Podcast: Leading a Church in Uncertain Times

The future of the Church looks different now than anyone could have expected. Pastors must take new and innovative approaches to stay connected with and relate to their communities. In this episode of the Church InTension podcast, Dr. Jon Chasteen talks with Garrett Booth and Ethan Fisher, both senior pastors in Houston, Texas, about what it means to be a successful church.

Garrett Booth is the senior pastor of Grace Church in Houston where he and his wife both pastor. He also earned his Master’s degree from The King’s University. Ethan Fisher is the senior pastor of Gateway Church in Houston, which is a church planted by Gateway Church in Southlake. He and his wife both pastor there as well.

Dr. Jon Chasteen: Today’s episode is going to be directed towards pastors. I know of many of you listening may not be pastors, but it’s going to be awesome for you to get into the brain of a pastor and to see what we wrestle with, particularly today on the topic of what we’re facing in the world as the church with COVID, with the racial tensions happening in our nation, in an election season. Just all of the things happening in our world obviously impacts the church, which impacts the pastor. And today, I’ve got a couple of really awesome pastors with me. They’re great friends of mine.

Jon: The first one is Garrett Booth. Garrett Booth is the senior pastor of an amazing church in Houston called Grace Church. And his wife Andrea is some of Michelle and I’s dearest friends. We love them so much. Garrett has a masters degree from The King’s University and we’re excited about that. We’re in the process of forgiving him for going to Southeastern on his … but that’s okay, Garrett. We forgive you. We love you.

Jon: And then we also have my close friend, Ethan Fisher and we’re excited to have him on the podcast. He is the pastor of an amazing church that’s planted in Houston, Gateway Church, which is a plant from Gateway in South Lake. Ethan and his wife, Elaine, are amazing leaders. And I wanted to gain the perspective of a church planter because I know we have church planters out there who are in the process of planting a church during these times. Of all the times to plant a church, Ethan, what a great time. What a fun time to plant a church, but we’re excited to have you on the podcast. Also, he is in the middle of his Mdiv, getting his master’s degree at Divinity at The King’s University as well.

Jon: Guys, Garrett, maybe you go first so you guys aren’t talking over each other. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Garrett Booth: Yeah, man. What a great opportunity. Obviously, we love you and Michelle and everything that’s going on with The King’s, and just enjoy and appreciate our longstanding friendship. And it’s been a lot of years since we met each other in that hallway one day-

Jon: Yes.

Garrett: … and just shared about what it’s like to be a pastor, which is the outgrowth of even this podcast.

Jon: Right.

Garrett: A couple pastors just talking about what it means to do what we do. So, [crosstalk 00:03:33] grateful for you. Thanks for the opportunity to be on with you and to connect again with you Ethan. Great to be here.

Jon: Ethan, man, we’re so excited you’re on the podcast, man. We’re cheering for you. God’s doing some amazing things through Gateway Houston, and I’m pumped around the show.

Ethan Fisher: We’re happy to be here. Obviously, we’re down in Houston, but I want to say thank you. It’s an honor to be here. Love what you’re doing. Obviously, we just moved down here, so we got the chance to connect a couple of times while I was in Dallas, Fort Worth, and I love PKU and the direction that it’s going in and also this podcast. I know Church InTension is always going to be a big thing the pastors are going through, leaders are going through. So, what you’re doing right now and investing in leaders is key and it’s crucial and it’s needed during this time, so thank you very much.

Jon: Thank so much, man, for saying that. Guys, today’s conversation I’ve been anticipating and looking forward to so much because I think there’s a lot of pastors out there who feel isolated and one of the greatest joys of me and pastoring a church, and one of things that gives me a lot of freedom is to be able to call Garrett or another pastor friend of mine on a Monday morning and just say, “Hey, this is what I’m struggling with. This is what our church is going through. What about you?” And just to hear another pastor is like we cry in our milk together, but it really does help a pastor to say, “I’m not the only one wrestling with this.” And so, there’s so much going on right now. I don’t know how much time we have, but I can’t wait to jump into this. Let me just jump in real quick.

Jon: First off, Ethan, man, you’ve planted a church in the middle of crisis and going-

Ethan: Yeah.

