-to-face with my brokenness and the strange culture of thinking that, for some reason, as a pastor, I shouldn't be at this point.
The previous year and a half had been a crazy push in my family's life and in the church: we had moved to a new town, renovated a building, started a church, and now I was at the end of what I could actually give.
The day after celebrating our church's one-year anniversary, I was walking down the street feeling grateful for how God had provided for us over this past 2 years and celebrating the milestone of an anniversary.
And then the sadness hit.
Immense sadness. Over nothing in particular. Probably a combination of hopes, expectations, hard times and disappointments. All of that, and also, none of it.
I shrugged off the sadness as a symptom of being tired (I should also mention that I can be emotionally stunted at times and be out of touch with my heart).
But the sadness never really went away. It got worse. My capacity for functioning in day-to-day life diminished. I would spend a LOT of time on a sermon, only to feel like I had nothing accomplished. I couldn't even respond to emails. I didn't have the capacity to.
I couldn't even get myself to the point of saying, "I need help."
At the lowest point, the only thing I had accomplished in a day was setting up 3 round tables. After rolling out the tables, I laid on the floor. And I only laid on the floor because I didn't have a cave to crawl into.
At home, I had to alternate between 5mins with my family and about 45mins in the darkness of my room. Simple questions from my kids like, "can I have a snack?" Would overload me.
My wife was amazing and strong for me during this time and confronted me that I needed some counselling. Things were not right, and I needed some professional help. I stood in the kitchen with tears running down my face and phone in my hand and dialled a Christian counsellor to set up a time to address this darkness. This depression.
I would be quick to recommend that someone else go to a counsellor, but for reasons my heart doesn't understand, taking this step was scary.
"I shouldn't have depression"
"This feeling will go away on it's own"
"Isn't feeling like this just a sign of weakness?"
"What will other people think of me?"
These are all lies that we can tell ourselves that will keep us from finding help.
Being honest with my co-workers, my wife, my counsellor and myself, about my weakness was the only way that I could ever find health.
By God's grace, the darkness has since lifted. Through the care of co-workers praying for me, the tremendous care of my wife to pray and support me, and professional help of a counsellor, I began to find some health again.
We are more than just body. More than just our spirit. More than just a mind. We are interwoven and knit together in fearful and wonderful way.
To have a day like #BellLetsTalk is good. It brings to the surface the things we want to hide. It shines light on our shame about how we are actually doing and when that happens, we find that we are not alone and that there IS help available.
Our weaknesses are an indicator of our humanness and our real need of a saviour. Mental health is not just a spiritual matter. Nor is it just a physical issue. Our spirits are interwoven with our body and our mind. The church is uniquely positioned to be a place where all three areas are addressed to help us find healing.
The church is a community of broken people finding health. Your brokenness does not disqualify you from a church, in fact it should be the place where you find the most hope and healing.
You will find that PAC is place where there are people who will be saying, "me too," when you begin to talk about your hurts, darkness, and anxiety. Let's Talk. You are not alone.
Our first multisite campus has now been meeting for 15mths and during that time we have decided that we would be a combination of live and video teaching. Presently, we do live preaching about 60% of the time while streaming in only 40% of the time. We had never done this before and like many people looking into video teaching in their churches, were wondering about the effectiveness of streaming in the sermon into a rural church an hour away from the original campus. Here are the things that we’ve learned along the way:
...Or at least I'd like to think that
This always seems to happen to me. Even when, logically, I know, understand and have experienced trends, whenever I start something new, I always secretly believe that whatever I'm doing is going to the exception to the norm.
When I took over student ministry at our church over 3 years ago, we launched with a revamped program from the previous 5 years. I had come up with the ultimate youth ministry that was going to be off the hook. New leaders, a new program, more structure and planning, systems and decorations... this was going to be AWESOME!
The first day of student ministry was packed! Kids from different schools attended, kids I've never seen before, visitors and guests were there in large numbers. The music was pumping and I was counting noses and feeling really good about myself.
"If the first day of student ministry has THIS many people, we're going to need a bigger church building by the end of the year because we're going to outgrow our spaces!", I said to myself.
Then the second student ministry day happened the next week. Numbers were down. "That's OK," I told myself, "people probably had a lot on their plate with the second week of school happening."
The third week didn't look any more promising. By Christmas, we had stabilized our numbers... but they weren't trending the way I had anticipated on day one. As the school year progressed, we actually saw numbers slowly, but surely, drop.
In my head, I knew that this would happen. It happens anytime you change or start something. It requires a TON of energy to get it off the ground, curious people check it out. Some stick around, some don't. Those who resonate with your vision will double down on what you're doing while others prefer to watch from the sidelines for the opportune time to join in.
