“The greatest enemy of a good pastor is a bad pastor.” I remember one of my professors in seminary saying these words one day. He was an old school professor. He wore a suit to class every time we met. He was strict, direct, and he held some deep convictions about some things. When he made the statement above, there was some debate about the theology behind his statement. It seemed far too simplistic in its language. Certainly, you could argue that Satan is the greatest enemy of a good pastor. You could also argue that things like pride, lust, and people pleasing must rank somewhere near the top of the list of enemies. In addition to those debates, surely words like good and bad are too subjective to use in such a broad statement. In his worldview, which was very practical, he wanted to make the point that any time any pastor fails morally, it makes the job tougher for all pastors because of the way moral failure impacts people’s perceptions of pastors. He wanted us to realize that God has called pastors to preach and live with moral purity, to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and to be fully equipped to practice what they preach. He wanted us to take seriously the spiritual authority entrusted to us as pastors because he knew that any time a pastor fails morally, there is a significant ripple effect in the world. He wanted us to be “good” pastors.
I have never forgotten his words. I still think that they are a bit oversimplified but I understand the sentiment and the practicality behind them. As I have read certain headlines recently regarding allegations against pastors, abuses by spiritual leaders and the ripple effects of the pain inflicted in these situations, my heart is burdened. I am praying today for people who have been victimized or abused by people who misrepresented Jesus. I am praying for people in positions of spiritual authority who have misused that authority to victimize others. I am praying for people who have looked at these situations and deduced that God is not worthy of worship and adoration. I am praying for my friends who have started to believe that they can live life to the fullest apart from Christ. I am praying that churches where Jesus is at the center will not shrink back in the face of criticism but instead continue to boldly proclaim and model love and holiness.
I am praying personally for the strength to resist temptation, to be honest in my dealings with people, to be willing to confess my failures when I mess up, and to be about pointing as many people to Jesus as possible before I die. I am praying that I can live in such a way that people grow curious about Jesus rather than reject Christ and the Church. At the end of the day, I still believe that local churches, when working at their best, can be a lighthouse to those who are lost and can be a hospital to those who are hurting and broken. I realize the magnitude of what happens when we get it wrong as churches and pastors. Lord, help us to remember who we are and to whom we belong. I know that I am not a perfect pastor. Help me to be a good pastor who introduces people to Jesus and helps them grow in their faith. ~Pastor Kyle Ray
I grew up believing in God, but strayed away as I got older. I struggled with alcohol, drugs, sexual purity, depression and self-harming. I put all my faith, trust and hope into a bottle as I continually denied Christ. I truly believed that I was unworthy of love and forgiveness. I am thankful that through this time I did not take someone else’s or my own life. I had a choice to change the road I was on or stay in the spot I was at. God and I started again and worked together from the ground up towards my sobriety.
Since I have accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior I have learned to love and forgive myself as Christ loves and forgives me. I have been washed clean of my sins and have started a new life with Christ. Through my baptism I have declared my faith in having been made brand new. I know that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
I was taken from my parents at age two due to neglect and abuse. I spent my life in turmoil, crime and substance abuse. I was angry all the time, aggressive, violent, selfish and empty. I tried hard to fill my emptiness with anything.
For 12 years after being released from spending 20 years in prison I drifted through life empty, dealing with mental health, bipolar and PTSD from years spent in prison. I felt there had to be more to life than just not being in trouble. The key people in my life—my girlfriend, my work owner and the chaplain who worked with our company—exposed me to God and played a major role in my decision to turn to God to fill my emptiness and bring order and sense to my life.
For the first time ever, I feel I am moving “in” life as opposed to “through” it. I have concern for others. I feel my life is no longer controlled by hurt, anger and rage. I have a sense of peace I have never known before. I feel there is a future for me.
I was recently baptized so I could share my new commitment to God with the rest of the world.
Before I started coming to KCC my life had many ups and downs. In fact, when I walked into KCC for the first time, I was homeless—living in my car for over three years. That was a huge hardship, especially because I had no one to turn to and no one to support me, except Jesus.
I’ve always known about Jesus through my grandmother. I loved going to church with her as a little girl but as I got older, I stopped going with her. I was a teenager after all - I had “important” fun things to do - but I never stopped believing in Christ and knowing there was eternal life in heaven with Him. When I was 18 I had my first son, Justin. He was one of the wonderful blessing in my life. And then I had my second son, Tyler, another blessing … but shortly after his birth my life started changing - a lot of trials, hurts, and sadness. Tyler drowned a month before his second birthday at his daycare in the spring of 2001.
After his death I started making wrong choices in my life to fill the void in my heart. I was hanging out with the wrong people, partying and trying a few drugs. During all of this, I never stopped believing in God. I wasn’t even angry with Him. I just wasn’t putting Him first. But I know Jesus was always there, especially when I started living in my car.
Now that I’m back on my feet and I have a good job and a warm apartment, I truly believe that living in my car was a push from God to get closer to Him. I prayed to Him every night. I asked Him to keep me safe from all dangers. I talked to Him a lot. I know I would never have survived that situation without Him. Jesus is good; He never gave up on me. He always loved me. He kept me safe. With His help I have changed my life. He was always there for me. So, I’m choosing to be baptized because I want to always be there for Him as well.
I did not grow up going to church or with God in my life. Before Christ I believed I was unlovable and thought no one loved me. I had zero self-confidence. I lived in bondage of fear and anxiety. I lived in isolation. I had no purpose. I was truly tired of being broken. One day my son, Phillip, asked if he could pray with me. Phillip held my hands and as he prayed I remember thinking how awkward it felt. I didn’t know how to pray. I didn’t feel worthy of God. After that day, I continued praying on my own. Phillip also gave me a Bible and I started reading it. I am so grateful for Phillip introducing me to prayer and to the Bible. Then, five years ago on Palm Sunday God entered my heart. My heart was filled with love, joy, peace. I felt grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. This was the most wonderful thing I have ever felt. I cried hard when I learned that God loves me and I am worthy of his love. I continued praying and developed true faith. God started answering my prayers one right after another. My heart and my life are being transformed. It’s been amazing, witnessing many of Gods Miracles and Blessings in my life. My prayers then turned into praises. I found KCC when my daughter moved to this area. I visited KCC several times with the intentions of getting my daughter and grandchildren to come to KCC. I fell in love with KCC. I realized this wasn’t my plan to bring my daughter here; it was God’s plan to bring me KCC. Praise God. My prayers of finding a church home have been answered. God told me, baptism is the next step of my journey. I know being baptized is the missing piece of my journey. I am excited to live in his image. I am excited to see what’s next in God’s plan. I BOLDLY and LOUDLY announce that I am following Jesus Christ. HALLELUJAH! I must say, if anyone in the darkness hears me, I tell you to pray, pray, pray, pray. Have true faith. God Bless You!