Jon: … from… As if planting a church isn’t hard enough and then to go into the season. What is it that you guys are walking through right now? What are some of your greatest challenges right now?

Ethan: God puts in on your heart to plant a church and it was a three year journey for us to get to the place where we stepped out to come to Houston. We were supposed to come out 2019. Did the whole launch thing … it up to a year, and on January 26th of 2020, we launched and it was exciting. There were, for our first service, 750 people, a little over that. And even in the coming weeks, we were averaging over 400+.

Jon: Wow,

Ethan: God was moving. Many lives were getting changed, people getting saved and honestly, we’re excited. Then seven weeks in, all of that changed-

Jon: Surprise.

Ethan: … pretty drastically. Exactly. I’d always joke and I’d just say, “No one ever put it in the church training or church planning training manuals what to do whenever a pandemic hits seven weeks after you launch.”

Jon: Ever.

Ethan: We’re literally the throes of that. So, for us, we had to change pretty much everything. I know everyone did, for us, we didn’t even have online capability.

Jon: Wow.

Ethan: The only reason we had camera, that really wasn’t capable of streaming, but the only reason we had it was so that we could record it so the people who worked in children’s or areas where they weren’t able to come to the service. So, it was really only for our volunteers. We had to totally switch gears and there were some people in here that were crucial for us and think Garrett was one of those people. He actually does call me on Monday and we talk and he’s like, “Hey, I’m a safe place for you to talk and just share, hey, what’s going on within the church.” But I love the one thing that I’ve seen is the Kingdom mindedness of churches during this time, because with where we were with church planning, we lost our building, so the school was done. We had to basically vacate the premises, temporarily suspend it. And they’re still suspended actually til this day.

Jon: Wow.

Ethan: Garrett actually reached out and said, “Hey, if there’s anything that you guys need, y’all are family.” So, worship wise and even message wise, we’d use their facility while we were trying to get the capability to do be able to even stream online in the first place. We got a could a couple of cameras. We even had to have some volunteers come in and do it, because once again, we didn’t even have that in what we were doing on a consistent basis. So, there were personnel decisions to be made. But even til this day, the school is still, like I said, not allowing us in, so we don’t officially have a location to meet on a consistent basis, but we’ve had the opportunity now as I’ve connected with other churches in the area. We’re going to be able to rent a church building. They’ll actually take care of the load in, load out part for us, but this Saturday, August 22nd, were actually going to be able enter back into having services on Saturdays.

Jon: Wow.

Ethan: … so not even Sunday. We’re in unchartered territory as a whole. As a church planner you’re in that world, but leading a congregation through that when only had seven weeks in person and-

Jon: Oh, my goodness,

Ethan: … then 23 weeks have been online-

Jon: Wow.

Ethan: … it’s been a whole new world to keep people engaged and different things like that. Those challenges are fresh and they’re new and keeping team morale high. There’s so many different pieces to it, so it’s waiting. It’s waiting. It’s different from what I was doing before, stepping into this role and just dealing with everything that’s unplanned.

Jon: I love what you hit on about it really causing The Kingdom to come together. After 9/11, we saw it being a unifying force or brought the nation together. And then this season with COVID, the racial tension in our nation has almost been polarizing. It’s been very dividing. However, within the body of Christ, it seems like it’s brought us together. I feel like I’ve talked to more pastors in the past six months than I’ve talked to in the last six years. And I love to hear, like Garrett, is reaching out to another pastor in his own city and loving and encouraging. Garrett, talk about that. How’s that been? Do you think that this has been a unifying thing for pastors in the body of Christ?

Garrett: Yeah. I think any time you face a problem that is unusual and big it causes you to rethink. Here’s what I would say, Christ just clarifies our commitment.

Jon: Yeah, yeah.

Garrett: It’s one thing to say we’re committed to the kingdom of God, but here’s how you know. When a crisis hits, what do you?

Jon: Yes.

Garrett: Because crisis clarifies, clarifies our commitments, our values, shows what we really believe in, and when you’re up against a pandemic it just can’t be business as usual. So, the question is what do you do? And I think that I really believe that the heart of almost every pastor is that not just my church, but the church of Jesus is growing everywhere, reaching people everywhere. If the water level goes up all the boats float higher. And to have that kind of a kingdom mindset is so important, and here’s how it’s lived out. It’s lived out in sharing what we have. Hey, we have a facility. You don’t have a facility? You can use our facility. We have equipment that you don’t?

