By Ronald E. Keener
If Pete Wilson were to preach about the Great Flood, his parishioners at Cross Point Church in Nashville might be excused if they began to think locally rather than biblically. The rains and subsequent flooding that came to that city in May were unexpected and persistent.
By Ronald E. Keener
“Sunday morning is when it got serious,” Wilson, 36, shared when asked when matters got desperate and it became apparent it wasn’t the usual downpour. “I got to work and started hearing reports of rising water in neighborhoods. We got a report that our setup team and staff for our North campus were trapped in the school they meet in, due to a creek flooding over the road. We canceled services but it took some staff, who had arrived, hours to get home and several of them were not able to get back home for days.”
The megachurch has four campuses and 3,000 attendees, and they were fine aside from a small bit of flooding in the basement of the Nashville campus. But flood waters came within feet of the Bellevue campus, so it was touch and go for a time.
In what ways were members of your congregation emotionally or physically affected by the flooding?
We had more than 40 families who had major flooding in their homes with several of them loosing their homes all together. It was a very challenging time. What do you say to someone who has all of their memories and possessions sitting in a pile of trash on their front lawn?
How has the church gotten involved in the relief and cleanup efforts?
That Sunday night we started putting our response plan together, including setting up a relief fund for flood victims. On Monday, the day after the flooding, we were in the neighborhoods we could reach by 9:00 am cleaning up. We quickly setup a command central and starting taking assistance requests. We had more than 2,000 volunteers show up the first week we were out there.
We helped clean out more than 400 homes and saved Nashville up to three million dollars by using volunteer labor. It was our chance to truly be “the church.” None of our staff kept office hours that week. We abandoned our computers and desks and took up shovels and hammers. Everyday we were out in the community trying our best to help and give hope to those affected.
Is the flooding an example of the subtitle of your book, Plan B, when it says, “What do you do when God doesn’t show up the way you thought he would?” Does the flooding unintentionally speak to the theme of your book?
It certainly does. The reality is when life doesn’t turn out, the way we want life to turn out, we almost always jump to the conclusion that God has abandoned us. Whether it is a flood that destroys your home, losing a job, or experiencing a miscarriage, life doesn’t always happen the way we dreamed it would. However, the flood reminded us of a central truth that runs throughout the book: God is most powerfully present even when he seems most apparently absent.
He’s saying there will be storms but don’t lose hope. Don’t give in. The cross reminds us that God can take the worst things that happen in this world and bring up complete and total redemption. The cross is where the pain of “in this world you will have trouble” meets the triumph of “I have overcome the world.”
What was it like to pal around with CNN’s Anderson Cooper during the floods?
It was incredible to be able be a part of helping his team put together the episode they did on the Nashville flooding. As you might imagine they are an amazing team of professionals. I’ll never forget sitting on a couple of cardboard boxes with Anderson for dinner over a couple of slices of pizza in the middle of a flood devastated Nashville. We talked about natural disasters, leadership, politics, justice and the church.
Was ministry your Plan B when your desire to be a rock star didn’t materialize; or work at a pharmaceutical firm?
Yeah, I would say so. I gave up on the rock star dream pretty early in life but going into ministry wasn’t really on my radar. A Plan B is when your life doesn’t turn out the way you dreamed it to be and I definitely wasn’t dreaming about being a pastor. However, these days I can’t imagine doing anything else. I feel honored and humbled to be able to serve God in this capacity.
You’re said to be a real devotee of social media. How do you use it for advancing ministry and integrating it into reaching unbelievers?
Using blogs, Facebook and Twitter can be incredible tools for communicating to both people inside the church and outside. People outside our church have little to no interest in browsing our church’s website or reading our newsletters, but for whatever reason, they are intrigued enough to follow me on Twitter.
My primary platform for communication is the pulpit. While it’s a powerful platform that I love, it’s very much a one way kind of deal. Blogs and Twitter allow me to engage in a conversation with people.
Are staff members using it to build their own ministries?:
Yeah, they are. Most of our staff either blogs or are on Twitter. We don’t require it by any means, but I have found that it helps increase awareness and an amazing way to get information out quickly.
Can you speak to the trials of managing a growing church, mentioned in the book, and what those challenges have been?
Well as almost any pastor who reads this knows, being a pastor can be tough. While I love what I do, it’s been one of the greatest challenges of my life. There have been certain seasons where I wanted nothing more than for God to give me an out.
I’ll never forget a particular season several years ago that was quite difficult. At that time I was working with several elders in our church that I felt had unrealistic expectations of me as the pastor of the church. My life was totally out of balance as I was consumed with keeping our growing church on track. It was probably the closest I’ve ever come to burning out. I remember one particular night pulling into my garage and just sitting there in my car and crying. I didn’t even have the energy to walk into my house and I was too embarrassed to tell my wife just how defeated I was.
That was the night I truly feel I surrendered my ministry to God. I remember praying “God I can’t do this anymore.”
How did you handle it?
There’s an interesting misconception Christians often have that God will not give them more than they can handle. The truth is God will often give you more than you can handle. Just read the Bible. Over and over and over again, God allows his children to experience more than they can handle so that they finally surrender and put their trust in him.
The fact is I don’t have control over my life. I never have. The greatest of all illusions is the illusion of control. Ministry difficulties like this are a reminder to me that I need to lean into the only one who has ever had control in the first place.
What are the challenges in the coming year or two for the church, and from a leadership-management point of view, how are you tackling them?
We have several. We’re still trying to figure out this multi-campus stuff. We know it works when it comes to reaching and discipling folks but leading it is still a real challenge for us. We’re working feverishly to develop an organizational structure that is simple and effective.
I also believe we have a leadership challenge. A fast growing church often lacks enough mature leaders. We’re in the process of developing a leadership pipeline that will help us grow and equip our core so we have enough qualified leaders to lead the ministry God continues to allow us to steward.
What are your feelings about one having an older mentor and friend pour his or her life into yours, into the lives of any of us? You spoke of it on your blog.
I’ve been blessed throughout my ministry to have some wonderful mentors. One of the mentors, Jimmy Holt, just passed away at the age of 83. When he first started mentoring me he was 75 and I was 27. For eight years he poured his life lessons into my life.
I think it’s important to be mentored by someone who is at least one generation ahead of you. Regardless of how great a leader, pastor, or communicator you may be, there is a certain wisdom that only comes with time.
I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for the mentors that I had in my life. You cannot fake life experience and listening to the wisdom of someone who has been there before has been a huge influence on my life.
You and your team are studying spiritual formation. Where will that likely lead and how will it affect the congregation and its plan for ministry?
I believe there is a crisis of transformation in the church. People are attending church but I’m not sure they ’re changing. I’m not sure we’re progressively looking more and more like Jesus. I could be wrong but I think we’ll discover that we need to put less emphasis on church programs and more emphasis on spiritual disciplines. I’m afraid we’ve created a generation that has depended on church programs and they’ve hit a wall in their growth because of it. www.crosspoint.tv
“The reality is when life doesn’t turn out the way we want life to turn out, we almost always jump to the conclusion that God has abandoned us.” — Pete Wilson, about his book Plan B. (Thomas Nelson, 2009).