College friends turned Megachurch Pastors:
Brockett, Weece & Idleman desire “mega” impact over “megachurch.”
STORY // Justin Masterson & Lisa Husmann
Large homes, luxury cars, boats, and other extravagant toys are part of most kids’ dreams to be successful and famous. For some, the dream revolves around being a professional athlete, for others, it’s creating a hit single, or being the host of the next viral YouTube channel. Often we convince ourselves that once fame and success come, in addition to a fun and exciting life, there will be plenty of opportunities to impact lives in a positive way. Yet more often than not, when fame and success come, those good intentions are easily forgotten. Then the desire to stay on top, the desire to maintain the power and the lifestyle become all-consuming.
That grind is easy to see in athletes, businessmen, and entertainers. They get caught up in the pursuit of fame, wealth, and/or power and soon become unapproachable, even to those who were once part of their inner circle. Relationships become strained, friendships are lost, and many marriages fail. Mainly because, in their eyes, the pursuit to the top has more value than the people who love them just the way they are. Unfortunately, this pursuit of fame and success has infiltrated our churches with the age of the “megachurch.”
The business mindset has replaced the kingdom mindset—position the church well, protect your brand, and grow an empire. There are countless pastors who have fallen victim to the fame and success that can be attained in an original pursuit of kingdom work that turned into satisfying the masses. Pastors’ and followers’ expectations grow, and church becomes a measuring contest. Measuring whose building is bigger, whose attendance is larger and who has the bigger budget. But set in stark contrast to these negative examples are models that we can look up to and imitate. There are athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and pastors who are setting great examples and living on mission.
People are a product of their environment. Proverbs 13:20 tells us, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” God brought three men from Missouri together as friends, collectively for 38 years. The wisdom they have shared has taken them on a path to become leaders at some of the largest churches in the country. Meet Aaron Brockett (Traders Point Christian Church), Kyle Idleman (Southeast Christian Church) and Jon Weece (Southland Christian Church).
Kyle grew up in Joplin and has known Aaron since kindergarten and Jon since 1st grade. Jon grew up in Columbia, Missouri, about a 3-hour jaunt from Joplin where Aaron and Kyle are from. All three attended Ozark Christian College. Jon met Kyle in the first grade. “Our dads were good friends and they introduced us at the Missouri Christian Convention. We’ve been friends ever since.” It was Jon’s sophomore year of college that he met Aaron and lived in the same dorm for three years. Today, they text with each other often and Aaron and Jon did a Sunday swap in 2017 where Aaron spoke at Southland and Jon spoke at Traders Point.
As you consider their individual stories pay attention to how they kept their focus on God, in spite of the material success and notoriety they may have achieved. Because of their commitment and God’s faithfulness, countless lives are being impacted.
Aaron Brockett is the lead pastor at Traders Point Christian Church in Whitestown, Indiana. He is married and has four kids. He has contributed to several books and articles, but since he joined the church in 2007, there has been tremendous growth. Traders Point went from a single location of 1,500 people to over 9,000 people in four locations. Outreach Magazine has recognized them as one of the fastest growing churches in the U.S. But “mega” church is not what Aaron is looking for. He says, “Being a mega church isn’t our goal or aspiration.”
“We want to remove barriers that are keeping people from seeing, understanding, getting to, and following Jesus.”
“We really believe He [Jesus] is drawing people to himself. We don’t want to get in the way of that, but figure out how to clear the path. We believe that when we do that consistently and passionately over time, lots of people want to be a part of it.”
“Mega” is not meant for the church, but meant for the impact that the church can have no matter the size. Brockett lives this out through his leadership at Traders Point.
He is passionate about removing barriers that keep people from Jesus, just as the men in Mark 2 “wrecked the roof” in order to get the paralytic to Jesus. “Jesus says, ‘I will draw all men and women to myself.’ Therefore, He is the only one who can change anyone. Our responsibility as a church is to get those people to Him and let Him do what only He can,” Aaron has said.
“We don’t focus on the numbers. We ask ‘Are we healthy?’ because healthy things grow,” Brockett said. “We don’t want to be thought of as a big, glossy mega church. We just want to make a difference. We’re not trying to grow the church for anybody but Jesus.”
“People are looking for hope, purpose, and something bigger than themselves to be part of. All of that is what Jesus is offering.”
TRADERS POINT VALUES
We will “wreck the roof” by removing unnecessary barriers that keep people from Jesus. In reference to Mark 2.
We will hold the Bible ABOVE us as our authority while striving to help everyone understand and apply it.
We will intentionally dig our spiritual wells deep through study, prayer, and relationships.
We will remember that kingdom purpose (the great commission) wins over personal preference as we create environments for people to meet Jesus.
We will stay humble and hungry, realizing that we will accomplish more by having the right culture, than we ever will by having the right strategies.
We will always look for ways to contribute, rather than consume.
We will lead the way with the kind of generosity that only makes sense in light of God’s grace.*
Kyle Idleman is the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, the fifth largest church in America. Kyle began in his current role in 2003. He speaks to more than twenty thousand people each weekend. He is a husband and father of four and an author of multiple books. He is a guest speaker for regional and national conventions around the country and regularly speaks for some of America’s most influential churches. On a scale of followers, Kyle’s impact is incredible, and he is known throughout the world.
FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTIANITY TODAY
We are learning to be more intentional with vulnerability. For a long time, the church leadership world emphasized authenticity, which is good, but vulnerability takes that a little bit further. The power of God’s grace can be unlocked through our vulnerable moments, when we’re willing to talk about our struggles, doubts, challenges, and fears. That’s part of what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians: when he is weak, God’s grace is shown to be powerful. So vulnerability is a core value that we intentionally celebrate.
Two years ago, I had an opportunity to preach about a struggle I’d been having. At the time, I was emotionally spent. I was on edge. During an argument with my wife, I lost my temper and punched a hole in the door of her closet. We covered it with a mirror, and I forgot about it. Sometime later, the mirror fell and shattered, uncovering this hole I’d tried to cover up. When I got up to preach that weekend, I told that story. After the sermon, I had a line of people ready to tell me stories of the holes in their doors and walls.
Vulnerability is being honest about our struggles. It’s more specific than authenticity. You can be authentic without being vulnerable. Authenticity is no longer pretending, but vulnerability is revealing. When we ask someone to give a testimony about, say, a health struggle, we tell them not to feel like they have to have the whole thing wrapped up. It doesn’t have to be a happily-ever-after story. Instead, we ask them to be honest about the journey, to share why it’s hard and where they feel like God has let them down. That takes things further than authenticity.
My tendency as a pastor was to portray strength and self-sufficiency: “I’ve got things together, and I’m not struggling.” But when we pastors are vulnerable about our weaknesses, about the grace we need, we set a tone that allows other people to join in. Our vulnerability creates a safe place where grace can be experienced.*
Jon Weece began garnering media attention in 2007 for his unconventional ways of reaching out to hurting people. This is the guy who unabashedly stood at a busy street corner holding up a “Free Hugs” sign. This is the pastor who urged his 8,000-strong congregation to write notes of encouragement to troubled Britney Spears. The same pastor who cancelled the Christmas services so that his church members could bring Christmas to the world outside their church. This is the minister who rallied his congregation to send gifts to the families of those killed in the crash of Comair Flight 5191.
He offered his perspective on what makes him tick. “The free hugs are probably more me than it is the church. I lost my dad to cancer last year. At my dad’s funeral I experienced firsthand the power of a simple hug. I thought to myself ‘How many need a simple touch every day? So. I made a sign that said ‘Free Hugs,’ and I went downtown. As humiliating as it can be, I stood on a street corner, and on the first day I probably hugged 800 or 900 people. None of them knew I was a pastor. My only goal was to let people know that there is someone in the city who loves them.”
“Our church has done lots of things to let people know we’re here and we care. We’ve offered free health care, opening three free medical clinics in the city. We have a ministry to those who work in strip clubs, through which we’ve been able to rescue a lot of women. Every year we throw a huge party for physically and mentally challenged people. We rent limousines. Everybody wears tuxedos and dresses. We have a live band. We create a line of paparazzi and roll down the red carpet. I think if Jesus were anywhere on the planet that night, He would be in that room and teach us a thing or two about Jewish dance. I’m proud of our family here for what they do to love people. It’s not just something we talk about.”
Part of Jon’s success is knowing when to stop, listen and wait on the Lord. “When you’re young, there is a tendency to chase all the next great ideas that are out there. But you have to be patient. The phrase I use [to describe myself] is ‘passionately patient.’ I’m very passionate about the church and what I believe the church is capable of doing and becoming. Yet at the same time, due to the challenges we have regarding our past and some things that we’re doing right now, I have to be patient.”***
The phrase I use [to describe myself] is ‘passionately patient.
As you consider the stories of these three friends from Missouri, listen to the words of Matthew 16:26 (NIV). “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Three Missouri natives, three friends, three pastors of large church gatherings, and one common desire to not get caught up in the trappings of success but to stay faithful in the intimate moments. God allowed those in their lives to set the example, to be faithful, and now they share that with the thousands.
Fame and success are not inherently wrong and sometimes they come with the territory. But our approach to work whether it’s glamorous or not should be as Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Fame and success are meaningless unless Jesus is at the center of it all. In today’s celebrity-to-selfie culture, these three friends have been used by God to turn the world upside down. The “mega” has been moved from in front of the church to in front of impact. The goal is not the quantity of the impact but the quality. It would be impossible to share all the different stories that illuminate the impact these men are having for God’s kingdom.
Do not be worried about the thousands. Be faithful with the few at arm’s length. God has put in our heart dreams and goals that only He can satisfy — ideas that are revolutionary and may change the world. With these may come fame, success, and even fortune. But Aaron, Jon and Kyle will tell you that those are not the things that define you. As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Be defined by the grace of God, working through you in love, to be faithful in the intimate moments with your family and their friends. Those are the moments when true-life change happens and we become mobilized for the kingdom.
*Content from Carmel Current & tpcc.org.
Photo // outreach.com
**Content from Christianity Today
Photo // Baker Publishing Group
***Content from ChurchExecutive.com
Photo // Northwestern Media