Jon: Yes.

Garrett: You can use our equipment. We can come together as the church of the city and we can stock the food bank. And together we can fill up the blood bank. And together we can do some things that none of us could do on our own because the truth is we’re really part of something that’s bigger than any of us individually. I think one of the things about a crisis is it reminds us of that, part of something bigger.

Jon: That’s so good. I love the thought there. Hey, I want to get really, really, really blunt and specific on a couple of things, because I think there’s a lot of pastors out there who are getting their stat sheet every Monday morning on their offerings, on their attendance, on their online attendance and there’s weeks where they’re having panic attacks. There’s weeks where they’re like, “Yes. We’re on top of the world,” and then the very next week it’s like, “No. This was the worst day ever.”

Garrett: Sure.

Jon: You don’t have to get specific guys, but let’s talk about what those rhythms have been for you and your church and how you process those things. When you get a bad offering on a Sunday morning, we’ve heard it said that every Monday the senior pastor fires himself and then Tuesday he hires himself back. And Monday’s are like that for me. Monday’s are a day where you’re emotionally spent. Your exhausted. You’ve poured your heart out in a sermon with your emotions, and then sometimes you get a bad report on a Monday and you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh. I can’t pout anymore of myself out into this church.” Then I get that report. What do I do with that? Maybe, Garrett, you go first. How do you process those things if you want to give some rhythms of your church and what you’ve seen happening in the past six months you can, but how do you process those things?

Garrett: I think, for us and for a lot of pastors that I’m connecting with, very few churches are up on any metric.

Jon: Right.

Garrett: Since the pandemic. Since COVID hit, finances are tighter. Obviously, if the church isn’t meeting in-person there’s a lot that we value and count and keep up with that has to do with being in person. When you’re not in person you don’t have any of that, and so I think churches are scrambling to try to figure out what’s the new normal and what od we do and how do we see it, and how do we do more ministry with less resource? That’s a challenge, too. A lot of places you’re finding out who has been stewarding and saving up and who hasn’t. And when things are tight and difficult and you face one of these times, this is why we’re challenged to be really good stewards because we want to have some margain and some ability because the thing is this is the time when people need us the most. In moment when people need us the most we’re trying to do the most ministry with less resources than we ever have [crosstalk 00:13:46]. So, we have to be creative and we have to be good stewards and we have to be wise about that. And we can’t count the things we used to count.

Jon: Yes.

Garrett: I think that, for me, that me that means making adjustments and that means looking for what the new normal is, and what’s the new needs? We felt like in our church that what most important in a time where people are so disconnected, and in our case in our city for a while they were stuck in their homes and stuff like that, that we connected with people personally. We took the list of every person who has attended our church, it’s a pretty long list, and we broke it up and we personally phone called everybody.

Jon: Yeah.

Garrett: … because we just felt like that was a need that was at the top of the list for that kind of scenario and situation. I think it’s causing us to reflect and think about what’s really most important and how do we do that. But I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t have Monday’s, too. All of us do and I think as pastors it’s like we don’t even know what the scoreboard is right now.

Jon: Right. How do you know-

Garrett: Exactly.

Jon: … if you’re winning or not.

Garrett: Yeah because the game has totally changed on us. The sidelines are different. The end zone is different. We don’t even know which way we’re to go on the field. All of us are muddling through that confusion, but I think if we keep our eye on the ball of reaching people, what can we do to reach people and connect with people and be a value add to their life then we’re moving in the right direction, and however that looks. And right now for a lot of churches, that’s online ministry combined with maybe some other things and using technology and trying to leverage that as well.

Jon: Ethan, I got a question for you. I was talking to Dr. Kenneth Ulmer last week. He pastors a church in L.A. He’s a little over 70 years old, African American church. Just an amazing leader and he was talking to me and he said this phrase. He said, “Moses saw further than he could go, but Joshua went further than he could see.” He’s saying my generation is Moses, Jon, and we’ve taken the church as far as we can take it. And now Joshua, the next generation, as to come and lead into a promised land that we have no idea where we’re going. And you alluded to it while ago, these unchartered territories that we’re called to walk into. You’re a young pastor. You’re a young leader. And I want all three of us to have this conversation, but what do we feel like? And I know it’s a shot in the dark because nobody truly knows, but what does the church or tomorrow look like? That’s a crazy loaded question, hard to answer.

