This article was originally authored by NCD International.
Grace River Church in St. Peter’s, Missouri doesn’t sound at all like the kind of place you’d find bloody wars or even a mild display of combative tousles. However, Chris Highfill, the founding pastor, is a self-confessed very competitive man. He’s a fighter!
But of what value is competitiveness when your calling is to build the church? Is there any place for it when you are to be a re-presentation of the kingdom of God on earth? To be the face of Jesus to your community?
There is a place in the kingdom for fierce competitiveness. And this is a story of defining the enemy you’re competing against, working out how to fight the right battles, and how to win… Chris lightheartedly remarks that, when he was a Youth Pastor, he thought his peak challenge would be to order the right number of pizzas and keep a bunch of youth alert long enough to hear the name of Jesus. Now, as founding pastor of a 7-year-old church plant, he has a very different perspective.
In his Bible College days, he had flippantly cast aside that “irrelevant thing called NCD,” but he has come to appreciate the NCD process as a gift, as it has played a crucial role in defining, and battling, the right enemies (and pizza shortage with a mob of hungry youth is not one of them).
For Chris and his team, the NCD Church Survey process helps to define their collective enemy—it’s not other churches, other local pastors, certain styles of music, the entertainment industry, social media, the government…The enemy is their own weakness.
The NCD Church Survey reveals where salt and light are most potent within a congregation. Obviously, that means it also reveals where things are darkest and specifically where the light must be turned up.
Shortly after they officially launched their community, the team at Grace River sought to get a clear picture of what they were up against. Over the course of the last 5 years, they have systemically identified what opponent they were facing at any given time—at times it was apathy due to a lack of passion, at others, it was stuntedness due to a lack of gift-activation. Then they faced off. Time and again, they stared down their competition and beat it. Their health flourished, their numbers grew, new and more complex challenges emerged, and they had new battles to face.
The competition is not a race to numbers or recognition but a race to greater health.
When you have had such a rapid influx of people joining your church as Grace River has had, the temptation can be to feel you have “made it”—battle won, trophy attained. But to Chris and the team, that way of thinking is a certain path to unraveling. The tone Chris speaks with is more of sober-minded urgency to keep alert. Keep competitive. Keep clawing at barriers till they crumble and a new perspective and experience emerges.
The drill is:
- Identify your enemy
- Have a Win
The team at Grace River seeks to keep the prize in sight—health first, and numbers will follow. As Chris declared, “We don’t just want to gather people, we want to grow them. We’re not chasing a number. If we’re healthy, we’re making healthy disciples, so we’ll grow.”
Grace River now faces the challenge of making its inspiring, empowering, and effective training ground, every bit as much a place to call home. Fortress and family. Home trains. Home prepares. Home matures and makes you ready for the challenges and opportunities beyond your own front door, yes, and home also deeply connects. Home deeply knows. Home shelters. Home heals. Home comforts. Chris is very aware of the many in their community needing a place to call home. He, himself, was a spiritually homeless child. Though surrounded by churches growing up—with the largest of them just across the road from his house—he and his unchurched family never received an invitation to come, to taste, to see—or to be seen and be heard. Today, he sees himself in the faces of the many young families in his community needing such an invitation to be part of a vibrant spiritual family. And he and his team are driven to create such a place for all.
Battle for homeland
For the first few years, Grace River called a temporary tabernacle home. First, four people were in their lounge room, then the local school, then the YMCA. But as their numbers started to swell, it became clear their own story would be reminiscent of the people of Israel who exclaimed, “Where did all these people come from? We haven’t enough room!” (Isaiah 49:21) So, compelled that this was the right time, they went hunting for their homeland. And the story of their journey as a faith community to their own Canaan (a giant warehouse on a main road with plenty of room to grow) will serve to keep fueling their hunger and confidence to make this homeland a real home—a place of deep affection and connection, as well as an effective Boot Camp from which to send people out.
Every argument and every arrogant, weak, misplaced, or ignorant thought getting in the way of feeling even more “intimately at home” is what they will be battling in the next round …and they are intending to win. They’ve won battles before. And they know their current enemy. They know how to fight the good fight. And they know how to partner with the Commander in Chief.
As the New American Standard Bible says, “…we are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
Thanks, Grace River, for your allegiance to the King of Kings.
Thanks for keeping on in the fight.
Thanks for being a healthy expression of Kingdom competition.
Thanks for sharing your battle story.
May the joy of the Lord be your strength with every new challenge you face!