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Words of Encouragement

Words of Encouragement

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ORLANDO, Florida — A trio of speakers encouraged ministry leaders to be innovative, take risks, and stay positive as the two-day Influence conference wrapped up Aug. 1.

Jeremy DeWeerdt recounted the early difficult years of pastoring City First Church in Rockford, Illinois. Although City First and its four other locations now have 6,900 weekly attendees, DeWeerdt well remembers when he took over 12 years ago and preached in a fairly empty 4,000-seat sanctuary. Initially, the congregation shrank further, staff had to be let go, and the church couldn’t meet payroll. DeWeerdt spent much of the week depressed.

“We were in a place of desperation,” DeWeerdt recalled. Unsurprisingly, he contemplated resigning many times as criticism abounded among congregants from 2007 to 2010.

“The enemy wants to take our churches out,” DeWeerdt told the 1,400 assembled ministry leaders. “He wants to abort the move of God in your community.”

Despite Satan’s intimidation and discouragement, DeWeerdt recognized that Jesus wants churches to thrive, eliminate negativity, and offer solutions for community problems. He noted that God can only do the miraculous when Christians are outside their comfort zones.

“When confronting fear, you have to rely more on what you know of God than what you know about the future,” DeWeerdt advised. “A church will never have victory if it lives in discord.”

Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and “innovation leader” at Life.Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, talked about several of the same themes as DeWeerdt. Gruenewald, mentioning the Parable of the Loaves and Fishes, remarked that innovation is birthed with limited resources. He noted that in an effort to reach his high school peers with the gospel, he took some risks in performing a rap song before them. A five-year stretch as a Christian rapper followed.

“We need to seize moments to reach people in new and different ways,” Gruenewald said. His creativity continued in a massive way in 2007 when he founded the YouVersion Bible App — which has been installed on 400 million devices.

Gruenewald said initially he conceived YouVersion as a website rather than phone app, a plan that failed. Only when he and a team of helpers reconfigured YouVersion did it become one of the first 200 apps Apple launched in 2008. It’s now available in 1,300 languages, and in many nations where possession of a physical Bible is dangerous.

“If we’re going to reach people no one else is reaching, we have to do things no one else is doing,” Gruenewald said. And that often means risking the possibility of failing. Gruenewald said Christian ministry leaders don’t fear starting a venture as much as pulling the plug when it’s obviously not working.

Al Toledo warned audience members not to imitate Solomon in his later life by thinking they can achieve goals on their own. Citing 2 Chronicles 5, he said Solomon had his greatest days when he sought God’s approval the most. Toledo pioneered Chicago Tabernacle, with his wife, Chrissy, in 2002. The multiethnic church has over 1,700 attendees.

No matter how much education a pastor has or how big a church has become, Toledo warned that congregants need to see that their minister demonstrates what it means to be desperate before God.

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