Ethan: It is.

Jon: Is there anything that you feel like the Lord’s telling you about what the church of tomorrow might look like?

Ethan: Yeah. I feel like as we planted there was that clarity, okay, who is God calling us to be? I think the church of tomorrow, the church of the future really is, I want to say, diverse. It’s every nation, every tribe, every tongue coming together. There’s a diversity that’s there. In the Houston area that’s a normal thing, but I feel like, you talked about it even briefly, the racial tensions that were happening. The churches that were diverse actually were able to have those conversations in a way that the churches that aren’t as diverse aren’t able to have those conversations or they needed to begin having those conversations. Even from the very beginning, one of the things that we constantly heard was I love that this church is diverse. I feel like I can belong. It was simple. It was very easy. And I believe diversity actually allows the church to speak into an issue that the world is trying to solve but they’re not capable of solving because they don’t have Jesus unifying it. And now they don’t see themselves as one, but in Jesus we are one. I think it’s important for the church to be able to aim for that direction and be a light in that way.

Ethan: I think the other part is care. One of the things we focus on, I think it’s easy to begin to be insider focused whenever crisis hits, but we wanted to do our best to be outside of focus because even with giving, it was high for several months for us and it tapered off-

Jon: Yep.

Ethan: … even to this day. I believe as we begin meeting again people will come out of it a little bit. But I think the important thing is, just like Garrett mentioned, we called every single person that was here. And we’re actually doing it again because so much is happening in their lives. We’ve been able to help our different members that have needed care. They needed food. They’ve lost their jobs. Someone has had COVID. There’s so many different things that are moving, so care has to be very high. And there need to be different touch points. Even for us around this time, groups was huge. So, community for the church is going to be vital. Loneliness will become an epidemic and you’re even seeing it with what’s happening. Alcoholism’s gone up. Drug use has gone up. Suicides unfortunately has gone up. Divorces, you can go down the line as far as what’s happening during the season. People are crying out for hope because they’re hopeless. We can be able to speak into that and actually giving them a place where there’s hope.

Ethan: For us, we didn’t have groups so we started them and that actually created a really high level of engagement. I think really that is what we’re trying to do, create as much engagement points, which is why we did outreaches, which is why we connected with the food bank. We want to help people see, hey, during these times of crisis we can always have an outward focus because that’s the way Jesus would look is to have compassion on other people. Even in the midst of going through it ourselves, just to say, “Hey, what are other people going through so that we can be of help?” And from the very beginning we said progress over perfection for us. I was worried that God … me at the-

Jon: That’s good.

Ethan: … very beginning. I didn’t realize exactly what that was going to look like for us, and we haven’t been perfect in it. Situations haven’t always been perfect either, but I feel me and the team, we come together and done our best to say, “Hey, where is God calling us to next in this season,” because we need to call and bring other people along with us for the journey because they’re also looking for hope and they’re looking for a reason to have faith and that the church can lead in that perspective and really reach out and make a difference in their community-

Jon: Yeah.

Ethan: … and be a part of really building the kingdom. And if they can see unity I think it flies in the face of what’s happening in the world today where there’s a division, polarization. If the church can actually show unity and actually bring other people along with that and be peacemakers, which is what we’re called to do, I believe people will begin to see the church in a different light.

Jon: I love the differences even represented on this podcast. Ethan, you and your wife have planted a church. It’s a new plant and the numbers you guys are seeing are just astronomical amazing for a church plant. But then you’ve got Garrett on the other side talking about the future church. For you listeners, Garrett has an auditorium that seats 10,000 people. And so, Garrett, are they coming back? Are they going to come back to church? That’s the question in everybody’s mind. The church I pastor, we’re seeing between 40% to 50% of our church coming back. I’ve seen across the spectrum, I know some pastors that have 20%, 25% coming back. Some that have 30. Some that have 35. Garrett, what does the church of tomorrow look like? Is it going to look like it’s been?