I was filled with hopelessness and depression. Anger and stress filled my life. I was not kind to my family and friends and sin filled my life with anguish and guilt. I was thirsty to find peace in my life. My father-in-law had recently passed away and I wanted my marriage to work out, as it was struggling. I had done everything to save my marriage on my own, but God was left out of the equation. In July 2016, sitting in my living room reading the Bible, I accepted Christ and let Him into my heart. I prayed for my family and myself. My deepest heartache is what led me to Christ. Since I found God, I have been surprisingly calm and depression no longer has a place in my body. He has a plan for me that is greater than what I can comprehend and I’m ready to go all in for Him. Because of Christ, I am strong. KCC has opened my heart even wider and each Sunday I can feel the Holy Spirit at work within me. I went from coming alone to church to now attending with my daughter, son, mother, father, sister and my son’s girlfriend. It truly is our family church home. I was baptized because Christ makes me strong and gives me peace. I am ready to be what God wants me to be and I want my family and the world to know what I have found!
My mom has always told me about Jesus and how much He loves me. So, when I felt alone one night I called on Jesus to give me good dreams and to be in my heart. He made me happy. Since accepting Jesus I feel happy and I don’t feel alone. He helps me and is with me when I am scared. He holds my hand and heals me. He is a great God. I was baptized because I want other people to know that I love Jesus and that He is alive to help people.
Before Christ, my life was lifeless. There was no hope, no love and no happiness. Everything was a downer. The love that I wanted to feel and give others had receded. The hurt in my daily life led to extreme heartache, endless tears and what felt like bad spirits laughing at me because they were winning the battle - I contemplated leaving everything behind. My son was hospitalized with deep depression. My husband and I turned against one another and began to show hate towards each other. Everything was falling apart. I decided we needed help so I called to have someone come bless our home. We were asked if we had accepted Christ in our lives and when I said "no," the gentleman felt he could not help us until we made that decision first. I knew that night that I needed Jesus if I was ever going to gain the joy I so desperately wanted. My best friend had invited me several times to try KCC and I am so thankful for the day I decided to accept the invitation because I found my church home and gave my life to Christ!
Since choosing Christ, WOW the happiness! These days I am crying for the peace, love and grace that I have found in Jesus Christ. KCC has been a blessing in my life because they truly want to help and serve those who are lost and struggling. I am choosing to be baptized today because I want my family, friends, church and ultimately God to know that I choose Him.
Before Christ, I felt a deep emptiness. I felt as if I did not have purpose. Because of sin, broken relationships and exhaustion I came to a point where I wanted to end it all. Then God showed up one day while I was sitting in a Bible study and began to do His work in me. The process of correction and repentance began. During that time, people began to leave my life, but God was always there. He kept His promise to never leave me or forsake me. My worldview has changed. I went back to school and am about to complete my Associates Degree. God has given me wisdom to know Him and His purpose for me. I am saying goodbye to the old and preparing to serve others with a refined purpose. I am being baptized as a sign of my love for God and my full submission to His will. I am fully empowered to do the work He has called me to do!
At Bible camp my leader told a story about how it’s NOT about what’s on the outside, it’s about what is on the inside that matters. There were two boxes that were both different. The first box was very pretty with decorative paper and a beautiful bow on the outside. But on the inside was a rusty old car with dirt and stains on the inside. The second box was very plain on the outside and not very eye catching, but on the inside was a beautiful car that was brand new and very colorful. This example helped us to see, it’s what’s on the inside that matters, NOT the outside. Realizing this made me want to get baptized, because I wanted to show God that I know it’s not about my appearance, but it’s about me having a clean heart for Jesus Christ. Since I decided to get baptized, I think twice before I do something … I ask myself, “Would God want me to do that?” I exercise better control over my emotions, because I don’t want to sin. I want to do what God would want me to do.
Before having Christ in my life, I was blind to the works of the Lord. I was not raised in a Christian home and as a child I thought I would just go to heaven because I believed in God. When I was 14-years-old, my neighbor brought me to church and I remember loving it. At the time, I was searching for something to keep me from getting into trouble. I was angry and fighting all the time. Even into adulthood, I was mischievous and involved in inappropriate things to cope and hide from the stress in my life. I finally returned to church and felt the love and nudge to be a better person. It was the fresh start I needed. I prayed the Lord would bring happiness and joy into my life and show me how to be the person He wanted me to be. Today, I can feel Him in my life, directing and guiding me because I have allowed Him to be in control. I felt tired and weighed down from my past sins and now I want to be filled with the love, joy and goodness He provides. He gave me the gift of life and I want to live my life as a gift to Him—the reason I decided to be baptized!
I had to repent of something this past year. I talked about it with my wife, the Board, and the staff of my church. I even talked about it with small pockets of the congregation, but I never went public with the story of repentance. Perhaps this will be of some help to others in my position. I repented to the Lord for BITTERNESS that I had let creep into my leadership and that was beginning to hinder my vision for the future. In a nutshell, I took an unanticipated journey of BITTERNESS for eight months because I felt like I was being misunderstood by a segment of the congregation, and I was wounded by some of their actions. This past spring, I confessed to the Lord that I was BITTER. It was hindering my ability to dream about the future of our church. I was able to pinpoint the journey that led to such BITTERNESS, and I found help from the Lord to overcome it and move forward. Repentance and confession are good things. Letting BITTERNESS take root in your soul can actually be sinful. I had to repent of the BITTERNESS that I let creep in, and that was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Let me give you a glimpse of the journey.
