Lately, I have been asked many questions about my calling and the calling of Sandals Church. Why is it necessary to have so many new campuses? Is Sandals following Christ or building an empire? Can you really be an effective pastor in a mega church? These questions have caused me to examine my own calling and to reflect on my dad, who is no longer with us.
My dad was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Motor City, with that came a love for the Tigers’ baseball team, Lions’ football and of course, automobiles. You might say they were his calling. It was a little piece of who he was and it identified him from the crowd. He passed his passion for automobiles down to me and he passed his love for Lions’ football down to all of his grandsons but his passion for Tiger’s baseball, he failed to pass that one down.
My dad’s callings, for those of us who were close to him, gave us fond memories of who he was, even if we didn’t personally adopt his same passions. His faith calling was also memorable. He was humble, steady, soft-spoken, and seldom, if ever, wavered. He coined a phrase that our family and friends still talk about today, when he said, “I’d rather be a janitor in heaven than a king in hell.” This spoke to his humility in the way that he lived out his life.
Churches are like my dad when it comes to callings. Some are called to serve the masses and others are called to serve the few. Some are called to make a lot of noise and others are called to quietly influence. We won’t always be influenced by the callings of others and many of our callings are different but if we have the same mission we will inevitably take on some of the same callings. But even when we disagree and take on different callings and convictions we can still hold each other in highest regard and respect. I’m not exactly a Tigers fan but I do have a soft spot for them in my heart because of my dad. Churches, like people, are gifted by Christ for different but necessary functions. A body with many parts is fit together for a common purpose. “There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” 1 Corinthians 12:5,6 (NLT).
Christ made it clear that he wants us to follow our calling and not worry about the calling of others. Yes, even as a local church, a unique body of believers joined together, we are to follow our own calling. He rebuked Peter, for questioning the calling of his fellow disciple; Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” John 21:22 (NLT). There is a reason why God did not provide us with a manual of church operations. The handbook given to us (The Bible) provides instruction on commissioning, leadership qualifications, and orthodoxy in the Gospel of Christ, but as far as the local church goes we are missing formal direction on: Size, location, buildings, service times, days of the week, outreach strategy, discipleship strategy, music, government, one campus or multiple campuses and even money management. But why are we left to fend for ourselves on so many things? Because, the good news of Christ is what our unity is to be built on and not on religious traditions.
The Apostle Paul said, “…Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (NLT). The methods can change with the audience. Our calling may be a calling shared by others or it may be a calling that we go alone, but what difference does it make if we are, in fact, unified by the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We are the church! We are not creating the church! The same Apostle also said, about his critics, “But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.” Philippians 1:18 (NLT). Our call for launching new churches, winning and building people for Christ will, no doubt, be criticized, but If you are not being criticized you are, likely, not doing anything. I have already personally witnessed lives influenced for Christ in ways that would not have occurred without the launching of a new campus in Banning.
My personal calling and journey as a pastor at Sandals Church is anything but typical. I am holding the hand of Jesus and I see lives being changed where my calling meets the calling of Sandals Church. The struggling church in Banning where our Banning Campus is now located was days away from closing its doors. The small congregation had three choices: Become a real- estate investment for some denomination or corporation, start over with a new commitment to church planting or surrender control to Sandals and pray that God would rejuvenate their work in His Kingdom. They chose to honor God by accepting the final choice. Sandals chose to honor God by taking on the risk of rejuvenating the old and planting anew. A new church where people could gather together in Christ’s name and be real. Some churches in similar circumstances choose differently. I know of a pastor that rejected the other options and chose for his failing church to become an investment for someone else, all for a guaranteed salary that had nothing to do with God’s Kingdom work. While a guaranteed salary is nice to have, I am pretty sure that God’s calling for us does not always include uninterrupted financial security.
Is our calling at Sandals Church, to grow and build new campuses, God honoring and valid? Yes! I believe it is. It takes the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world around us in a creative yet responsible way. Is our calling a calling for all churches? No! We may inspire some while possibly discouraging others, but discouragement comes by focusing our attention on others when we should be focusing on Christ. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT). We are instructed to run the race, set before us, not by focusing our attention on the other runners but by keeping our eyes on Jesus.
I am privileged to be a small part of what Sandals is trying to accomplish for God’s Kingdom. Hopefully, many people will be touched by the Lord in His Banning Church. Expanding and growing is always a risk in this financially driven world but it is a risk worth taking when it comes to following Christ and reaching out to others. My prayer for Sandals Church: May we be cheerleaders for our critics who take Jesus to the world and may we follow Christ in our calling to be what He has called us to be!
Reflect on this…
Take a moment to prayerfully examine your heart as you read this. What stirred in you from Pastor Gary’s message?
It’s easy for churches to become competitive with one another. This is one of the prime ways the Enemy tries to seek, kill, and destroy God’s advancing kingdom. Are there any whispers of pride or dissent that have found their way into your heart? If so, bring the work of the cross over this area in your heart.
David Benner, psychologist, author and teacher, says that the primary calling of every Christian is to show the face of Christ to our world. In what ways can you participate in introducing Jesus to someone during this weekend’s services?