By Stan Friedman
ROSEMONT, IL (February 3, 2011) – Ray Johnston exhorted ministers at the Midwinter Conference on Tuesday night to give more attention to living with hope, because they and the rest of the world are in desperate need of it.
People coming to his church couldn’t care less about the church, worship services, or sermons, said the pastor of Bayside Church in Granite Bay, California, one of the largest congregations in the Evangelical Covenant Church. “They want to be infused with hope.”
The Christian church is the best place to find hope, he said, explaining that “When the Christian church is living in God-honoring ways, there is no more powerful force on earth than the Christian church.”
He mixed pathos with humor as he spoke to the gathering at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. He recounted the powerful ways in which the church had transformed his life from an unbelieving teenager raised in an unbelieving family with a long history of failed marriages to being a minister who has been married to his wife, Carol, for 27 years and has four children eager to serve God. None of those would be possible without the ongoing support of the broader church.
“I love the Christian church,” he said, adding that he knew it was a “politically incorrect” statement. That love was why he had not come to criticize – as is popular, in the church as well as the rest of society – but to encourage.
He said that to be the transforming power in individuals and the world, “There’s just some stuff we’ve got to get right.”
At the top of his list was to offer and experience hope. The church does great in addressing issues of faith and love, but hope is too often given short shrift, said Johnston, as he expounded on 1 Corinthians 13:13.
The church and ministers must be “absolutely shattered by hope,” he declared.
In addition to serving as a pastor, Johnston is president of Thriving Churches International, a conference that draws 3,000 church leaders, and he speaks frequently on leadership. Johnston said, “The single most important thing I do is stay encouraged.”
So many pastors are faithful and yet discouraged because no one ever talks about hope. He offered a special encouragement to ministers in small churches, because so much focus is on larger congregations. Having once been a youth pastor serving a church of less than 100 people, he noted that those congregations have the power to change the world through those they impact.
Johnston went on to say he had noticed that the spiritual health of his congregation tracked with his own encouragement level. If pastors are to keep encouraged and better serve their churches, they will need to take several essential steps:
- Keep their batteries charged – “Outside circumstances can’t crush inner strength.”
- Keep their hearts soft – it is more important than preaching, teaching, and other pastoral duties.
- Keep close to his family – pastors are encouraged in proportion to the closeness they have with their families.
- Have a support system – “Gang tackle critics,” never facing them alone. “Never again will I let anybody beat me up one on one, two on one, or whatever.”
- Never say it’s too late – Scripture never says it is too late to change a situation.
In addition to being encouraged, congregations and ministers must see “more God stuff going on.” Don’t hesitate to answer God’s call because you don’t feel you have the resources.”
Third, “We need a passion for people who are far away from God,” Johnston said. He acknowledged, “The church is a lot messier when you have a lot of unsaved people hanging around.”
Dry eyes were scarce in the ballroom when a Bayside member shared how he had once considered abandoning his family so he could more easily continue running with the likes of Mark Cuban, Charles Barkley and other notables. After detailing the series of events that led to his transformation, the member recalled finding a sticky note placed on his computer that said, “Daddy, I love you so much. You keep praying and God will provide.”
Choking up, the member said, “Having God speak to me through a child I was going to abandon – there’s nothing more luxurious, or beautiful or powerful than what I experienced in my entire life.”
Johnston then shared how he repeatedly and adamantly rejected the suggestions from others to plant Bayside because he was too scared, that is until he heard God speaking to him through Acts 18 while at a Midwinter Conference. He hoped that the ministers would have a similar experience.
“Sometimes it’s scarier to choose to live with hope,” Johnston said. He added, however, “If God is calling you to do something, to serve somewhere, to risk something, and you’re a little afraid to do it, on the basis of God’s word, I just want to say, do not be afraid. Go for it.”