I had returned to my church from an 8-week sabbatical. The sabbatical was a very generous gift from our congregation. Our denomination allows and encourages congregations to grant ordained pastors a sabbatical at least every 7 years of ministry, if not more frequently. I had a great sabbatical experience. One of the first meetings that I had waiting for me upon my return was with a couple that was choosing to leave our congregation because of a social media post that I had written before my sabbatical. I had offered some commentary on how I felt as I woke up to media reports a second day in a row about an African American man who had been killed on camera by White police officers. It happened to be the week when Alton Sterling and Philando Castille were killed on back-to-back days and each story received extensive media attention. This couple felt like my Facebook post had declared the police officers to be guilty before they were even tried in a court. Therefore, they felt like I had violated one of the Ten Commandments by bearing false witness against a neighbor. They felt like I was being sucked into a broader cultural agenda to stir up ethnic hatred towards police officers. I struggled with that critique as I felt like I was simply commenting on the reality I grieved that another family had a lost a father, son, etc. and I was moved to walk into my son’s room that morning and hug him with a sense of gratitude that I got to be his father for another day. People leave churches all of the time, however, I had some personal connections with this family in terms of ways that I had served them as a pastor in the past, and their departure stung. I realize in retrospect that this was the start of the journey of BITTERNESS.
When I had written the Facebook post, I felt like of all of the churches in West Michigan, if there is one that ought to be able to be real when it comes to emotions about difficult social issues – even if folks end up disagreeing with one another – it ought to be our church. We have been on a long journey trying to be real about this stuff. However, I realized in the conversation with this couple that their interpretation of my Facebook post led to assumptions about my politics, my ethnic biases, my integrity, and my spiritual maturity, that would make it tough to have meaningful dialogue. This scenario would play out multiple times in the subsequent months.
We were full speed ahead in the election season. What I felt as a communicator was that the conversation about race and class got so contentious in culture that it made it tougher to talk about a biblical interpretation of these issues in the church, especially in a multi-ethnic congregation with people from multiple generations and multiple socioeconomic situations. For example, I have always said that it doesn’t matter who gets elected President because Jesus is King. I have said that for the Christ-follower, our mission does not change a single bit the day after the election than the day before the election. We are called to seek the lost and serve the least until Jesus comes back. In light of that mandate, I felt like my church had been consistent in saying that we want to love on immigrants (legal or illegal) and refugees. We have said, “Immigration is an issue, but immigrants are people. We are called to love people by practicing hospitality and welcoming the stranger…regardless of how they arrived” Yet, during the election season, these kinds of words from the pulpit began to be perceived as politically charged words. To say it bluntly, I began to receive feedback that I was coming across as bashing President Trump and demonstrating a political bias from the pulpit. Words that seemed to welcome many “Amens” in the past followed up by tangible action now were perceived as divisive and political by a vocal few. This led to more departures from our congregation and more BITTERNESS in my spirit. I remember one mature believer coming up to me after the election and saying, “Pastor, I am going to pray for this President. I didn’t pray for the last one, but I am going to pray for this one.” Say what??? I wish that all of our congregants would pray for all of our elected officials regularly in both parties. I began to sense that some people in the congregation that I love were idolizing our earthly nation over the Kingdom of God and had their faith too wrapped up in worldly politics. Yet, some critics described me as a politically liberal, narrow-minded, President bashing Pastor who was beginning to get too political and too controversial in his sermons.
Fast forward, to five months later. I preached a sermon where I borrowed an illustration from another communicator that I had heard at a Preaching Conference. I gave him credit for the illustration. It happened to be a look at how different generations of Christians (the under 40 crowd and the over 50 crowd) tend to view certain social issues like the debate about life, homosexuality, environment, and immigration. It happened to be the same weekend that the government issued the first travel ban for people coming from several majority Muslim countries. I was preaching about how the 12 spies who checked out the same Promised Land came back with very different assessments of the land. Imagine the irony that a group of people heard the same sermon, much like the spies saw the same land, and there were different perceptions about that sermon. Several things happened that weekend. That sermon ticked some people off big time. I learned after the fact that some people thought I was partitioning the under 50 crowd and the over 50 crowd and that I was essentially bashing the over 50 crowd. Others assumed that I was in the under 40 crowd and was therefore bashing the over 50 crowd. At the time, I was 43 years old, saw myself as more of a bridge builder between the under 40 crowd and the over 50 crowd, and the point of the illustration was to show that even though different generations tend to view these issues from different perspectives, they were typically both coming from a biblical perspective but unable to see that in one another.
Given the timing of the sermon with the political conversation in the nation, there were some who left that worship service never to return to our congregation. One classic social media post read, “What we learned in church today: All are welcome unless you voted for Donald Trump.” I had not said that. However, hearing that assessment, it caused more BITTERNESS to creep into my spirit. Why? Well, as a Pastor, it is not like you only minister to people on the weekends. You see people at their best and at their worst. There are hospital visits, counseling sessions, funerals, weddings that you officiate for people or for their children, prayers that you pray for people, personal encounters in the community in restaurants and grocery stores and at sporting events, etc. When a person that you have had multiple layers of interaction with decides to just leave the congregation without any conversation with you, it hurts. I have spoken with other pastors around the country who have told me that this is one of the hardest things in ministry. It feels like people are saying, “Pastor, I support you. I believe in you. I have your back. I want you to challenge me to think differently…except on certain issues. I support you Pastor, until I strongly disagree with you, and then I am out of here. Call out certain sins, but please don’t call out sins like racism, greed, or pride.” As a preacher, it can feel like an attempt to neuter you as a communicator of the Word. The Bible speaks on all of these topics, but if a listener’s primary filter is an earthly political filter, then every biblical interpretation will first be interpreted in the light of current day politics. The other reality is that it simply makes for some awkward interactions in the community when you encounter someone who you know left the church out of frustration and was unwilling to have a face-to-face conversation about their disappointment – whether it was over music, vision, diversity, theology, staffing or any other issue. (Side note: I know that it works the other way as well, that if a congregant departs and no one from the church reaches out, it can hurt just as much. That can create bitterness as well. I know that we have not always gotten that right in the local church.)
