On May 24, 2009, First Baptist Church of Fontana, CA voted to call me as their Senior Pastor. This was truly a historic day! On the weekend that the church was celebrating it’s 64th birthday, I became the youngest pastor (35) in the church’s history. I was also the first minority pastor and the first pastor of the church who surrendered His life to Jesus in that church, 15 years earlier. At the time, there was an offer on the table to purchase the church property and with that, the possibility of a merger with one of the church’s plants, Northwinds Church. This partnership would set us up for effective ministry in the quickly expanding north part of our city. Two months later, First Baptist Church of Fontana and Northwinds Church were married, and the two became one, CrossPointe Church.
This coming weekend, CrossPointe Church will celebrate its 10th Anniversary! And as we approach the day of celebration, it has caused me to look back at the past 10 years and all that God has done in the church and in me personally. (For more on what God has done in the church over the past 10 years, you may want to show up Sunday, August 4th at 10:30 a.m. The purpose of this blog is my own reflections on what God is doing and has done in me.) So, over the course of this week, I will post a series of 10 Lessons from 10 Years at CrossPointe. Some of these were new lessons, and some were old, but firmly reinforced for me over the 10 years. I’ve got 6 days to get them all in! So, let’s get started with the first one.
Lesson #1: The church is a “Who,” not a “What.”
I’m not exactly sure why God chose to put my first pastorate, a church merger, and a church relocation all on my plate at the same time, but that’s exactly what He did. It’s well-known that change can be difficult to handle, and a lot of change (new pastor, new name, new government, new style, new location, new people, etc.) can be chaotic and scary. But that’s exactly what we did! Yes, it was chaotic and scary! For some of us, it was exhilarating, full of excitement at every turn, like your first time on a roller coaster. (You don’t know if you should be laughing or crying. You can’t tell which way is up or whether you’ll survive the experience, but when you get off, you immediately want to do it again!) And for others, let’s just say it wasn’t as fun.
What I discovered is that a lot of the discomfort was centered around selling the property. The church originally moved into the present buildings in 1965, and they were renovated and expanded upon in the late 80s. Many of our members were around from that time, and they had an intimate connection with the property. Many came to know the Lord there. They were baptized in the baptistery. Their children learned about Jesus in the nursery, grew up and even got married there. (“They” includes me.) A lot of memories. A lot of literal blood, sweat and tears shed on that property. Intimate connection. So, when we decided to sell the property, for many, it translated to “we are selling the church.” That’s a tough blow when you are so intimately connected.
Here’s where Lesson #1 came into play. 1 Peter 2:4-5 gave me the understanding of the church that I needed so that I could help others understand what God was doing with us. Peter wrote, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The church is not made of brick and mortar. It’s not concrete and steel. It isn’t walls and carpet, pews and pulpits. The church is made up of “living stones that are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood and offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.” We, the people, are the church, not the building we meet in! On Sunday mornings, we don’t go to the house of God, we come together as the house of God! The church is a “Who” not a “What!” You can’t burn it down. It doesn’t have an address, and you certainly can’t sell it.
Once I learned this lesson, it became my mantra for a while as CrossPointe needed to hear that they were the church, not the big, white building on the corner. We were the church in the 20 years the church existed before moving to this property, and will continue to be the church when meeting somewhere else. Our “Who” would still carry out the purposes of the church no matter the “What” we met in on Sundays. I believe the message has come through clearly…for the most part. 10 years later, we have sold the property and purchased new land. We will build a new facility to meet in, a base of operations in North Fontana. I still hear people refer to it as building a “new church.” I quickly remind them the church is a “Who” not a “What!” That’s me, you, all of us who follow Jesus. We are the church!