In 2002, after a near-fatal heart attack, megachurch pastor Walt Kallestad began to look for a successor for his 12,000 member church. As he consulted other pastors, he was surprised by what he heard:
It was in Washington DC that I felt the ground shaking all around me. “Why would anyone want your church?” a pastor there responded. “Anyone who is serious about ministry today does not want to be stuck raising money for maintaining buildings and mortgages. They want to be on the cutting edge making a difference.” As hard as it was to hear, I knew what he had just said was right. (The Passionate Church, p.23)
The church had grown to the point where they spent as much on landscaping as they had on the entire church budget in the early years.
Kallestad also realized that things were not well at the church. Although outwardly successful, something was missing at the core:
In the yearlong leave of absence from his duties at CCOJ, Kallestad found himself reflecting on the spiritual emptiness he was experiencing, and the growing realization that the megachurch he had helped to create was “missing the mark” in transforming people into disciples of Christ. CCOJ attracted a lot of people, but was there much real spiritual growth happening?
…Kallestad slowly become certain that the church-growth methods he knew, wrote about in his doctorate, and used to build a megachurch, weren’t working anymore – not even cutting-edge methods of entertainment evangelism…”In my spirit, I knew that old principles and practices, including those for seekers, weren’t working anymore. I was dying inside.” (Rev Magazine, May/June 2005)
The Passionate Church describes what’s happened next. Kallestad discovered a church (Baptist and Anglican!) in the United Kingdom that was reaching people, especially in their 20s and 30s, building authentic community, and transforming the area where they lived. He visited, and Mike Breen, the rector and team leader of that church, ended up joining the team at Kallestad’s church.
Kallestad admits that several people (including long-term leaders) of CCOJ have wondered whether he’s “gone off the deep end” with a midlife crisis brought on by a severe heart attack. When asked that question directly, he smiled and said, “Yes, I have gone off the deep end – I’ve gone deeper into God than ever before. God didn’t cause my heart attack, but God had to reshape my heart, my vision, to do a new thing in my life and at this church. Since we opened our new campus in 1998, fewer people in our area are now going to ours or any other church. How does it profit one to build a great church, but lose the community?” (Rev Magazine)
I met with a pastor last week who, like me, has wrestled with the building and program expectations of maintaining churches. This isn’t a new struggle; Eugene Peterson was writing about this decades ago.
It’s exciting to see new churches form with a missional focus at the core. It’s also exciting (to me, at least) to see pastors of existing churches go off the “deep end” and move away from maintenance to mission. May their tribe increase.