Approximately a month or two after, a gentleman in our congregation had a meal with me at a local restaurant, and he asked me what was wrong with me. He said that I was driving a certain demographic away from the church because I was coming across as angry from the pulpit. He was blunt and told me that someone had approached him and told him that he should get on the Board of our church. He asked them why, and they said, “Because we need a strong White male voice like yours to hold the Lead Pastor accountable.” I looked at him in disbelief. I said, “Ummm…what do you think has been the majority demographic makeup of the Boards that I have reported to over the past 7 years since I have been the Lead Pastor?” He said, “I don’t know.” I told him that while the 6-person Board, elected annually, has gotten more diverse over the years as our congregation has become more diverse, the majority makeup has still been White males. The reality is that our congregation is still about 70% White. I mentioned the names of the 3 White males who currently serve on the Board and he said, “I don’t know any of those guys.” I reminded him that we distribute a prayer card at the start of every fiscal year so that he and other congregants can see pictures of the Board members and can lift them in prayer. He had not been praying for the Board.
This was an eye-opening conversation for me. It helped me realize a few things. 1) This man loved me enough to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with me about what some in his peer group were feeling. He happened to be a 55 year-old White male who is a business leader. He felt like I was driving away others in his demographic group. 2) When people said things to him like “we need a strong White male voice to hold the Lead Pastor accountable”, I needed him to be a cross-cultural advocate for me by responding with facts. However, to ask him to do that was asking him to put himself in a position that he had NEVER been in before having to advocate cross-culturally for someone of a different ethnicity. Plus, even though he is a regular attender at the church, he didn’t feel equipped with the facts. 3) The BITTERNESS in my spirit increased a bit because I felt like we were further along the multi-ethnic journey as a congregation such that people would want spiritually mature candidates to serve on the Board of the church as opposed to simply wanting a certain ethnicity on the Board. 4) He said something in that conversation that was eye opening to me. He said, “Kyle, I THINK PART OF THE PROBLEM IS SIMPLY THAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW YOUR HEART.” My initial reaction was, “How can people not know my heart? I pour it out every time I preach. I tend to feel like I am an open book when it comes to my feelings about things.” However, as I thought about it more deeply, I began to realize that when I sit with someone for a meal or a cup of coffee, there is room for a ton of dialogue for people to get to know my heart, but when I share something that stings or is counter-cultural during a sermon, there is no room for dialogue. Yet, there is a ton of room for assumptions. In other words, I am learning that there are some current events that cannot be best addressed first from the pulpit. There have to be safe spaces in the congregation to have cross-cultural dialogue around biblical interpretation of current events. In retrospect, this conversation revealed that there was hope for me to overcome this increasing BITTERNESS.
So, why did I end up repenting to the Lord? In the spring, I attended the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. The conference is all about church planting, church multiplication, and discipleship. The theme of the conference was “Dream Big”. I sat through great workshops and main sessions. I realized during the conference that there was some healthy multi-ethnic DNA in the life of my church that I would love to see multiplied in other communities through campuses, church plants, additional worship gatherings, or revitalizing a dying congregation in another part of town. However, I realized that the BITTERNESS about the negative voices, the people who have departed, the people who I felt wanted to neuter me as a communicator, were hindering me from “Dreaming Big”. I truly believe that we serve a God who wants us to dream big because God is able to do exceedingly more than we could ever ask, imagine, or think. I believe that we have an enemy who wants to rob us of the joy of big dreams.
The reality is that when any organization gets clearer about vision, there will be some who leave, many who stay, and new people who will come and join the pursuit of that vision. I realized that I was not dreaming big about multiplication and discipleship because I was BITTER about the unhealthy part of our DNA that seemed dysfunctional or out of alignment with our vision. I was becoming more consumed by the negative voices. I confessed it to the Lord … all of it. “Lord, I am sorry for letting BITTERNESS take root in my spirit about your church. I am sorry for letting people pleasing creep into my leadership. I am sorry for the way that I allowed myself to go from the high of a sabbatical to the lows of BITTERNESS in such a short span of time. Please forgive me, refresh me, and restore to me the joy that I once had in ministry.” I prayed this way during a closing time of prayer at Exponential, and I had one of the prayer partners anoint me with oil and pray over me for healing and deliverance. That day was a significant turning point for me. I have felt so much more refreshed ever since that time of prayer.
Since that prayer time, I have been able to have a number of face-to-face conversations with people from various walks of life within my church. I love the variety of people – older and younger, many different ethnicities, varying socioeconomic situations – that I get to connect with in the life of my church. There have still been some who have departed for various reasons. There have also been newcomers in the life of my church. There has still been criticism at times like recently when I preached back-to-back weeks on the fact that Jesus experienced life as a refugee and Esther experienced life as an orphan. During each of those sermons, I mentioned that the leaders (Herod and Xerxes) at the highest level in the land made governmental decisions that impacted some of the most vulnerable people in the land (killing all male babies under the age of 2 and bringing all of the beautiful young virgins to the palace). Some folks assumed that I was trying to bash President Trump by using the phrase, “leader at the highest level in the land”. They thought it was coded language, while I thought I was just preaching the Word. I realize that some people will always hear what they want to hear and assume what they want to assume. I will never be able to please all of the people all of the time. People pleasing will only lead to more BITTERNESS, which will ultimately lead to spiritual death. I am grateful that in spite of this criticism, BITTERNESS has not taken hold again.
Recently, a departing couple emailed the church and said that they felt like older White people were no longer welcomed at my church. Another person in the community was overheard saying, “we used to attend that church, but they have a Black minister now, and we don’t like the way he is running things.” The truth is that there are many older White people in the life of my church who are some of the greatest prayer warriors and encouragers … alongside many other prayer warriors from other ethnic backgrounds. Also, the people who know me the best know that I am always up for a cup of coffee, a meal, a word of critique, even if it stings, and some healthy dialogue about church and family stuff. I have never been a high D, type A, my way or the highway kind of leader. Yet, some people assume that just because I don’t implement their feedback I am either not listening to it or not open to receiving it. The point is simply that there are still BITTERNESS triggers in my life and leadership, but God has been faithful to give me strength, peace, and joy in the midst of those triggers.
