Many will know you as a Spring Harvest speaker and author and writer in Christianity+Renewal magazine. How has God been leading you in recent years?
Our primary home base is now in Colorado, USA. I am now one of the teaching pastors at Timberline Church, Fort Collins, north of Denver, Colorado. I had been visiting the church on and off for 12 years as a Bible teacher, during which the church had grown from 300-10,000. I had become good friends with Dary Northrup, the senior pastor. One time I was in Denver and due to meet him for coffee. I said to God, “I would like to be involved more with these people. But you have to instigate it, I am not going to say anything.”
During the course of the conversation he asked me whether I had thought about basing myself in Fort Collins and being more involved in the church. I said, I had, just this morning!
So we had a really strong sense of God calling us and spent the next year working out the details of this. I preach at Timberline 17 week-ends a year.
We have five services a week-end. Then, because of other things I am still involved with, I come to the UK on average every 18-20 days.
So is Timberline a typical ‘mega church’?
Most mega churches in the US are in large cities, but Timberline is in a community of just 140,000. This is not a classic ‘Bible belt’ because, of the 140,000, 25,000 are College students. Other local churches include a Vineyard Church of 1000, a Free Evangelical of 2000 which means that there is a heavy saturation of Christians in the local population. For example, the mayor of the city is in the church and the city council has adopted ‘character’ as a motto for the city. So there is Kingdom influence without people making a song and dance about it.
This sounds a long way from the average UK church. Are there principles governing their growth that you think would work here?
This is not a classic growth point, but I do believe that there is a healthy attitude within the church to other Christians in the area. Every weekend we pray for and bless other churches. We see ourselves as ‘just one of the churches’. We see the kingdom as important and recognise that our church may not be what they need.
Secondly, there is a really good attitude of encouragement. This is not a well-oiled guilt machine where we get together to feel bad. People feel positive about the church and are keen to bring their friends. People know what they are going to get, by which I don’t mean, it’s the same every week, just that there aren’t lots of changes every week. In charismatic churches we can be obsessed with innovation, which is good for us but not always so good for those who aren’t Christians.
It is also good to see a pastorally driven approach to change. A turning point for us came when a local stripper became a Christian. When she was baptised, 30 of her friends came wearing their usual attire including bouncers from the club. One of the leading women in the church went to the senior Pastor and accused him of ruining the church. Instead of rebuking her and giving her a lecture on Jesus loving sinners, he said, “yes I know I have but will you help me to love these people?”
He was allowing the stripper to take a journey and the conservative church lady to take a journey. A lot of churches see a pendulum swing from one group or another. They cater for one group or another with the attitude ‘get in line or get out’.
So what sort of a church are you?
We are Charismatic and seeker aware. With everything we do we are asking, how will this be perceived by the nonbeliever? We have a commitment to keep the main thing the main thing. Mission for us is imperative.
Are there particular lessons from the change the church has gone through?
Relocating to a new building was a big move for us. I believe it went well because of pre-emptive communication. We recognised that there would be genuine concerns. So for a number of weeks we used drama to answer those concerns. There is a real freedom to ask questions. We have acknowledged that questions need not be seen as divisive, or rebellious. We can lock people up and create problems. Awkward people are treated with kindness. We realise that someone may be rude in their approach but there may be truth in what they say. The rudeness may be just because they were nervous.
The other thing about change is the way we use small groups. I had developed the idea that small groups were for life, these are the people I am going to die with! But we try and be creative with our small groups. Some last for eight-10 weeks and then disband. Sometimes we use them to take the church community on a journey of change. So up to the screening of The Passion of the Christ, we had eight weeks of sermons and promoted the film heavily, including through small groups, culminating in a one off 10,000 gathering on Easter Sunday. Finally, we try to lead where God is going. We ask what is God up to, how can we be where he is? Many people would find your itinerant lifestyle impossible. The bottom line is that we do what we do.
When I am tempted to be overwhelmed I remember that lots of lovely people commute for an hour and a half on the train every day. I just get it over and done with at once.
I am learning to look after myself. When I flew over for Spring Harvest I deliberately booked into a hotel for 24 hours rest. I try and work hard and play hard, so I can work really hard for three months then take a few weeks off.
Ken Frank, full-time director of ministry for Jeff Lucas International Ministries keeps an eye on my schedule and there are others who help me out part-time. I am glad to do what I do. I have a weekly radio show on Premier and different opportunities opening up with TV, while CWR are looking to publish ‘Lucas on Life’ daily Bible reading notes worldwide.
I understand that you have had opportunities of training in the corporate world.
Yes, I have had some opportunities to do motivational speaking. I sense that God asked me to go into the corporate world. People such as Phil Wall, Patrick Dixon and Diane Louise Jordan have been encouraging me to do this for some time. I believe that truth is truth, so I teach on subjects like teamwork and customer care, promoting kingdom principles without the listeners knowing it. All my illustrations are from the corporate world. I basically hold up a mirror, use my humour and story telling and the response has been incredible. So for example, a short time ago I was with staff from Harley Davidson. It stretches my communication skills after all many of my audience don’t want to be there. This work is at the beginning stages.
As it develops I would hope to do this two or three times a month.
Is your family at a season of life where your lifestyle can work?
We are what the American’s call ‘empty nesters’. Our daughter, Kelly is married in Chichester and our son, Richard works in Colorado. Our commitment to spend quality time and have fun together means we can go deeper than if we saw each other every day.
My wife Kay works full-time in the ministry. She runs ‘Equipped to Lead: Favour’ a one year leadership training course which seeks to learn from people who are sensing the favour of God. It runs in the south and midlands one Saturday a month.
Do you have a five-year goal?
I am interested in developing radio and TV opportunities and I would like to make an impact in the US church in print. My books have been received positively in the UK, it would be great to have a commitment in the US market. I am working on a book that looks at the difference between a boss and a leader, and I would love to write a fictional book.
Which of your activities do you enjoy most?
The speaking and writing come easiest. But I find writing a lonely business. I can’t stand to be attached to computer screen for more than an hour without chatting to someone. I feel a strong calling to continue with the Spring Harvest Leadership team, not just because of the event but because of the relational community. We enjoy being together and it is great to be on a journey together.
To learn more about ‘Equipped to Lead’ go to www.etlfavour.com.