Garrett: Some of the needs that people have are never going to change. People have a need for community. People have a need to belong to something. People have a need to find faith and hope, so those needs aren’t going to change. Some of the way we do that may change. I think right now the barrier to most people for attending church in their community it has to do with COVID. Does the world look different if you have a vaccine? Probably so, even if not everybody takes the vaccine.

Garrett: I think that when COVID becomes, and most experts are saying at some point it is going to become like the flu in the national consciousness. I think when that happens it will have the same effect as the flu. And I think that school’s reopening, that’s a big test for families. So, how that goes in a community, I think, sets a lot of pace because if your kids are back in school and you’re back at work and you’re back eating out, you know what, you’re probably back going to church. And to whatever degree things shift back to, not to back to like they were but to whatever degree things are open and people are engaging in those kind of activities then I think the church is there, as long as it’s relevant and meeting people’s needs and honoring God.

Jon: That’s good.

Garrett: I think that when we do those things there we go. Obviously, in our case, we’re seeing right now about 35% attendance of where we were before. And that’s I would say you’re a little bit above average from what I’m hearing from pastors in most places where they’re able to open and have services. Obviously, in our case, there’s some conditions. We need to be socially distant. There’s people wear masks when they come in. We’re taking steps like that, that our governor’s asked us to take to try to remain safe. So, things are different, but I don’t think that the need is going to be there and if the church can speak relevantly to the need and touch people where they are, then God’s going to use it. Will there be some new, creative things that come out of this? Man, I hope so because we should never waste a crisis. I think this should cause us to find new and creative ways to do ministry and to do things that maybe we’ve never done before.

Garrett: Or even to some pastors on there, this maybe a good time to let go of some things that you have been wanting to let go of but you haven’t known how. Just don’t do them when you go back. This is a time when you can where you can experiment, you can be creative, you can try things and if it doesn’t work-

Jon: Exactly. Blame it on COVID.

Garrett: … you can pivot.

Jon: That’s good.

Garrett: There’s been some positives, I think, to that kind of environment, but we’re seeing people come back. And every week it’s a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more, but I think it’s probably without a major, news worthy change in what’s happening, assuming that things continue at pace, I think it’s going to be through Christmas before we really see people out and about in the same kind of way.

Jon: Yeah. And every geographical area is different.

Garrett: Yeah.

Jon: One of the reasons we’re seeing those larger numbers is because we’re in Oklahoma. We’re in Oklahoma City. We’ve been gathering as church since May 17th. Since Mother’s Day we’ve been having church. Whereas Houston, you guys were a hot pocket there for a while. There was just a lot of cases, a little bit of outbreak. A church in New York City, a church in L.A., everybody’s going to see different results and that’s one of the dangers-

Garrett: That’s true.

Jon: … pastors are really bad at doing sometimes is we compare ourselves to other churches. And especially during this season, it’s just not something we can do.

Garrett: Listen, it’s legal for you to have church.

Jon: Exactly.

Garrett: If you’re in California right now-

Jon: Exactly.

Garrett: … you can’t have church inside your church building.

Jon: Okay, we’ve all see John MacArthur and his thing he’s done in California. It’s such a polarizing topic and I’d love to hear both of your thoughts on this. And this is a challenging question, but this is The Church InTension podcast after all. There’s just the mask thing, the should we gather thing. It’s such a dividing topic because you have two opposite camps. You have those who say, “We can’t let the Babylonians hold us down, the evil government. We’re going to gather and they can’t tell us we can’t because it’s our freedoms.” And then you have the other camp who is the complete opposite. We shouldn’t meet again until there’s a vaccine, or we’re not being safe, or we don’t care about other people. You’re killing people by having church.” It’s such a dividing line that it’s hard to know where the line is. And I think this is the weight that so many pastors have been feeling it.

Jon: I know Ethan, you’re in the middle of feeling… At the time of us taping this, we’re mid August. A little bit past the middle of August. This coming Sunday is your very first day together, so you’ve wrestled with this very, very recently. How do you guys process these things and what are some these things that help you make these decisions? And how far is the line? If the government tell us we have to wear a mask versus they tell us we have to hire homosexual pastors in our churches, where is the line? And some would say, “Well, it’s just a mask. Who cares? It’s not like they’re telling us to do something that goes against our morality or our ethics.” What are y’all’s thoughts on that. I know that’s a loaded question, so whoever wants to go first.