The bottom line for this year is this: If you lead anything, you will likely receive affirmation and face criticism. It comes with the territory. The key is to not let BITTERNESS take root in your life as you face criticism. As I look back, the year would have taken a much different path if I had not confessed my BITTERNESS to the Lord. I am glad that God is faithful to forgive. I am grateful that I get to serve in a congregation that such a variety of people call home. I continue to welcome prayer for the work that the enemy may want to do to discourage me or others in Christian leadership. I am glad that I serve in a setting where I can keep it real about the joys and the burdens of leadership. As I approach the 8-year mark of my installation as the Lead Pastor at my church, I am grateful that the brief journey of BITTERNESS did not completely derail me last year. I am excited about what the new year holds. I love the work that I get to do reach lost people and help them grow up in their faith in Christ.
Repentance is good for the soul. Transparency may be even better. If we are going to have a healthy multi-ethnic congregation at my church, we have to be real about the good, the bad, and the ugly… and no one ethnic group is solely responsible for all of the ugly. We have a real enemy who would love to bring out the ugly in everyone, but we serve a real Savior who is big enough to conquer it all.
I was out at a local store. Normally, I do my best to get what I need as quickly as possible ... especially when my visit has to occur late at night and I’m just ready to get home. As I was leaving, something caught my ear. I looked and saw an older woman unloading her groceries. One of her items had fallen out of the motorized cart she had been using. I had no coat on and was freezing, so I just continued walking. But it didn’t feel right. After I unloaded my items, I decided to put my coat on and walk back to help her. I asked if she needed some help. She said yes and told me where she wanted each bag. I unloaded them for her and said I would return the cart back to the store. She thanked me and I left.
Not trying to make myself look good. I believe God has called us to love people and I hope that she went home feeling loved … like someone cared. I can’t stop thinking about her. I have no idea what she’s going through. What I do know is that I have been doing a pretty crappy job of seeing the people around me. This whole interaction took about three minutes. Am I in so much of a hurry that I can’t stop and help someone? Is it really too much to just ask if someone needs help?
In the song, Give Me Your Eyes, by Brandon Heath, the chorus starts with: “Give me Your eyes for just one second … Give me Your eyes so I can see.” I pray that I can take the time to stop and SEE the people God puts in my path and to love them however I can in the moment. Will you likewise listen to the promptings of your heart when you’re out and about? What would it look like if we all did that? Our world would be such a different place.
In the past, my life felt as if I was walking around mindlessly in a group of people trying to figure out how to get home. I was raised in a Christian home, went to Christian school and completed all the rituals I thought were required. Then when I left home to join the Navy, I felt that since I had done all the the “right” things, I would be “safe.” I was wrong. Doing those things didn’t stop the loneliness, insecurity and depression which began to filter into all areas of my life—work, finances, relationships. When I returned home a coworker invited me to KCC. Each time I attended I felt the nudge to fully surrender my life to Christ. I felt a strong need to surrender my doubt, fear, depression, anger and confusion. I have finally allowed Christ to heal my brokenness and forgiven myself for past mistakes. I am no longer angry at my circumstances and am more patient in all aspects of my life. Now, I am the one inviting people to church so they can see that life is so much more manageable with Christ. I was baptized as a act of thanksgiving to Him for carrying me through all the darkness, doubts and trials and for His constant reminder that God has the last say. I love Christ and I want to recommit my life by devoting my full self to Him!
I first learned the importance of knowing Christ when I met my husband—it was the beginning of becoming the person I wanted to be. I knew about Christ but not the importance of Him. Not knowing that and having so many insecurities led me to many bad choices: partying, sex before marriage, etc. I knew what I wanted in life but not how to get it. I knew the person I wanted to be but didn’t know where to learn from. I had no example. When my husband and I were having problems, I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to get to church ASAP. I’m so glad I went—it felt like the sermon was just for me! It was exactly what I needed to hear. Every Sunday, and every word since—I have felt the same way. Christ has changed me—my personality, the way I think, the way I see things, all things good and bad, the way I handle problems, anger and insecurity has changed drastically. Each Sunday, I still feel like the message is meant for me. For problems that I had through the week, the answer is given to me on Sunday. I knew of Christ but didn’t know Him. I wanted a relationship with Him and to know Him as He knows me. I have that now. I was also baptized this year because I want to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. I want to be a great person as well; get as close as I can to God; to be an example for my family and I feel like God is calling me to do it. I wanted to wash away the old me and soak up God’s Word!
Kentwood Community Church has played an incredible role in my faith journey. I have attended KCC since I was born, and was dedicated to the Christian faith as a child here. I participated in children's ministries programs and eventually attended the middle school program. I started singing in the worship band during middle school and over the course of a few years, God took away my fear of leading worship in front of crowds of people. I now feel comfortable even singing in "Big Church", which I never could have dreamed of when I was in middle school.
My transition from middle school to high school was tough, and I could not have done it without the support from my church family. My closest friends are those who go to church with me, and they were always there for me when I was struggling. Going to NTS camp with those friends as part of student ministries played one of the biggest roles in shaping my faith. The atmosphere of camp allowed me to be myself and challenged me to grow in ways I didn’t think were possible. Those experiences brought me closer to God and my church family, and I will cherish those memories forever.
I now serve as a small group leader for 7th grade girls on Sunday mornings, and it is beautiful to watch the growth happening in the lives of my girls. I also attend Elevate, our Sunday evening program for high schoolers, where I am constantly being filled up, so that I can pour out God’s love in my everyday life.