It happens all the time. Yet, each time I start something new, I always expect to be the exception to this.
I once ordered 100 kits for a children's ministry soccer VBS, thinking that by resurrecting a VBS program - the first one in our church's recent history - would be met with fan-fare and pack out. I was already thinking through how we would politely tell parents that there wasn't enough space for their kids. That year, we ended up having 30 kids. I was devastated.
Thinking that anything new I start will be the exception is probably a symptom of being optimistic, entrepreneurial, and prideful. Two out of three aren't bad things and probably need to be more encouraged in church settings
The same thing has happened all throughout this first year of rural multisite church planting. As I mentioned in the previous post, we had 102 people out on our first Sunday and I was already thinking about multiple services. I wasn't prepared for the shock when typical "big days" for the church would end up being small.
Easter, for example, was preceded with a mailing campaign, pumping up our congregation and setting up more chairs for a full house. It turns out, many of the regulars didn't even come on Easter Sunday and a $600 mailing campaign resulted in 6 new people (who have not since returned) and attendance numbers less than previous Sundays.
The middle of summer in year one saw we saw numbers drop to 33. What happened? I was certain that our church plant would be the exception to church growth. Turns out were pretty much the same as all the other church plants that make up studies and trends.
So what do I do with this kind of thinking? Here are a few things I'm learning in this new role of pastoring a rural multisite church plant
This process is not my ideal process. I want to go out there and achieve. I want to do a good job. I want to succeed. My motives are based in truth and for the glory of Jesus, but my sinfulness can too quickly hijack those desires and bend them for my own fame. This year has been a year of learning that about myself and trying to surround myself with people who can help point out when sinful pride and ego begin to infringe on God's vision for our church
Let's Launch This Thing! (but first some trouble shooting and technical stuff)
Catch up on part 1 and part 2
Well, people were talking about us at least. We've gotten some press from the local papers, pretty good engagement online, the building was basically finished, the only thing left was to make sure that we had the kink ironed out before launching.
We hosted two 'technical dress rehearsal' services that were closed to the community (we had to make them 'closed' because we didn't have our occupancy permit yet, so everything we were doing was still considered 'construction' and thus had to be limited to just the necessary people). There were still some curious locals who came in for these services, and we didn't turn them away... we just told them that they were part of the construction team for that Sunday.
Splitting hairs? Ya, probably. Luckily, the inspector wasn't swinging by that day to check everything was done according to the letter.
The building was showing signs of being pretty rough. The drop ceiling was still unfinished in some areas, the installation of the HVAC units were still unfinished, the projection screen wasn't in yet, so we had to project on the walls, the TVs that ran the lyrics weren't totally working with the computer and ProPresenter, and a handful of other things that show that you're not done working on the building yet.
I was so ready for this whole process to be behind me. The two technical services went off generally really well: We had multiple sound guys out to get used to the set up in Neepawa. The band needed to get used to new tech too! Because of the small space, having stage monitors would add too much noise in the room, so we switched over to in-ear monitors - something almost all of our musicians had never played with before!
We had settled on using YouTube Live for our streaming, and began to hit some of the limitations of our set up. Video quality wasn't bad, but we had some terrible sync issues between video and audio. We brushed it off as something that would sort itself out... we were wrong and ended switching over to the premium service of LiveStream for our video needs after numerous streaming issues.
My nerves were basically shot during those three weekends: my insecurities were so close to the surface, I could do nothing to hide them.
Would people show up?
Would the like it?
Would they come back?
When will revival break out?
Will people like me?
Will people reject me?
Are we delivering on what we were promising?
So many of those questions rolled around in my head and heart, leaving me a mess of emotion. And if I had the ability to step back and really look at those questions, so many of them don't matter to what the church is called to be! But I couldn't do that then. I don't think we can really ever do it without the help of others around us.
On our Grand Opening Sunday, October 18, 2015, we were ready to go (or were as ready as we could be) and were excited to open the doors to the masses.
I was pacing around the cafe area, excited, stressed and wondering who would actually show up. The cars started to roll into the parking lot and it's a good thing that we had a parking attendant there to help arrange them! With no lines on the parking lot, people, left to park themselves, would create a mess of cars.
We had ordered coffee from Tim Hortons in a large carafe, although it seemed like no one was interested in getting some. Most people walked into the church and immediately into the auditorium. Those with kids made their way to the kidmin area, but there seemed to be a high level of tension in the church (I probably wasn't helping with that), and most people sat woodenly and silently in their chairs.
