It’s the dream of every architect. It was certainly my dream: to move to the city and contribute to the city’s skyline. My calling was clear at the ripe age of six. It was 1978 when I came home from kindergarten and asked my mom, “What do you call a person who designs buildings?” She responded, “An architect.” I declared with emphatic determination, “That’s what I’m going to be.” I never wavered from that calling.
As a child, city skylines mesmerized me. They still do. I remember when our family would travel during the summer months and I anticipated that moment when from a great distance you could see the city skyline. I watched in anticipation to see the “Batman building” as we approached Nashville. I remember my first visit to Sears Tower in Chicago. I could have spent days in the observation deck. I remember placing my hand on the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Lexington’s view of the “blue building” with its glowing blue light as seen from a distance on Richmond Road has always been one of my favorites. There is always something invigorating each time I see a city skyline. Every city that I have visited since my childhood has made an indelible imprint on my memory.
Architecture even impacted my creative play as a child. Legos, Erector Sets, or any other toy that gave expression to my creativity was among my favorite toys. These toys allowed me to imagine what could be and then create what my mind had envisioned. By the time I was in middle and high school, my calling as an architect only grew more steadfast. It was during this time that my teachers recognized my resolve to pursue this career and some of them helped me develop a path to that end. One of my teachers gave me a list of the top architecture schools in the United States that were fully accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. The University of Kentucky was the only one in Kentucky. Everything was falling into place exactly as I had hoped.
In the late eighties and early nineties, the College of Architecture at the University of Kentucky had a strict acceptance program. Students couldn’t simply declare Architecture as their major. Instead, they must be accepted into the program through an examination process that involved creativity, artistry, design, mathematics, critical thinking skills, and so forth. Once each year, prospective students from all over the world came to the University of Kentucky to participate in their all-day architecture exam for entrance. Waiting for the results of this entrance exam was more intense than acceptance to the university. The packet finally arrived. It was a congratulatory letter that informed me that I was accepted among the top 10%. The years of preparation were paying off.
Before I continue, it’s important to note that there was one major change in my life that occurred between my kindergarten calling as an architect in 1978 and my high school graduation of 1990. It was the summer of 1987; I gave my life to Christ. My life was transformed. Commitments are one of my high core values. Perhaps that goes without saying since I committed to architecture at such a young age.
During my sophomore year at the University of Kentucky, I grew miserable doing what I loved. It’s difficult to explain. How can I be so despondent? I knew that God was calling me into ministry, but architecture had been my plan since kindergarten! One of the most difficult obstacles for me to overcome was my own pride. How can I abandon something that I had been working toward for so long? How can I tell those teachers who invested heavily into my plans for a career in architecture? How can I tell my soon-to-be fiancé; who by the way was the daughter of a pastor and insisted that she would never marry a pastor! I remember feeling as though God had pulled the rug out from underneath me. The blueprint for my life was changing. How could it not? I was continuing my plan toward architecture without consideration of God’s plan for my life. I made the mistake that many Christians make, creating a dichotomy between my faith and my daily life.
The affirmation of God’s call on my life to ministry came with the utmost clarity. I was reading what would become my life verse: 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” It stood out to me as never before. God was using terms that connected my heart and my brain in such a way that was undeniable. The Greek word translated in this passage as “master builder” is arkhitekton, from which we get the word architect. Could this be? Has God been preparing me for something far greater than temporal buildings of brick and mortar? Was my kindergarten calling to architecture all part of God’s plan? I believe it was. From that day forward I never questioned God’s call on my life to the gospel ministry. God was calling me to be an architect to help others build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.
As I prepared to share God’s call on my life to ministry with those I was certain to disappoint with the news, I had to swallow my own pride. It wasn’t that I expected them to be disappointed in my call to ministry, but disappointed in the abandonment of a career in architecture. As I shared the news that God had called me into ministry, it was not met with surprise or disappointment. Instead, it seemed like a secret that everyone else knew except me! After sharing the news of God’s call, one responded, “I thought you were going to share some news with me? I’ve known God was calling you to ministry for a long time.” God used those conversations to once again affirm His call on my life to ministry.
Perhaps no conversation was more affirming than that of Cheryl. After all, she was the one that declared she would never marry a pastor. Would this be the deal-breaker? God would certainly not call me into ministry, and not at the same time call my future bride to the unique role of pastor’s wife. As will prove to be the case throughout our marriage, she was always one step ahead of me in discerning God’s will. The news was no surprise to her; she was simply waiting for me to catch up.
Through my years of ministry, God has used the skills that He has given me for His Kingdom work. Architects have a God-given ability to envision something that doesn’t exist, develop a strategic plan, and guide the process to see it come to life.