Wow! Pastor Kyle’s message about orphans is something I’ll never forget. I too was an orphan. Given up for adoption at age five because I was the product of a black man. After breaking up with my father, my mother was allowed back into her Indian community, only to watch her son be subjected to abuse and be ostracized by that community. Seeing this, she decided it would be better for me to be in a black family. To make a long story shorter, I ended up bouncing around in several foster homes for about a year and a half before being adopted. It was a mess … I was so troubled because I thought that if I messed up I would be given another ticket to the next place. I never really connected to my parents until I was grown. I was drinking at age 12; drugs soon followed. I did horrible in school and was soon labeled as a discipline problem and was thrown into special education classes for being emotionally impaired. It wasn’t long until my fist trip to juvenile detention and then prison by age 20. There I met Christ through my cellmate. After a four-year sentence, I was released back into society, but with no skills, I went back to what I knew to support myself — hustling. This time I felt different about it, though. I didn’t have the ability to be unconscionable any more. Skip ahead twenty years … I married the love-of-my-life; I have a beautiful family and all the trimmings of life. My wife persuaded me to switch from another church to KCC. Although I was resistant to the change it has now been six months and I am so glad that I did! It brought up feelings in me that I hadn’t felt in some time. The way God used Pastor Kyle for the message about orphans helped me confirm that I want to make KCC our permanent church home. I look forward to growing in Christ with our new KCC family!
I have lived long enough to have walked many hills and valleys in my life. Some brought on by my own choices, others the consequences of another's actions. I can testify that God has walked with me – every step – even when I thought I was making the trip on my own. He has allowed me to learn at my own pace, while encouraging me to draw closer to Him through every experience. I have had to walk some paths more than once, seeing more of the experience and learning a deeper lesson each time. A forty-year journey I have been walking — up hills and through valleys — is my marriage. Although we have shared some significant hills and valleys, the last five years may have been the most difficult valley we have walked through. It has felt like one of the longest hills we have had to climb. On our 37th anniversary, we spent our time separately and did not celebrate together. On our 38th anniversary we were in counseling. There have been many steps (years) in this climb out of the valley. About seven years ago, I felt God gave me the words, “fervent prayer”. So I began praying, picking up disciplines (study and fasting) that I had not practiced in some time. In praying, crying out and listening intently, I began to see more layers of lessons I thought I had already learned. I gave Jesus TOTAL Lordship over my life and gave up. Oh what freedom! I am not in control — and never was. Then, step by step, the hard climb began. God worked in and through me as well as in and through my husband. God is healing us. We are learning to live on the hilltop in our marriage. I am sure that we will have many more valleys and hills to climb but it will be together with God as our guide. I have learned that the hard work of climbing out of the valley to the hilltop is worth it! There is great beauty in each step. With God, every valley will lead you to a hilltop.
On a recent trip to India, Pastor Kyle encountered a young woman who has experienced persecution. She recently became a Christian and he was inspired by her courage. Here is her story:
I was raised by a very well-to-do Hindu family, but heard about Christianity through my co-workers. After experiencing some unexplained pain, one of my co-workers prayed in faith that my pain would be healed. I experienced healing! I decided to follow Jesus. When I told my family, I was locked in a room with a loud speaker blaring Hindu prayers, chants and affirmations. Only minimal food and water were provided. In the mind of my family, I had become unclean. I managed to escape and a local Christian pastor helped me to relocate to another state in India. I currently attend church, and I am going through a Bible training curriculum. Because of my conversion, I am no longer able to work in my former profession. I pray my family will also come to faith in Christ.
After I left, my family began circulating pictures of me on social media hoping to track me down and kill me, as they feel it would be better for me to be dead than follow Christ. I still hope to return home to marry the co-worker who prayed over me for healing. While working together we had fallen in love. I feel I must someday return to face my family, and if I can be married before I do, I won't have to stand alone.
Pastor Kyle asked her if she knew that this was going to happen when she decided to follow Jesus, and she replied that she had a pretty good idea that this would be the case. Please pray for her protection, for her family to come to know Jesus and for so many in the world who face persecution for following Christ.
I’ve become a widow and it has been really hard for me. However, God has been there to comfort, strengthen and help me when I need it the most. Since I put my trust in Christ, I’ve seen a difference in my life. Without Jesus I would be totally lost. With Jesus I can have peace and direction — even when life is hard or confusing. I want to be baptized because God is good and I want to obey Him by taking this step. I desire to grow closer to God because I know with Him I can overcome! His love helps me move forward.
I was a mess … addicted to drugs and alcohol since a young age. I was always searching for a way to feel comfortable in my skin. The anxiety, shame and guilt of substance abuse, lying and the hurt I caused to others in my attempts to keep my addiction hidden held me back from many of life’s good moments. I dropped out of sports in high school, didn’t finish college, had many broken relationships and a miscarriage — all of this increased my fear and self-hatred. When I met my husband he re-introduced me to Jesus Christ, bringing me to KCC four years ago. During praise and worship without fail the Holy Spirit would bring me to tears. Watching baptisms throughout the years made me feel happy and envious for those who had turned their lives over to Jesus. I wanted that so bad but didn’t feel I was worthy. I couldn’t let another person down in my life and once I let God in my heart I knew I would hurt him too. After a relapse and dealing with the consequences of that, I knew I didn’t have the strength to fake my way through life. I needed help, I needed to feel loved. The Mistaken Identity sermon series started to stir in me faith, belief and a sincere love of God. It helped me to see that I am worthy through Jesus suffering for my sins. Who am I to tell myself I am not good enough when the bottom line is God loves us just the way we are! Since surrendering to Jesus, my connection to God is stronger. I feel the release of guilt and shame lifted from me and I feel loved. I feel alive again. I want to be baptized as a testimony of His great love for me and my love for Him!
Before learning to trust God I would carry my problems on my shoulders. Stress and anxiety would fill me and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I have been a believer since I was a small child but as an adult I finally have learned to trust God and have seen Him work miracles in my life.
My youngest son was born in need of a new liver. I questioned, “Why Him? Why us?” I struggled with anxiety but realized it was out of my hands. I made a decision to give it to God. I trusted Him. I knew whatever would happen with my son was not in my control. However, when I acknowledged that is was in God’s control — instantly, I could feel God around us. Anxiety melted away and I knew He was guiding us. Then in June of this year, my 10-month old son received a liver transplant! I had a front row seat to a miracle! The way everything worked out, its timing, his recovery … I could see and feel God’s hand in all of it. It was so beautifully orchestrated and I knew He answered my prayers.
I want to be baptized because I love God. He loves me too. I want to do this for Him … and myself. Because God is so generous and loving, I want to live my life with Him, together.
