By MyRon P. Edmonds, D.Min
“You guys are crazy!”
“You are going to split the church!”
“You guys are going to kill the church!”
“This thing is going to fail!”
These statements and others were heckled at me and our church when we voted to sell our historic building that we had been in for 60 years and move to a temporary location in a new neighborhood across town. Oops! I forgot to mention that we moved our services into a “party center” (affectionately called a night club) next to a sports bar. Here is the story of how I almost lost my mind and my job, but found my faith and helped our church to discover its purpose.
Before Shark Tank
When you are in the mother church of the conference, in a historic location, with a legacy of the greatest and brightest of Adventist pastoral brass as the former pastors of this church you just don’t do stuff like…change.
In 2015 I had been pastoring Glenville SDA Church for about 6 years. A lot of change happened early and often. Some by intentionality, other changes by providence.
The worship changed.
Sabbath School Changed.
We got younger.
We got more technological.
We focused more on the community.
Change was everywhere.
There were rough patches along the way for the first 6 years, but fairly smooth by my estimation. What caused the changes? An intense emphasis on mission and evangelism. It’s impossible for me to be committed to soul winning and not committed to change. But up to this point, at the beginning of 2015, with all the change, it seemed like it was smooth sailing. Until the sacred cow of all sacred cows was put into the mix of change—the building.
Now, we had talked and voted in business meeting to move. We presented data and did studies that informed our decision. We prayed and fasted. And when we voted, an overwhelming majority always voted to go forward. So, although we had taken actions in meetings, we never really took action physically. So on paper we were leaving, but in reality we hadn't moved. We even found an old K-Mart building that we purchased. We had architects and builders design drawings and present virtual video walk-throughs of our future multi-ministry complex, but it was all talk and votes. No action.
God are you Crazy?
At the end of 2014 I felt a strong impression from God that he was looking for us to put our proverbial foot in the water if we wanted to see Him part our Red Sea. My interpretation of that was “If you want me to do the miraculous you have to do the ridiculous.” God seemed to literally be saying to us, “I won’t help you build this new complex until your move from where you are.” My reaction was quite logical: “God are you crazy!?” “Don’t you know that makes no sense?” “You don’t move the mother church out of its building with nowhere to go!” I told God that if this was His will then he would have to convince other people without me telling them of this crazy scheme. And sure enough one by one key people in the church would randomly say to me “I think God wants us to just move from here.” So we prayed and watched God design a plan to present to the church for leaving to go to nowhere.
At the beginning of 2015 our leadership team presented a relocation plan to our members in business meeting. The plan was to do the following:
1. Run an evangelistic meeting in the neighborhood we were seeking to move to in August of 2015.
2. After the evangelistic meeting, start a second service on Sabbath afternoons in that neighborhood.
3. By the end of 2015, move all services and ministries to the new neighborhood, provided we sell the building (up until this point the old building had been on the market for 734 days with no real potential buyers).
So essentially, we took a step of faith to move gradually in less than a year to the new neighborhood without any money to do the evangelistic meeting, no place to go, and no prospects to buy the building. Not logical! Professional suicide! Can you imagine how stupid we’d look as a church (especially me as pastor) if we completely relocated to a new neighborhood with an un-sold building that in many people’s minds was perfectly fine to stay in? To make matters worse the only place we had as an option was a night club. So we took the vote. It passed and the faith journey began.
In order for this plan to work we had: A) to run a successful evangelistic meeting; B) Have money to run the meeting; C) sell the building. So one day I am checking my email and I see an application for an Evangelism Shark Tank where I could win $20k (Incidentally, we set our budget for the meeting at the beginning of the year for $20k). So I applied, out of hundreds of applicants was accepted, and won $20k. We had exactly what we needed to run the meeting.
Before we ran the meeting, starting in January we began to do Jericho marches around the targeted area every Sabbath. We had early morning conference call prayer lines praying for funding, praying for souls. We prayed during the Sabbath worship services and even took on periods of fasting. Then we worked the neighborhoods doing ice cream socials every Sabbath afternoon (The Ice Cream social is a creative way of doing AY in the community by renting an ice cream truck along with singing and testimonies from young people). We went door to door and prayed with people. We played basketball every Wednesday night with gang members. Our goal before the meeting was to know them and be known by them. It worked! We pitched a tent on our new property and held meetings on Wednesday Nights and twice on Sabbaths for 4 weeks. At the end of the meeting we baptized 65 people!!!!