Ethan: Obviously, in America we have Constitutional Rights and it’s very important that those aren’t infringed upon. I really understand that side and I believe that’s important. Freedom means a lot, but with Freedom also come responsibility. At our church, we processed it and obviously it’s different sizes. If you’re a mega church you may process this totally differently and you may see your city in a way and say, “Hey, we’re looking at the hospitalizations. We’re looking at ICUs. We’re looking at deaths in our area and we don’t want to put the hospitals over if people do catch COVID in our church. We could spread it because of our size.

Ethan: For us, we’re talking about it from a church planning standpoint where if 25% of the people come back we may be at 100 or so. And the auditorium where we were and where we are even going is larger, so we space people out pretty well. We were actually originally going to come back July 19th, but the school said no because we saw that spike here in the Houston area. So, for us, we have, and even Gateway and stuff, they said, “Hey, wear masks coming in and once you’re at your seat take them off. And then when we’re leaving again put them back on, please. And keep social distancing.” So, there’s always wisdom in the middle of it all.

Ethan: And I think you do, at the end of the day, obviously God has called you to lead … your church, but you need to hear his voice. So, pray about it. John MacArthur may be on one end, but you have Andy Stanley on the other end who telling them-

Jon: Right.

Ethan: … “Hey, the way we love our neighbor-

Jon: Right.

Ethan: … is to not even come back until 2021.”

Jon: Right.

Ethan: That is shocker to some people whereas John MacArthur is a shocker to other people. So, it really is hey, God’s called us to lead, so how do we honor God and love God and also love our neighbors? And it’s different wherever you are, but I think you have to pray about it. You have to hear God and then use as much wisdom as possible as you walk it out. I think that’s-

Jon: That’s good.

Ethan: … key. People need to give each other grace, though. And I think as pastors, we have to lead with that. I feel so many people that are being canceled and they’re yelling at each other and there’s just so much division around things that really aren’t life or death, for the most part. But I think we need to be able to give each other grace during these times to say, “Hey, they may have a different perspective than I do. And just because I disagree doesn’t mean we can’t be in a relationship and we can’t love one another,” even if that means it needs to be at a distance during this time period. But people are fearful and I think that’s the thing you have to realize. It’s not a matter of fear or faith. They may feel like, “Hey, as of right now, I’ll watch online”, and some people are like, “Hey, I’m gun ho. As soon as you open those doors I’m in.” And they’re upset that you’re meeting yet.

Ethan: So, I think we have to really pray to hear God and then step out with wisdom and put all the precautions in place so when people do come through the doors they feel comfortable.We’ve done that and we’re ready for that whenever we come back this Saturday.

Jon: That’s really good. Garrett, what are your thought, brother?

Garrett: I think you have this specific instance of dealing with COVID and how we should handle that. And I would just say to pastors and leaders, one, you need to get educated about COVID, COVID in your area and the reality of what’s happening. For example, in Houston we had a spike of the virus and there was a lot of talk about ICU beds. The ICU beds full and how many ICU beds are there? Most pastors, we don’t have a lot of education on hospital administration-

Jon: Right.

Garrett: … and the news has a bias typically in that, too. And so understanding the reality of, for example, hospitals bill ICUs to stay at about 90% full all the time because it’s very expensive. An ICU bed and the peripheral equipment that goes with it costs and awful lot of money. So, to hear that the ICU’s 90% full, that’s a normal day.

Jon: Wow. That’s really good insight.

Garrett: So, understanding the lay of that land is a challenge for sure and knowing where to get real information is a challenge. And I would just say every local church should navigate this and have the freedom to make their own choices about reopening or not reopening. I feel like church is an essential function. If you can go to Wal-Mart and you can go to Home Depot you ought to be able to go to church-

Jon: Right.

Garrett: … and as long as it’s done-

Jon: Safety.

Garrett: … with the same precautions and safety protocols that the other things are done with. At the same time, then there’s the bigger question of put COVID to the side, how much should the government be able to influence, shape, you could say demand-

Jon: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Garrett: … from the church-

Jon: Yep.

