The CE Interview: Ross Parsley | Lead Pastor | ONEchapel | Austin, TX
By Rez Gopez-Sindac
First-time church planter Ross Parsley is building a community of believers on the true foundation of worship — meaning, he says, reaching out to the weak, the unchurched and the disenfranchised and nursing them back to health. “We want to help them to belong,” he adds.
For 18 years, Ross Parsley led worship at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. During that time, people would often ask him if he’d want to be a pastor someday — to which he’d reply, “I know what you mean, but I’m a pastor already. I lead worship by loving and pastoring musicians.”
But, that “someday” did come to pass in 2010, when Parsley planted ONEchapel in Austin, TX. “I became convinced that I could pastor in Austin because I pastored all these weird musicians all these years,” he says with a laugh.
When Parsley started ONEchapel, he had one major goal: “to build a real church.” He did not want a religious corporation or a social organization. He says his desire was to build a group of people who lived their worship outside the church building serving their neighbors and being engaged in the city.
A worshipper at heart, Parsley maintains he’s still leading people to worship; he’s just doing it from a lead pastor chair.
What have you learned about church planting since coming to Austin in 2010?
I think what I’ve learned most of all is how so many people are in need of a place to belong, and how they’re burdened and are struggling with life. And they need a solution; they need an answer. What I’ve seen since I’ve been here is how a church can help people to belong and find peace and joy.
The second lesson I’ve learned is it takes a long time to make disciples. It takes a long time and a lot of consistency to help people in their journey of discovering who Jesus is and how He wants to work in their lives. We want them to get saved and then everything to change, but it’s quite a journey. As a church planter, I’m dealing more than ever with people who are in a long journey. And, frankly, I like it. I think it’s wonderful to watch people grow and realize who Jesus is in their lives and begin to change.
How does your passion and training as a worship leader influence the way you lead as a pastor?
When I led worship, I understood why the pastor wanted me to be done at a certain time so he could get up and share the message he’d been working on all week. I understood that. But now it’s a whole different level of experience. I now understand this sense of needing to get the message out of you because it’s percolating in you all week as you prepare it. So now I understand pastors better. I understand the other side of it. We have a great worship leader, and he’s brilliant, but sometimes when I’m anxious and I’m ready, I look up there and I’m like, “Really, one more song? Really, you had to sing that chorus one more time? It’s done, let’s move on!” I understand that part a lot better now, but I also understand the flip side better. Because I’ve been a worship leader for so long, I’ve so much respect for what the worship pastor does. We don’t have a struggle relating. I understand that he has so many moving parts to what he does; a lot more moving parts than I have in what I do. I’m preparing, and so it’s me and the Scripture and maybe the guy running the projection. But the worship leader deals with so many pieces, so I understand that and I can easily accept a lot of things that happen. I also think that the Lord wants me to lead worship, just from a different chair. I have a profound appreciation for God’s presence and even though I really almost never lead worship now [the way I used to], our church benefits from the blessing of the lead pastor being committed and loving and embracing and leading, from his chair, people into the presence of God.
ONEchapel has grown so fast over the past four years. What are the strategies and values that are working for you?
We place a high value on the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our life-giving worship.
We’re relationally driven — we have a strong emphasis on connect groups, teams and doing life together. We’re mission-focused — we hold a firm commitment to loving people where they are, reaching out to our neighborhoods, and intentionally blessing our community with acts of kindness and compassion.
We work really hard to connect people with a very warm atmosphere, with people who are attentive to their needs, nametags for everyone — obscuring who is new and eliminating the first barrier of meeting someone.
We’re very conversational in our culture, style and ministry methods.
We’re committed to a multigenerational family liturgy — giving form and focus to our worship, which includes both Holy Communion and the Nicene Creed in the context of modern worship music and conversational prayer.
We’ve been consistent with our digital marketing creating a strong Google search and Facebook presence.
You had a core team that left Colorado Springs to help you plant ONEchapel in Austin. How did this impact the growth of your church?
Starting with such a large team of people who’d already “bought in” to relationship with me and to a relationally based ministry model made it so easy to share vision. We weren’t just sharing a ministry vision that didn’t exist; we were sharing a ministry vision that we were currently living out on mission in a new city.
Are all your core families still serving at ONEchapel?
Yes. Almost all of them are still here serving and continuing to create culture. They’ve been an incredible encouragement.
What’s your boldest dream for ONEchapel?
My boldest dream for ONEchapel is that we would become a place of healing and wholeness, changing the spiritual landscape of Austin by seeing thousands come to Christ, and discipling them to be influencers, church planters and missionaries.
On creating a multigenerational church
The church is God’s family — and it can be messy.
This is the message of Ross Parsley, ONEchapel lead pastor, in his book, Messy Church: A Multigenerational Mission for God’s Family (published in 2012 by David C Cook). And just like any family composed of children, parents and grandparents, Parsley says a church family is “a multigenerational group of real people who love each other and care for one another’s needs, no matter how messy.”
When asked how churches can create an environment that welcomes and celebrates people from all generations, Parsley shares the following:
- Embrace a family ecclesiology. The family always moves at the pace of its slowest members, creating a culture of care for the weak, protection for the defenseless and love for the lonely. (Psalm 68:4-6)
- Embrace a blended liturgy. Hillsong and hymns, Holy Communion with Jesus Culture, Creeds to Chris Tomlin. Blended worship doesn’t mean no one will be happy. We need to be rooted in the history of what God has done among His people with room for the mystery of what He’s doing today. (Psalm 71:17-18; Psalm 145:4)
- Embrace a youthful church ethic. Every member must be valued, but it takes no skill or expertise for a church to grow old; it happens automatically. All the work is in growing young. (1Timothy 4:12)
- Embrace an integrated age ethos. What if we took the wisdom, experience and resources of age and combined them with the strength, energy and innovation of youth? What could that church accomplish? (1 Peter 5:1-6)
- Year established: 2010
- Denomination: Nondenominational
- Number of full-time staff: 5
- Yearly budget: $1.2 million
- Number of locations: 1
- Combined weekly attendance: 1,000