Before I knew Christ I was a proud Atheist and I thought I was in control of my life. Growing up I always felt unloved, unwanted and alone. At the age of 16, I started to use drugs and alcohol to deal with the loneliness. I became an addict and was in and out of jail, falling deeper and deeper into my addiction and feeling more alone and unloved. My life was out of control. I cried out to God and prayed for Him to take my addiction away and to change my life, no matter what the cost … even if it meant sending me to prison. Two weeks later I was arrested and incarcerated. While on my journey through incarceration, I started attending church in jail. I couldn’t help but to hear the word of God and the Holy Spirit moved inside me. Matthew 22:14 says, “many are called but few are chosen.” I felt like Jesus had chosen me, of all people, and was starting to do a work in me. Jesus opened my eyes, my mind and my heart to Him. I finally realized I was loved and not alone. Jesus had been with me the whole time; I just didn’t see it. So I started to read the gospel and attend church as much as I could. While in prison I realized my body was in chains and finally I became free from my addiction. My prayer had been answered and that was when I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ! Since then, I was accepted into a faith-based halfway house. Jesus has blessed me in every step that I have taken … now I have a home, a job, a church and over two years of being drug-free. I have chosen to be baptized because I have been transformed by Jesus Christ. He has given me a new life with Him as my foundation. I am here to repent of my sins and my old way of life and publicly declare that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior!
Sunday morning, as I got dressed, I looked on my dresser and noticed a few vials of oil that I had mistakenly “stolen” from KCC. You know what I mean … someone asks to be anointed and prayed over on a weekend … I do it, then put the vial of oil in my pocket and forget about it. For months I’ve been thinking I should probably return the vials that have accumulated on my dresser. Well, this Sunday, I felt prompted to grab them. Later that morning, a woman approached me at KCC and told me that doctors had found a spot on her husband’s lung. He was scheduled to go in for more tests later that week. I asked if I could pray for him, so she led me back to their seats where I met him. I asked him if he believed that Christ could heal or fix whatever was going on in his lungs. He affirmed his belief in the healing power of Jesus and, with his permission, I anointed him and prayed. I prayed in the Name of Jesus that by the power of the Holy Spirit, he would be healed; whether God wanted to do it supernaturally, in a way that would confound the wisdom of the doctors and nurses, or through a course of treatment from doctors and nurses. I acknowledged that God does not have to heal just because we ask, but that God delights in us asking. After saying Amen, the couple thanked me for my prayers.
Two days later we got a call with a praise report from this gentleman. He went in for another scan. Guess what? No spot. No nothing. It completely disappeared! WOW!! Praise the Lord! These are the moments that happen, week in and week out in the life of KCC, that remind us that the Holy Spirit is on the move!
I was raised going to church, attending Sunday school each week. Even though I knew Jesus, I only knew who He was, not who He is. During my teenage years I quit going to church. I lived on my own and God was there, but He certainly was not first in my life. After some time, I started coming to KCC occasionally, but that wasn’t enough. One day Pastor Kyle preached a sermon and I thought I might have been the only one there that day, like it was meant just for me. It hit home so hard that I stuck around for the second service just to hear the same message. That was the day everything changed. Since truly becoming a servant of Christ, I know He is always with me. I am now able to forgive what I could not forgive in the past. I am able to love who and what I could not love without Him. All things really are new, but most importantly God is first! I was baptized to show publicly that my faith is in Jesus and Jesus alone. He is who He says He is!
I bought our foster daughter a stash of clothing, guessing at sizes and seasons according to how her older brother had grown. But she grew surprisingly faster than he did! So we found ourselves with a stash of summer clothes when the weather was still decidedly more wintery. That’s when we were introduced to the Closet of Hope! I visited during an open house. All of the volunteers were so friendly and helpful, and we were very encouraged to go home with some gently used clothing to get our little darling through the cold snap until she could enjoy her rompers and shorts. The Closet of Hope is an excellent resource for foster and adoptive families! --Kent County Foster Parent
Closet of Hope | located at our Wyoming Campus, is working to show the love of Christ to foster, adoptive and Safe Families and the children they serve by providing clothing and other items free of charge. Children often come into care with little more than the clothes on their backs, and the Closet of Hope can often help to meet needs where government assistance falls short. Our volunteers aim to help all those being served at the Closet of Hope to leave feeling encouraged and supported in continuing this challenging and valuable work!
Last week I was convinced I had lost my cell phone for the second time since we’ve been missionaries in Macedonia. In reality it was God just working behind the scenes once again, turning my brokenness into something beautiful.
Hurrying to get to the refugee camp after a youth baseball practice that ran a little late, I put my cell phone on top of the rental car as I was putting things in the trunk. After a history of losing coffee mugs, DVD rentals and other cell phones—because of poor logic in car roof placement—I don’t know what I was thinking! I’m just always glad I haven’t set one of my children up there being absent minded! After driving 10-15 minutes, I finally realized my cell phone is gone, panic, and return to the parking lot with my brothers, Maci and Christian, only to search in vain. “It’s a goner,” we all commiserated! Then my wife, Tiffany, calls and informs me that a 16-year-old boy has found my phone and would like to return it to its rightful owner. Are you kidding me? This just does NOT happen here in the land that invented the black market for stolen passports, bicycles and cell phones! True to his word, we meet Maksim on the way out of town and he delivers my cell phone. No strings attached.
Check that, there was one string attached. He casually mentioned that he looked me up on Facebook and saw I was a volunteer with the Evangelical Church here. Then instead of the usual barrage of questions that follow that one, he asks me if I have a Bible he could read and if I know of any youth groups he could join to learn more about the Bible. Ummmmmm …yeah! Maci and Christian are still picking their jaws up from the ground one week later!
Long story short, Maksim has now been connected with my colleagues at Campus Crusade and is officially registered for a teenager camp with the local Child Evangelism Fellowship chapter. All because of my scatterbrained moment!
What a cool reminder that in spite of all the setbacks and challenges and lack of fruit we see here, God is still in charge and is redeeming His lost people to Himself—sometimes through our best planned strategies and talks—but more often than not, just through our being here and sticking it out!
Joel Toonstra | the Toonstra family are serving in Macedonia through Global Partners and are supported missionaries of Kentwood Community Church.