There were well-wishers from local businesses, curious Christians from other churches, and a handful of people who probably fit into the category of "back-to-church" families - people who stopped going to church, for whatever reason, a while ago and were using the launch day as a reason to get back into church attendance.
When it was all said and done, we had 102 people show up for opening day! This number was SUPER exciting for me and was on the high-end of my expectations. I was pumped! If these numbers continued, we'd need multiple services before Christmas! (naive, I know).
We're now coming up our one-year anniversary, and we've yet to see a triple-digit attendance since that day... but we had managed to launch, and with a full house, to boot!
We're putting the work in, but is anyone noticing?
You can check out part 1 of this post right here!
By the time that we sponsored the Family Movie Night at the Roxy Theatre, we were right in the middle of our renovations at the church. Things were starting to come together, but there were some people who just couldn't envision what the finished product would look like. There were a lot of tours through the building with people looking sideways at each other as we pitched what could be in this space.
You could tell that there were a lot of skeptics in these tours... because, lets face it, the building wasn't too much to look at before and the mess we were making wasn't helping the whole situation.
I was doing everything I could to get people through the doors of the church. My thought was that if people who were curious at a distance as to what was happening in this space could walk through the doors, it would warm them up to coming through the doors when we begin hosting services.
During this time, our church was also continuing our weeks of prayer that would happen roughly every-other-month. We've experimented with different prayer nights and have done everything from 24 hour to 24/7 prayer weeks to a full 24/7/4 prayer month. This time, we were having dedicated prayer evenings to major areas happening in our church... PAC Neepawa being a very push for our church.
So we began to have prayer evenings around the church. These nights were attended by our small congregation in Neepawa that were meeting in my house each week as well as a lot of really caring people from Portage who God was really giving them a heart for a town 100km away.
We put up static cling white boards around the building and broke up into groups to pray through different areas of the church. These nights were really awesome and full of hope, optimism and excitement about what will happen through this building.
It was during these times where we believe that God had given us some specific things to pray about for our church, but for the most part, we were praying for things in a vacuum; we really had no idea what things were going to be like.
So if someone had to connect with me and meet me somewhere, I would always suggest the church building and then insist that they had a peek at what was happening.
Because of the unique dynamic that we were facing:
We had them come in and have a look around the building and tried to keep them abreast with the progress that we were making. You have a peek at the stories that they ran here:
PAC Neepawa Donates to the Roxy
PAC Settling into new home in Neepawa
PAC Neepawa Looking Ahead to its Grand Opening
PAC Neepawa Opens Its Doors
We also ran a Facebook Ad campaign that definitely generated traffic and conversation on-and-offline. The promoted video was of me driving down the main street of the town trying to answer the question, "Why would Neepawa [or anywhere else] need another church?" Have a look
This video had a variety of responses:
"Well at least God was mentioned once. Christ = zero. I like a Christ-centred church."
"i liked what he had to say about the curious, church is not a socal club that just meets once a week on a sunday."
"That's illegal to be driving and filming yourself ain't it? Hope cops don't see this n give you a fine"
and my favourite: "Just a thought, next time you make a video don't do it while driving down our towns Main Street compromising the safety of the people in our community!"
If I wanted to get people talking... I at least succeeded in doing that. But the big questioned remained: would any of this publicity actually translate into people showing up when we opened our doors???
Let's do this!.... but will anyone actually Show Up?
It had been a long time since I was this nervous.
Hours and hours of work have been poured into getting the building ready to go. I had put blood, sweat and tears into the whole process of getting a building ready for church services, had invested into local communities as best as I could, and did my best to get the word out about a church opening up in town.
I had no idea what it was opening day was going to be like. I knew that some people were going to be there - even just for curiosity's sake - but what would the reception be like? Would another church actually be wanted, attended or welcome into a small town?
You can read all you want about what it is like to launch a new church plant, but until you are actually ready to launch and put into that situation, you can never really appreciate all the different emotions that go through heart and head.
On launch day, I had been commuting to Neepawa for a year and been involved in the local MJHL Junior A hockey club, Neepawa Natives as a chaplain for the last part of the season, had refereed a few high school basketball tournaments, and been playing in the local mens Filipino Basketball League with a team put together from Portage la Prairie. Our family had made the move to Neepawa earlier in the year and our children were in school making some friends - so we weren't really strangers to the town... but we were definitely new.
People new that our family had moved here to start a church - it came up in every conversation:
"So, what brings you to Neepawa?"
"I'm a pastor and we're launching a new church in town."
"Oh..." [silence] "So, nice weather we're having..."
But we decided it would be good to run a social media campaign to help raise awareness about what kind of church was coming to town. We started with a Family Movie Night at the local, historic, community owned, Roxy Theatre.
