Recently, I was thinking about what I may say to myself ten years ago before we started Elevate Life Church. I cam up with these “Ten Things I’d Tell Ten-Years-Ago-Tim:”
1. You’re not ready for this – but do it anyway!
Looking back now, I can see just how ill-prepared we were to start a church. A seminary degree, a decade of preaching ministry, church planting training – all of it was invaluable but none of it was enough. But most of the big steps in life have to be taken before you’re ready. This doesn’t mean we don’t prepare diligently, it just means we trust God even when we know we’re not enough.
“Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant…” – Ecclesiastes 11:4
2. Ten years will go faster than you can imagine; don’t blink!
Everyone tells you how fast life goes and they’re absolutely right! I can remember our first church service like it was yesterday – worried if we could pull it off, wondering if anyone would even show up. The one thing I wish I had done more of was really being present in that moment. Don’t “despise these small beginnings” (Zachariah 4:10); this may very well be the past that future-you wishes he or she could relive.
3. You probably won’t accomplish as much as you want in a day, but God is going to do more than you could dream in a decade.
For the most part, our progress has been painfully slow to me. At times it felt like we would take one step forward and two steps back. But standing at the end of a decade of leading our church, I can see the cumulative power of being faithful in the days, months, and years. Small steps, taken faithfully, will take you further than you could ever dream. So keep stepping forward!
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9
4. Not everyone who starts with you will stay with you – and that’s ok.
There were so many people who were absolutely instrumental in the earliest days of our church. Many of those people have now moved onto different places and seasons, but their contribution is still significant. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the father blesses the son who leaves the family farm and he continues to build with the son who stays. Bless people when move on and don’t let the fact that some may leave keep you from pouring your life into the ones who stay.
5. It’s going to get bad before it gets (really) good.
Every time. Every single time. Over the last 10 years we have seen some miraculous moments of impact, growth, and blessing and every one of those moments was preceded by something bad. I’ll never forget the day the principal of the first school we met at told us that we needed to start looking for another place to worship (and there was no other place to worship) because they wanted us to move on. I kept a calm face but inside I was a wreck – I could just see everything we had worked to build falling apart. Instead, our church rallied together and gave in ways more faithful and sacrificial than I had ever seen, and we bought property and built our Oakleaf location where thousands more now call home. It became a miracle but it started as a mess. So if it’s really bad, it’s probably about to get really good!
6. Kids are coming and parenting children is WAY more intimidating than pastoring a church!
When we first planted Elevate Life Church, Kristal and I had been married four years and had no children – just us and Moses, our Lorkie. But nine months after we started the church, Noah arrived. And eighteen months later Abby. And two year later Elijah. And two more years later, Micah. (And now we’re done!) These last 10 years have been the best years of our lives, building a church and a family at the same time. And it makes me that much more committed to doing this the right way – because this church is the only one my kids have ever known. This is where they will grow up, find faith, and become fully-devoted followers of Jesus. My family and this church are the legacy that will outlive me.
7. You’re going to give away more than you think possible, and receive back so much more!
When we planted Elevate Life, we went all-in. Kristal and I both worked as teachers and I had a second evening job while we built a launch team and worked to get ready to officially start the church. We poured every dollar we had into this dream God had put in our hearts. But little did I know how many more times He would call us to go “all-in” again, and up our sacrifice. Over the last ten years, we have invested more time, energy, money, and good old fashioned blood, sweat, and tears than I could count. And God has given so much more back to us! Everyday I thank Him for being able to do what I love with people I love – we are truly blessed!
8. You’re not dreaming big enough.
I’ll be honest, when we first started, I just hoped that enough people would show up to keep the room from feeling empty. I’d love to say that I knew our church would regularly be recognized as one of the fastest growing in the country, that we would expand to locations throughout our city, that we’d see over 11,000 people put their faith in Jesus, or that we’d give away millions of dollars in missions and outreach, but the truth is this way more than I ever believed for. But isn’t that just how God works?
9. Always choose pursuing the “one” over pleasing the “ninety-nine.”
This one’s hard, but necessary. I’d tell the ten-year-ago version of me to fight the tendency to build the church around petting sheep and pleasing people and continually work to refocus vision outwardly to the lost and the least. The natural, gravitational pull of every church is inward: to focus its preaching, programs, and resources on those inside the walls. But Jesus’ express mission was “to seek and to save that which is lost.” Oftentimes, accomplishing that mission also meant annoying religious-minded people. Choose the “one” anyway!
10. Give it all you’ve got, and then, get ready to do it all over again… because the best is still yet to come!
If I had one last thing to tell myself ten years ago it would be to hold nothing back. Serve, preach, give, pray, cry, rejoice – and do it all with all your heart. There are so many people who live half-hearted lives, who even have half-hearted faith. But half-hearted never changed anything or anyone.
And going all-in is not a one-time event, it’s an everyday act of worship. In fact, I have a feeling that if “Ten-Years-From-Now-Tim” could talk to me from our church’s 20th birthday, he would tell me not to rest on the sacrifices and strides already made, but to lay everything on the line all over again.
If the last ten years were more than we could have imagined, what does God have in store for these next ten? If He has already exceeded all we could have asked or thought, what more impossible movements are waiting on the other side of our willingness to step out in faith again? What if our first decade was a small thing compared to the grace God gives in the next one? Whatever lies ahead, I know one thing, it will surely be “above and beyond all we could ask or think.”
Thank you for being part of this journey over the last ten years. I can’t wait to go Above + Beyond with you again!