Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pastor Leaves His Church

This is a story I found entitled, "Pastor Leaves His Church."

From the Associated Press –
Hiam Shatir may look like your average pastor, but he’s not acting like one. In a nation filled with expensive mega-church buildings popping up, Hiam instead chose to sell his mega-church, Crestview Community Church, and attempt to live into what he says is the call to “be the church.” And although many doubt him, Hiam just knew it was the right move to make.

“We just felt it was the right thing to do,” said Hiam, a businessman turned pastor, from his converted basement where he now administrates the church. “We couldn’t put our foot on the problem. People were sitting in the pews and not doing anything. They would come and sit and leave. And we began to ask if this is the Gospel.”

Crestview was known for its amazing stage productions, heartfelt contemporary worship, and relevant sermon topics often based on current events and pop culture. It quickly grew in numbers—adding two satellite “video campuses” and a recently launched online church campus—and was cited as one of the fastest growing churches in the nation. “Having someone validate what we were doing like that was really cool at first. We were really good at creating the ‘Wow’ factor that would have them wanting more,” Hiam says in reflection. “But I would go home exhausted and consistently wonder what difference we were making. I didn’t like that. And I just reached a point where I couldn’t do it anymore.”

In what many would consider a stunning move for a 8,000-member mega-church, Hiam and the board of elders chose to sell their recently developed $12 million dollar campus to a local technology company, which is now planning to convert the sanctuary into a manufacturing facility. “Selling the building was easier than we thought,” one elder stated.
So what made this ultra-successful pastor of one of the city’s largest suburban communities take such a radical step? Hiam shared that it was faith. “One day I walked into the main sanctuary, and it was empty. It was this huge building that we were paying a mortgage on and it was dark. I just had this sense of wonder if this is really what Jesus would do. Would he have created this building? And then when the economy took a downturn, paying the mortgage became our primary concern. But everyone was hurting. We had to let people go from their jobs. All of a sudden paying the bills became our primary motivation.”

Hiam shared that his messages became motivated by how much those people could give to the church rather than the Gospel. And then a moment of clarity hit me. “I was standing there on a Sunday and, right in the middle of my sermon, I just stopped. I looked around and just realized that, if we let go of this burden, everything would change. It was at that time I started to really question our intentions. At the same time, some really good people asked if we were living ‘missionally.’ Were we really releasing people to minister to their neighbor? I didn’t have a good answer to that question.”

Hiam began to doubt his own faith and purpose. “It was a dark time. More than once I told my wife I wanted to quit and go back to business,” Hiam said. “I felt like I was losing my soul. But the board of elders stuck with me, and they began to ask how we could begin to use money to solve real needs when we saw them. We suddenly realized we had the power to release people to be ‘missional.’”

Hiam wrestled with the decision over a six-month period. He knew that letting go of the building meant doing things in a completely different way. “The show would be gone, and, in some ways, that was hard for my ego to let go. It essentially meant trusting God to work in the people and not being everything to everybody. It was like we had new glasses on. We quickly realized that, before, a small majority of people were doing almost everything. They were burned out and completely exhausted. Now everyone has responsibility and purpose. So many people came to me, thanking me,” Hiam said.

When the building was sold, many felt lost in the transition. “We immediately lost about 30% of the people who attended our church,” Hiam shared. That number roughly translates to almost a thousand people. “Everyone called me and told me they just wanted a place to go on Sunday. They didn’t want to go out into the world. People’s primary concern was the loss of our children’s program.”

In talking with several families that had left, one woman expressed what has become a common refrain of ex-Crestview members, “Who will teach our children about Jesus? We just felt we needed a good children’s program and didn’t want to lose that.”
Life for Hiam and the church is now more complex but, he says, more rewarding. To accommodate the lack of facilities, Hiam took the radical step and converted his basement into an administration center. “We slimmed down everything and focused on following Jesus into mission. We asked what it would mean to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. We now meet once a month for a large gathering and meal, and put all of our focus on meeting in homes. It meant really getting serious about discipleship and putting our trust into the hands of our gifted leaders.”

Once a regular speaker at evangelical conferences on topics such as leadership and church growth, Hiam says the invitations to speak have all but dried up. The shift has allowed Hiam to focus almost exclusively on meeting with leaders. He now meets almost daily with those who run discipleship groups in their homes. One leader, Bill Jarvis, liked the transition, “For the first time, I feel like I am understanding what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Go and make disciples.’ And I like it.”

The lack of mortgage has allowed the church community to give almost 80% of their tithe away. “We’re now seeing people take initiative where they wouldn’t before. We’ve empowered them to be Jesus right where they’re at. And they like it. One part of the community is using their money to help single mothers get through college. Another group has renovated an old warehouse and turned it into a community art complex. A third group builds fresh water wells for third world countries almost every month.”

Hiam is now more aware of his impact on the community and can’t imagine going back. “Someone just yesterday came up to me and said, ‘I don’t have to drive to the church to feel like a Christian anymore. I just have to go out my front door.’ That right there told me we made the right decision.”

This is a work of satire. We hope it causes some reflection and sparks some good discussion about how we steward the church in the midst of this economic crisis.

What do you think of this "story"?


Anonymous said...

That is just cool.

I've just recently become part of a church that has a building here in Texas (my sponsoring congregation).

From 2005 to 2008, my family was part of a church that met in a coffee shop.

One nice thing about our situation in San Francisco is that the building there is already paid off.

James said...

Wes, you are fortunate to be in a church whose building is paid for. I pray that God touches the church across the world to be especially generous as we face an economic downturn.

Barry E. Winders said...


This is a most interesting story with huge missional challenges.

The church is not a place we go to but it is anywhere we go to make a difference by showing the love of Christ.


James said...

HI Barry. Great to hear from you! It is true that the church is not a place, but a people on mission.