We paid for everyone's movie tickets to come out and take in Disney Pixar's, Inside Out. We promoted it through Facebook, and had the theatre also promote it through their channels. The results were AMAZING and totally took the community by surprise!
The lineup for the movie began at 7:15 - 45 minutes before showtime! The Roxy hadn't had to open up the balcony for a movie in a long time and were really expecting to open it up this night either. That changed when at 7:40, the lower level was full and the lineup was still along the sidewalk!
We ended up opening the balcony and, unfortunately, having to begin turing people away because there were zero seats available. While a sold-out movie is nothing new in a city, a packed house is more of a rarity in a rural community.
When we were organizing this event, we wanted to help raise awareness of our church in the community, but really wanted to bless families in the town with no strings attached.
Our volunteers wore PAC Neepawa shirts that had our logo on the front and "We are #forNeepawa" on the back, but we made the ver conscious decision NOT to say anything at the showing.
Whenever a church holds an event, there is a nagging sense that something must be said that lets people know about church or Jesus. Internally, I had to fight against this. I mean, I had 240 people there as a captive audience - I could tell them about how PAC is for families and that's why we're hosting a family movie. I could tell them about how our church is a place that is welcoming to people interested in spirituality but who might not be religious. Or about how "different" we are.
Instead, we chose not to say or do anything. We wanted this night to be a blessing for a family, not a commercial for our church under the guise of blessing families.
When talking with some people who have since attended our church, I've asked them, "how did you hear about PAC" and some of their responses are that they attended the Family Movie Night.
What has been really neat to see is that since our covering the cost of a movie at the Roxy, there have been two other businesses that have done the same for other movies throughout the past year. I don't know if this was done before us, but it seems to have created a ripple effect where the town is being made better by other people following in our example - and THAT is absolutely part of our mission - make the town better.
Part two will continue our journey to launch day...
I remember Andy Stanley saying something along the lines of, "The reason church planting is so en vogue is that no one wants to solve other people's problems; they want to create their own problems."
Honestly, I think that he's onto something! We launched PAC Neepawa on October 18, 2015 and I've felt privileged to be in a situation where I'm not inheriting other people's problems, programs, traditions or any of 'we've always done it that way' talk.
It is very freeing to be able to start fresh, cast vision and be able to say 'no' to things because, well, you want to and aren't obligated to because of tradition or history.
It's also a bit terrifying because I'm realizing that any problems that do arise in the church as we grow is really the fault of the strengths and weaknesses as a leader. It's kinda like Dr. Henry Cloud says, in his book, Boundaries for Leaders, I am "ridiculously in charge."
This means, for better or worse, I am either creating a culture or allowing a culture to take place in the church. Even more so when the church is new and we're establishing the "feel" of the place and continuing to vision cast on a weekly basis.
One of the problems that we decided to create (and now have to solve) is what it means for community to form in our congregation.
We chose "launch" approach when starting the church; we'd open the doors to people with a Sunday service that feel like a healthy, established church. It would have ushers and greeters, strong kids ministry team, a healthy and vibrant worship music ministry, and a building that was in tip-top shape.
This was a decision that felt would allow our church to launch out of the gate instead of slowly grow year by year like many other church plants have done. We wanted people to be able to come to a church that was functional, healthy and vibrant in all the areas without having to wait for ministries to get off the ground.
You'd see the opposite approach taken where a church plant would start in someone's home until they outgrew it. Then they'd move to increasingly larger spaces as their numbers grew. The music might be lead by the pastor who also preaches, and who is required to do something for the kids too. Eventually, the church plant reaches critical mass and a larger or more permanent facility is required at which time it would have different ministry teams and departments.
We wanted to start things at the later stages of a 'traditional' church plant. In doing so, we inadvertently created a different problem to solve: we had a building, ministry teams and a Sunday service but lacked the vibrant community that a more traditional church plant would have when they would be at the same stage that we wanted to start at.
Our first service was a full one - 80 adults and 22 children. While the place was buzzing with anticipation and people were excited, the energy in the auditorium was virtually non-existent. Everyone who was there had no idea how to act, what was expected of them, if they were actually welcome, and if they were to sing, listen, sit or stand.
I got on stage and felt all the energy get sucked away by the woodenness and uncertainty of the people in attendance. We're now 4 months down the road, and the 'feel' in the building is moving from "that's a cool place to check out," to "this is my church." It's warmer, more welcoming and feeling like home.
Admittedly, this transition is much slower than I had anticipated and hoped for. But it reinforces that relationships take time. People want to know if you're trustworthy. If you'll do what you say you'll do. And they will give you lots of space to prove it.