Garrett: … and their community? And what’s the politics of all that? And what does that look like and mean? And that’s really big question.

Jon: Right.

Garrett: Because this is probably not the last illness that’s going to hit America and it’s certainly probably not the last hot issue that put church and government in tension with each other. I think that as pastors, we’ve got wrestle with what does that mean and what do we really believe about that, and what do we really believe about religious freedom, and what do we really believe the role of government, and what do we really believe about how those things play together? We haven’t really had to wrestle with that before, but it appears that the clouds are rolling in, in a way where we have to start thinking about some things maybe we haven’t thought about in a long time. Of course church leaders through history have had to think about them for sure.

Jon: And what’s our relationship as a pastor with the local authorities? Are we waiting until a crisis hits before we reach out to our local authorities?

Garrett: Right.

Jon: Or do we have an ongoing relationship with them? I know whenever it all started hitting in Oklahoma City I’m talking to the mayor. And I know not every pastor has their mayor or their governor’s cell phone number, but I talked to our mayor. I talked to the governor and those weren’t relationships that happened when COVID hit. Those were relationships that I had made efforts to build relationships with those individuals before any crisis hit so that when a crisis does hit there’s a relationship there. So, I think it’s important for us to be, whether they follow our code of ethics or belief structures or not, we as leaders can reach out to our leadership, our governing authorities and try to build relationship if for no other reason than to have influence over them instead of them always having the influence over us. Are we doing our parts to build relationship with people who don’t even believe what we believe to show them what Christ hands and feet look like. So, I think-

Garrett: Yeah. That’s a good point.

Jon: … all those things are important.

Garrett: I’ll just add one more thought there-

Jon: Yeah, please.

Garrett: … on the COVID side and that’s it, that for our church, we said our main focus is going to be reaching out to the community. Now, we still want to reopen and have services when we can, but the top of the list right now is to reach to hurting people. I think that when the church sees that and responds that way, then what happens is you earn your right to speak. So, when the church is doing food drives to help people who don’t have food, … doing blood drives at the local blood bank, supporting first responders. We had teams go out to local hospitals and say, “You’re a first responder, you have to be here. We’ll run errands for you.”

Jon: That’s good.

Garrett: “We’ll pick up your dry cleaning. We’ll go to the grocery store. We’ll help take care of you while you’re taking care of our city. We want to pray for you and your family.” When the church is outward focused like that then you earn your right to speak and you’re not just speaking in a vacuum. I think that churches that have that mindset and operate that way, there’s money in the bank for these kind of moments where you need to raise your voice, need to say something, you need to talk about it and you earn your right to speak by serving.

Jon: That’s exactly right.

Garrett: A servant can go anywhere.

Jon: Yep. That’s so good.

Garrett: And that’s important for all of us to remember.

Jon: So good. Hey, as we wrap this up today, it doesn’t seem like it, but we’re approaching 40 minutes on this, but I could talk about this all day. But one of the ways I like to close is to give the guest an opportunity just say something to encourage people in the ministry. It could be a senior pastor. It could be an associate pastor, whatever role, but just something to part with to just something that would encourage them. Maybe it’s something you said to your staff recently in an all staff or something, but just something that you would say to encourage the body of Christ today as we wrap up. Either one of you have something on your heart that you want to go or are you like, I need a few more minutes to decide?

Ethan: Yeah, yeah.

Jon: Go ahead, Ethan.

Ethan: The thing that I’ve held onto, because obviously there chaos. There’s so much that’s happening. It’s changing every single day and there’s so much uncertainty. How do you have peace in the midst of this? So, a verse that I’ve really held onto is Isaiah 26:3 where it says in The New Living, “You will keep in perfect peace-

Jon: Yeah.

Ethan: … all who trust in you-

Jon: Yeah.

Ethan: … all whose thoughts are fixed on you.” So, I would just say make sure your thoughts are fixed on him. Make sure you’re trusting him during this time. He said he will build his church and that means you’re in a pandemic and-

Jon: Yes.

Ethan: … things are going great. He’s going to build it during both of those times and I actually feel like in the middle where it seems hopeless that is a time where we can actually see a great harvest. We can see change happening and people may be more open now than they even were before-

Jon: Yes.