With such a large harvest of souls we decided to start a second service in that neighborhood at 12:30pm. So we were conducting two services in two locations. One at the church location and one in the new location. The only place we could find to have the second service was a barely used sports bar and night club just a rocks throw away from where we had the meetings. We did this for about 90 days and the Lord blessed both services.
Just as we were approaching the end of 2015 we still had one more prayer that needed to be answered to move our ministry to the new area in obedience to God’s leading. We had to sell the building. In the beginning of December, we had an offer for the building. By the end of the year it was sold!
In the Wilderness
Once we moved to the party center to have both of our services we lost members and money. Some members changed their membership, others stopped coming. However, the majority of our members young and old stayed with us. It was a major adjustment to go from owning to renting. There were good days and tough days but through it all God gave evidences of his presence. Over time, attendance started to increase in both services at the new location to the point we began to outgrow it. So we started looking for another place to rent. There was a brand new school right across the street from our new property that we wanted to get in, but the local school superintendent, after several meetings, rejected our application. Then one day I was informed that he was removed from office. So I sensed God saying to go and try again. This time, instead of following protocol and bureaucracy, I decided to go straight to the school and ask them directly. The receptionist at the school directed me to speak with the Business Manager for the school district. She cautioned me that they normally don’t allow churches to use their facilities. I called the business manager and set a meeting with him.
When the day came for me to meet with him and his associate, I could sense in the meeting that we were going to be rejected again. But in the middle of me making an appeal to use this brand new school he began to have a conversation with his associate in my face. Their body language changed from uninterested and stoic to enthusiastic and positive. I interrupted him and said “Excuse me is there something I need to know?” He then turned his computer toward me and said, “Read this sentence”. On this computer screen he had typed the phrase “God works in mysterious ways.” He then went on to explain that before I walked in his office they had been trying to figure out who was the owner of the abandoned K-Mart building and then I walked in. The meeting then shifted from me trying to get to rent the school to them trying to rent our property. They offered to make a deal with us that in the end allowed us to use the school for free!
So currently we are in our new neighborhood trusting God to supply our financial needs to renovate the 112,000 square foot K-Mart building into a multi-ministry seven-day week complex. Our main vision with the property is to not to build a “church” because we believe the church is not a building but rather a people. We are believing God to build a 9-14 (we say 9-14 because we are seeking to partner with the local community college to help kids graduate from high school with their diploma as well as an associate’s degree) leadership and technology Adventist high school. Additionally, we will have a plant-based cafe, worship center and wellness facilities to minister to the needs of community. We still need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars but God has proven to do the miraculous when we do the ridiculous. All of this started with a decision to move out in faith! God moves when we make moves!
5 Lessons Learned
1. Experiencing the miraculous in ministry demands that we lead courageously. If you are going to see God do amazing things, you cannot lead for approval ratings. You have to be fearless and bold even if it is at risk to you personally.
2. Leading by faith inspires the faith of others. You may feel like you are by yourself but some people are just waiting for a Joshua to step into the Jordan first. When you lead by faith you give others permission to do the same.
3. Evangelism is the best way to create change in your church. If your church is dying, lifeless and stuck, being intentional about evangelism ignites life and vigor into your congregation. Evangelism can’t be an event it has to be a lifestyle. Evangelism justifies change. It’s hard for people to argue with results.
4. Vision precedes resources. It’s a misnomer that you need money in order to do big things. Not true. You need God to do great things. I’d take a bunch of radical faith praying members any day over wealthy ones. When you have a God-sized vision that has been birthed from intense seasons of prayer God will supply what is needed to accomplish His vision. Money is overrated. Vision is underrated.
5. Movement creates miraculous moments. Sometimes we sit and pray too much. Get up and do something! There are so many things God has already spoken on for us to do that don’t require us to stop and pray about. When we move, then God moves. Doors are opened. Opportunities arise. But this doesn't happen when we are still. It happens when we obey what God has already commanded. No need to pray about Going. He already said “Go!” When you do that, expect God to move miraculously.
MyRon P. Edmonds is Senior Pastor of Grace Community SDA Church Cleveland (Formerly Glenview SDA Church)