I can’t believe I am in my fourth year as the lead pastor for the church where I serve… It has been an amazing journey but crazy difficult too. I look in the mirror and I see more grey hairs than I use to, a few more wrinkles, and a lot more age than just four years should have been able to bring… But I think about it – and I wouldn’t give any of it back for anything.
I met with someone yesterday that I believe will become a good friend… I felt an immediate bond with him and we talked for a long time (actually he just mostly listened now that I think about how much I talked). I told him about the journey over these last few years and after I had finished – he said…”Whoa. Have you written all of that down anywhere?” I guess it’s one of those things that though I have run through it millions of times in my head… I hadn’t actually written it all out at any point. I don’t think I will do that today but I think I am going to write about all of it very soon…
Basically what I see when I look back over these past several years pointing to more than anything is – faith… or sometimes, my lack thereof.
As someone who came into ministry through a very circuitous route – I have almost equal experience in the “business world” as I do in ministry. I was in marketing and advertising for almost 10 years before going into ministry where I have been the last 13 years. Through a lot of my time in ministry, I struggled with laying down measures of success that I had used in my secular life. I spent far too much time trying to equate success as being based on results – i.e. numbers in: attendance, conversion, giving, etc – vs measuring success purely based on whether I was pursuing what God has called me to do – i.e.
tell people … no… show people who He is through His Son.
One of the things that seriously tested my faith is one that I am most ashamed to admit… In the process of becoming the new lead pastor for Eastside… I saw the attendance drop from around 1,000 to under 400 people. It’s embarrassing to me, not that the church numbers reduced, but that I let my ego and my pride rule over me for so long in that process of reduction in our church. I failed to trust in God that there could be anything good that came from the loss of attendance, loss of giving. I failed to lean on Him for understanding, confidence and comfort. And it was a process I had to work through to get to a place where the words that came out of my mouth – matched what I really felt inside. What I said for a long time was that “I didn’t care about the numbers.” What I felt inside though was rejected. I like to be liked and people leaving meant I was not liked… It was also painful that I knew there were people who relished my “failure.” They took joy in knowing I was hurting. I had some anonymous emails and letters – and even some direct one on one conversations with a few – to prove it… and I clung to their words in bitterness and self pity.
For me, I had to go through a long painful process of letting go of ego and learning to trust completely in God. I read the story of Gideon a whole lot of times… I studied that a lot actually. The interesting thing to me, now looking back, was that my bruised ego didn’t begin to heal because numbers started to climb… I got over the ego problem while we were still declining in numbers! Through a lot of conversations with close friends and conversations with my wife and even many more silent conversations with God – I felt something inside finally let go of the hold it had on me and I finally started feeling my true thoughts match my words. The interesting thing was how for nearly a year after that happened – we still declined. And I was happier than I had ever been… and then the craziest thing began to happen… We began to grow. And today we are back to the numbers of where this journey started… and we are a healthy, vibrant, loving community of around a thousand Jesus Followers… and we have steadily re-grown without advertisements, without million dollar budgets, without a lot of bells and whistles. We have grown because the Spirit is alive and well in our church and people experience it when they walk through the doors. And we live in our budget, we do more in our community and we have more peace as a staff and eldership than any of us can even believe.
I have been asked many times why this blog is called An Unlikely Pastor… I always say the same thing. “Look at me.” Long hair, long beard, punk rock tee shirts … which in itself could probably be enough of a reason – but it’s actually much more than that… The unlikely part is because I never intended, never imagined, that I would ever be in ministry… Let alone pastoring a church. If you could tell the 21 year old version of myself who wanted nothing to do with God that one day I would be a pastor – I would have fallen down laughing. And yet here I am. And I love it more than I can even explain. Even through the hard times. I love it.
I also tell people the unlikely part for me is because I think “I am the worst person I know.” How could God ever use me? Why would He? And then I always remember who Jesus spent most of his time with, who He called to be His representation on Earth after He left… thieves, prostitutes, adulterers, liars, and the broken.
As a card holding member of the broken, I desire to be more than I should be able to be… Not because of anything I am able to do… but because of who He is… For example the God described so brilliantly in Psalm 33:4-6 – ” For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” Faithful. Righteous. Just. Loving. Star Breathing Creator of Heaven and Earth. That’s as good a description as you’ll find for the foundation of my faith in the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
I can’t wait to see what’s next. I can’t wait to see how our church responds each and every day to His calling on us. I can’t wait to hear the stories that come from the amazing things He is yet to do in our church and our community.
Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.