Every church is creating their own problems - you just have to be aware that you're actually doing it and then address it accordingly. You are, after all, ridiculously in charge.
Well, now that I have my DNS and domain settings all figured out, I am able to update this site with what has been happening over the past 3-4 months as we launched our first church plant/multisite in rural Manitoba.
A LOT has happened in this time and I have a lot of notes that I've taken throughout the journey to get to this point. Our attendance hovers around 55-65 people each week, community has been building and more people are finding health and Jesus here.
The weird part is, whenever I sit down to document our journey, I'm faced with a growing sense of "I have no idea what I'm talking about."
It's not that I haven't learned anything; I have. It's not that I haven't grown and picked up some tips/tricks along the way; I've also done that. It's not that we don't have a plan, can't execute it, or can't make progress; We do and, we are. It's just that I feel less qualified to be any kind of authoritative voice as I continually walk into new and uncharted territory.
Some of my previous posts have been from written from the vacuum of theory, and as such, you can be quite sure of yourself when you don't actually have to walk out the theory you're proposing.
I'm also realizing that the stories I tell here reflect real people, real lives, real hurt, real healing. To tell some of their stories feels like a bit of betrayal of their trust because there just isn't enough distance between now and their story that I want to tell.
I also don't think that we've walked far enough on this journey to say with any certainty on what is working and what isn't in many different areas.
So as such, I sometimes sit down to type and I feel like I know less and less. I'm learning more and more, but that is only putting into perspective all that I still don't know.
Who knows, maybe I'm actually maturing and don't feel like I need to pretend like I actually know more than I do.
Due to some of my ignorance with domains, DNS, and other web-type stuff, I had some issues with having staffordgreer.com operational. It looks like things have all gotten all straightened out and I'll be able to update some of what has happened in the first 3 months of doing this rural-multisite thing!
We are on the home stretch! After what has seemed like eternity, we are only 9 days away from our Grand Opening service of our first Rural Church Plant/Multisite venture!
So much planning has happened in a vacuum - not knowing if any idea we've come up with would actually work - and now we are THIS close to finding out what will work smashingly, what will need tweaking and what will fall flat.
Looking back, there are many things that we will do differently with our next church plant/launch - that's another blog post - but it is amazing to see God's hand in getting us this far to begin with.
You don't have to try and convince me about the fact that a church is not a building. I totally believe that. However, there is something to be said for the importance of a building for the church to gather in. We found that importance in our community - in which we were 'outsiders' coming in. By purchasing and renovating a building, we have shown our new community that we are serious about being here. We aren't a 'parachute church' (one that drops in just for services but never is invested in the community it is trying to reach), and we've shown that by the long-term investment into real estate and local trades who have worked in our building.
Also, in our culture, and perhaps more pronounced in more rural communities, a church building and service is still the largest door in which people will find their way into a faith community. Having a building like ours, allows us to have that permanent presence as well as providing the community with another building that can be used for many different functions.
It just might be that through a community function in our space (intentionally made multi-purpose for this reason), that the barriers between attending a church service might get knocked down a bit. For those inside the church, we can forget just how ominous and daunting entering a church can be for those who don't attend one regularly... or at all!
We've now had a "technical run through" of a service - a closed door service where as a team, we walked through all the elements of a regular service, but pausing to answer questions, jot down notes and do general troubleshooting of any technical issues.
This service has hopefully set us up well to do a 'soft launch' of a service on October 11. Again, it will be an unadvertised service where our teams will again have a chance to work out a lot of technical glitches that we just couldn't really address until we were actually doing a service.
The first Sunday was similar to when you first move out of your parents' house and realize that you don't have any of the utensils to make yourself a meal. All the small things you had before, and took for granted that they were there, aren't there in a new place. For us that was things like signs, pens, binders, clipboards, coffee cups, water cooler, mops, HDMI cables. You can't just go and grab an extra one like you can in an established building.
We also found that we had to up our communication game between the two campuses. It's not like we were slacking off or not caring, but there are questions you need to ask that you had no idea you needed to ask before. Things like a program. We THOUGHT our program would only need slight tweaking, but soon realized that so much of it was location-specific to Portage. Also things like announcements, church events, emails, who's leading volunteer teams, etc., all need to be answered.
We're answering them now, but it might be a bumpy ride before we're functioning well in these areas.
We've been faithful in the planting and watering of the seeds God has given us, and now we've got to let God be the one who brings growth to it.
And we believe he's going to do it in unbelievable ways.
I am a pastor in rural Manitoba that is passionate about the church, leadership, coffee and bicycles.