"The volunteers get to help us with our homework, 'cause not everyone has someone at home to help them ..."
-Ben, Woodfield Community Center Participant
Sometimes it can be hard for people to see or measure our impact, but then you realize that kids like Ben are able to articulate the mission of the community center ... without any prompting. I couldn't be more proud of him, our kids and all of the volunteers that make this place what it is. -Mandy VanderHill, Woodfield Community Center Leader
At the Woodfield Community Center, we strive to build relationships with children and families by providing Christ-centered activities to promote community. We offer summer programming for kids of all ages that includes sports, Bible stories, games, arts and crafts, and much more! We also have weekly cookouts for all Woodfield residents. It is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the heart of a child, right in your own backyard. If you want to join us in making a forever-friend, contact us today to find out more!
My son, Jacob and I were reading the Bible as we do almost every night. We read the story of the farmer who sows seed on the road, on rocky ground, among thickets and on good ground.
We talked about the difference between the road, thickets, rocky and good ground; about hell and being separated from God and all of His good gifts forever. Then I told Jacob, “Everyone will sin in their life—only one person in the world has ever lived a life without sinning—Jesus. Jesus said, ‘I am the Truth, the Way, and the Life. No one enters the Kingdom of Heaven except through me.’ Then I explained that when you accept Jesus into your heart, you are like the seed growing in good ground.”
I told my son how “Daddy had asked Jesus to live in his heart when he was not much older than Jacob is right now”. But, when I was older and in college, I thought I could do things my own way. I did lots of naughty things, and it ended up leaving me sad, lonely and hurt. I knew I could come back to God, my Father, ask for forgiveness, and be welcomed home. God will always love us, forgive us when we repent, and welcome us home.
We talked about it a little more and Jacob said he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart. He understood that Jesus was a real person, the son of God who lived on Earth, and died on the cross for our sins. I prayed and Jacob repeated after me ... acknowledging Jesus as God's Son. We said we were sorry for our sins, and asked Jesus into our hearts to be our Savior. Just a few weeks short of six years old, Jacob is now forever a child of God. Thank you, Jesus, another son of yours has been born again!
My husband was let go from his job about six months ago and at the same time the transmission in his car went out. We had zero savings and he had to get his first unemployment check before we could even pay the rent. Six months passed by and he was still without a job and without a running car. He was angry, impatient and frustrated to say the least. Despite these emotions, he took a bold step of faith and continued to tithe our full income every month.
He wanted to give up just about every week, but I told him how many times God has come through for me and to just trust His timing. Two weeks ago he got the exact position he had been wanting for the past three years at the very company he’d always wanted to work at. His mom let us use her credit card to charge the car repairs so he could have transportation to work. As of today, we owed her $980 and he was going back to the mechanic tomorrow to charge another $300 as his steering also went out. In the meantime, I missed my car payment this month because he hasn’t got his first check from work yet. Tonight I came home from work to find a note on our table from my chronically unemployed, couch-surfing brother. It said he stopped by and then my phone rang. It was him and he told me to look under our mattress and said he wanted me to “fix our cars up so we don’t have to worry about them breaking down and that it was a way for him to thank us for letting him sleep on our couch so many times.” There was $1500 in cash under the mattress. That’s the credit card/repair bill AND my missed car payment PAID IN FULL!! God used the least likely source to provide because he wanted to make sure we knew it wasn’t a coincidence. I am completely overwhelmed and bawling my eyes out.
Pressing on through suffering is the pathway to God's power. God empowers us with His Holy Spirit to press on.
God made it clear to me that He was moving me. To be honest, I was okay with being “moved” as long as I knew where (aren’t we all this way?). For months I pondered the “where”—a different place? A different job? The answer was a complete mystery. Becoming a foster-care parent was an area often suggested to me. Sure, I enjoyed working with kids, but this idea was the farthest thing from my mind. I was single—and I loved my single life. I tried to shut it out, but for some reason, the idea of foster care was always in the back of my mind, slowly simmering. One evening on my way to church I had a serious talk with God, acknowledged that He was indeed preparing to move me and I knew I was okay with it. I had let go emotionally of where I was but felt I was in a holding pattern. Where was I supposed to GO? That evening, the whole service was on orphan, adoption and foster care. It blew me away! When God speaks, He gets your attention. I walked out of church convicted, ready to take the steps towards becoming a foster care parent. I also knew, however, that God wanted me to do this full-time.
When God speaks, He gets your attention. I walked out of church last November, convicted, ready to take the steps towards becoming a foster care parent. I also knew, however, that God wanted me to do this full-time. Therefore, I made the decision to leave teaching after 21 years in the classroom. It wasn’t easy —spiritual warfare immediately ensued. I left my job and the security of a paycheck for the unknown. I had nothing for kids in the house—no beds, clothes, blankets, pillows. Friends stepped in and took care of everything. Everything from car troubles to issues with my home—no matter the problem, God provided a solution. People have provided meals, games, rides and most of all prayers for my little international family. It still isn’t easy. Kids arrive at my doorstep broken, traumatized. My life caring for these children is very different from my life a year ago. But through it all I get to help them work through difficult times, hold them while they are crying, hear their stories. Soon I start to see smiles on kids faces who I didn’t think would smile. I get to make them feel like they belong. I get to plant hope. I recently asked my kids how they would describe a good foster family using only one word. Without hesitation, all four responded at the same time: “Love.”
A family friend of 30 years was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was an alcoholic and did not quit drinking after doctor’s had told him he needed to stop. Knowing him like an uncle, I started to pray for him. I asked to have him be on a prayer chain. Knowing he was unsaved, it became more urgent to pray for his soul and especially after his doctor told him he had only three months to live. The Holy Spirit prompted my husband and I to GO, SPEAK and DO. The pastor's message that weekend was about that very subject! Not only did we feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we wanted to make sure we obeyed! So we went to GO see our friend, in order to SPEAK to him about Jesus, and we asked him if he wanted to DO, by saying the sinners prayer and invite Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Our obedience to God led to a great blessing! A week later our friend made a decision for Christ and has joined Him in eternity! We will see him again!