By Ben Mandrell
In May of 2014, my family and I landed in Denver, Colorado, and we began the process of planting a church called Storyline Fellowship. Our focus from the beginning was serving the community and building relationships with people in the area.
We started a Bible study in our house that quickly outgrew our home. We moved into the basement of a real estate building and then into a local elementary school. Eventually, we were able to purchase and renovate a former Walmart neighborhood market, and we moved in last Christmas Eve. Today the church is thriving. But it didn’t start that way.
The last five years have been a season filled with challenges, spiritual growth, and joy for me and my family. My wife, Lynley, and I learned several lessons serving as North American missionaries that have informed the way we do leadership and life. These lessons will stay with me as I step into a new role of leadership at LifeWay.
1. Living on mission is central to our calling as Christians.
Living in Denver, we learned that living on mission is central to all of our callings. At Storyline one of our five values was neighborhood impact. So we set out to love our neighbors well, which we found to be difficult because the people were so closed off initially.
Our zip code in Colorado is one of the wealthiest in the state. Because people have everything they need materially, they don’t think they need Jesus. They just weren’t interested in what we were sharing. It took work to become involved in our neighbors’ lives.
As we developed those relationships, we soon realized many of our neighbors had no real concept of God or church. It often takes a long time for people in unchurched areas to put the pieces together of what Christianity even is. Helping people understand not just who Jesus is but what Christianity is was a whole different world for us, but it was also so much fun.
We had one neighbor tell us, “Everything was going great until you guys came here and started talking about God with everybody. You guys have made us think about our worldview.” She said that like it was a bad thing. But our thoughts were, That’s great! That’s the point of life, is it not, to figure out your worldview and what you believe?
It was those challenging conversations and struggles to build relationships that led us to our second lesson.
2. Ministry is supposed to be hard.
Jesus never said that being on the front lines of ministry is going to be easy. In fact, He set the expectation that we would have trials and tribulations. “But take heart!” Jesus said in John 16. “I have overcome the world.”
We have overcome some things during our time as missionaries that have given us thicker skin and steeled our resolve in ministry.
When we first arrived in Denver, we applied to eight schools for meeting space. And all eight schools told us no. When we finally landed an elementary school through sheer determination and desperation, we had a lady in our neighborhood try to get us kicked out of the school and who stirred up trouble for us with our HOA.
We had to work hard to build bridges with people in the community. By the time we moved to Nashville, however, 10 families on our street had participated in some activity at our church. It was special to see how those relationships progressed over the five years we lived there.
Ministry is supposed to be hard. We’re in a spiritual battle. All of us who are called to ministry should put on the armor of God and get ready because it’s never going to be easy. But that’s also what makes it exciting. When we step out in faith, we can trust that Jesus is going to deliver.
3. God can do great things when His people take great risks.
When we moved to Denver, we had a lot of people tell us that planting a church there would never work. We read the statistics about church planting and knew the odds were stacked against us.
And yet, as we stepped out in faith and started something we believe God had called us to do, it’s been amazing to see lives transformed by the gospel. We also watched God change the lives of the people who moved to Denver with us to start the church.
God has impacted so many lives because we were emboldened by the Spirit to take a step of faith. One of the greatest lessons we learned was that God can do amazing things when we’re willing to take big risks in our lives.
I’m excited about this new season of ministry at LifeWay, and I believe these principles are ones we can embrace as an organization. Ministry is a team sport, and Lynley and I are jumping all in.
We believe God has incredible things in store for LifeWay and we look forward to seeing God transform lives through the relationships and resources we develop here.
BEN MANDRELL (@BenMandrell) is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He and his wife, Lynley, served as North American Mission Board missionaries, planting a church in Denver, Colorado.