Ethan: … when things were great to say, “Hey, we can’t base our life on circumstances because it can change in a moment. We can base our lives on something that’s eternal.” And I feel the more churches are able focus on the 167, because most of the time we said the church building is closed but the church is always open. We are the church, but they come to the building maybe one or two hours a week. If we can get them focusing on their time outside of the church building, I believe we’ll be able to have an impact that lasts and makes a difference and that’s a ripple effect for generations to come, if we take and seize this moment and see it as an opportunity for God to move in a special way because he’s still moving. We just have to make sure we step in where he’s moving and continue to ride that wave in what he wants to do during this time.

Ethan: I would just encourage you on that. You can have peace-

Jon: Yes.

Ethan: … in the middle of chaos because peace is based on Jesus. It’s not based on our circumstances or our situation that’s happening around us. I know we preach it, but-

Jon: Right.

Ethan: … but so many times it hard to actually live it, and I think we have to show, hey, this is what it looks like to walk it out because people ar looking at you to say, “Hey, is this real?” And if you can have peace now, it will speak volumes to people about what it means to have faith in Jesus.

Jon:  That’s so good and it’s so true. A lot of times I’ll say it’s real easy to preach about this, but it’s a lot harder to live it. And pastors are humans, and so we struggle with the same things. That’s so good. Pastor Ethan, if people want to follow you, I’m not asking you to give your cell phone number out. Please don’t do that, but if people want to follow you, check out Gateway Houston, what’s some of the best ways they can follow you on social media? Just give us a directive.

Ethan: Our website is gatewayhome.com or they can follow us on Instagram or Facebook, you can find us there. It’s gatewayhome and that’s for the church. And then me personally, it’s ethanmfisher on Instagram. That’s probably the place where I post the most, so that’s where I’m connecting with people.

Jon: Awesome. Garrett, what are your final thoughts my friend?

Garrett: I’ll just say two things. To any pastor who’s listening, I just encourage you now is a time to connect with other pastors. If you feel lonely and isolated, let me just say something, there’s another pastor down the street from you that feels lonely and isolated. Pick up the phone, call them, and you know what, talk over the phone, pray for each other. You be the one to reach out to another pastor, or two or three pastors in your area and connect with them. So, I just encourage pastors now is the time to reach out to another pastor.

Garrett: And then for every leader on the call, I’d just say this, like Paul said, I think there’s a great and effective open door in front of us. Everything that can be shaken has been shaken.

Jon: Yes.

Garrett: And for people who don’t have God, their job’s been shaken. Many of them, their health’s been shaken. They know someone who’s been affected by COVID, if they haven’t been or family hasn’t been. The media is shaking them, for sure. So, when you think about it, everything has been shaken and I think people are more open to the message of the gospel now and it’s an open door. The door is open now. Now is the time to ask to pray for somebody when you’re in line at the grocery store or to share about Jesus in an effective and positive way with the people around you. And like Ethan said, if you have that peace then you’re going to stand out because so many people don’t have that and where should they be looking for it? In people’s faith.

Jon: Yeah.

Garrett: They should be looking for it in Jesus, and so we can share that with people. So, for pastors, build a relationship. Make a call. Connect with somebody. For leaders and everybody else on the call, it’s a great and effective open door and let’s see God be glorified and the church be built through it.

Jon: That’s so good. Garrett, thanks for being my friend. Ethan, thank you for being my friend. Garrett, if people want to follow Grace Church and you, tell them how they can do that.

Garrett: Okay. The website for the church is mygrace.com, mygrace.com. And then Grace Houston TX on social media. And then for me, I’m garrettbooth, G-A-R-R-E-T-T-B-O-O-T-H on Instagram and also on Facebook.

Jon: Two Rs and two Ts. Hey-

Garrett: You got it.

Jon: … thank you both. Love you both. I’m cheering you on. So excited for what God’s doing in your churches and through each and everyone of you. I’m honored to be your friend.

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Church InTension
Church InTensionhttps://church-intension.simplecast.com
The Church InTension podcast is a place to have healthy conversations about areas of tension and the intentions of the Church. Hosted by Dr. Jon Chasteen and powered by The King's University and Gateway Church.