My first visit to the Charlotte – Lake Norman area was in 2001. I would spend the next thirteen years of ministry here. I would discover that God not only calls you to ministry and to a specific church, but He also calls you to a community. As I reflect on my years of vocational ministry (since 1993), I believe God has been preparing me for a specific work. My years as a Student Pastor, Executive Pastor, and Lead Pastor have each prepared me for the culmination of what God has called me to do: plant a church!
As a pastor, each time God calls you to a work, it is met with an opportunity for faith. It is at this intersection of calling and faith that will determine if we enter into God’s blessing or spend years wandering in the wilderness. The greater the calling, the greater faith will be required. Planting a new church is a high calling that will require matched faith.
As an architect, I still have a dream to contribute to the skyline. However, the skyline is not one of tall buildings but the Kingdom of God. It’s a skyline where heaven and earth meet, a place where the divine and humanity are united in Christ, a place where the gospel and life come together, … a grace point.
More details coming soon about Grace Point Church
in Lake Norman, North Carolina!
Every pastor will tell you that ministry is hard work. Here is an encouraging word from "Experiencing God Day By Day" by Henry Blackaby.
"For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground" Isaiah 53:2a.
The coming of Jesus was like a tender plant in the midst of a parched ground. Parched ground offers little hope for survival; it is dry and too hardened to allow most plants to penetrate its crust. Yet Jesus was prophesied as a tender plant that would break through the hostile soil and overcome the dry and lifeless environment in order to bring life.
When Jesus was born, His people were hardened to God’s Word. There is no written record of God’s having spoken to His people for four hundred years. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had studied and memorized the Scriptures, but the words were lifeless to them. So hostile had they become to the truth that when God’s Son came to them, they killed Him. Nevertheless, despite the enmity of the people, Jesus brought life to all who believed in Him.
Jesus is capable of bringing life to any person, society, or culture no matter how hardened or hostile they have become to the gospel. Even the most calloused sinner will discover that Jesus knows how to penetrate the heart and bring life where there was only bitterness. The work of Jesus in a person’s life may seem fragile at first, but like the mustard seed, it will eventually grow into something strong.
As you pray for someone you care about, don’t be discouraged if this person has not responded to Jesus. Just as a tender plant finds a way to grow in a hard and unreceptive environment, so the love of Jesus has the ability to emerge in a life that seems completely unresponsive.
"He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (John 10:3).
Have you ever met someone and five seconds into the conversation you've already forgotten their name? You're not alone! On average, the human brain can only remember about 150 names and faces without prompt. Memorizing the names and faces of an entire church congregation can be quite the challenge! Here are five ways to get to know your flock.
1. Learn their names and use their name in conversation. It takes effort to learn a lot of names and faces in a short period of time. While sitting in our first deacons meeting (at FBC Mount Sterling), I wrote down the names of each deacon as they introduced themselves. As each one spoke during the meeting, I looked back at their name to associate the person with their name. By the end of the meeting I was able to identify all of the deacons by their first name without using my notes. It's hard work, but worth the effort.
2. Listen to their prayer requests. People share prayer requests about the things that are most important to them. When people fill out a prayer request card, share a request after the worship service, or share during Wednesday night's prayer time... it is important to listen to their requests. Pray for them the next day. At your next opportunity, follow up with them by asking about their request.
3. Look at them in their eyes. The people in your flock deserve your undivided attention. It can be difficult to focus on the person you're talking to when others are walking past, waving, and whispering "good sermon" as they pass by. Without intending to do so, we can look over the shoulder of the person we are talking with and miss what they are sharing. Do your best to shut out the distractions around you and focus your attention on the person in need of your attention. Those who made the effort to seek you out and speak with you deserve your undivided attention.
4. Laugh with them. Be authentic with others and laugh. It's always good to have a funny ice-breaker when getting to know others. A friend of mine uses the ice-breaker, "What was the worst job you ever had?" This gives you an opportunity to learn about the person and laugh with them. You might want to invite them into your home to create this opportunity. We've done this through "Dessert for 10" and "Christmas Open House" at our home.
5. Locate common ground. Identify areas of interest of those in your flock. If they have an interest in hunting, cooking, photography, painting, under-water-basket-weaving, etc., ask questions and listen to their interests. Take an interest in the person through their interests.
Here's the key: lather, rinse, and repeat. These five ways to get to know your flock are only the beginning. Relationships are built over time. Your flock really needs to know that you care about them and they want to be known. Just remember the shepherd "calls his own sheep by name and leads them."
This blog post is the follow-up to "5 Ways to Get to Know Your Pastor."
Dr. Chris Dortch has been in vocational ministry since 1993. His blog is aimed to "equip the saints for the work of ministry."