Pastor Tom Ragsdell began New Life Community Church in Columbia in 2007. Since then, the church has grown under his leadership from his living room to a church building. He formally served as a missionary in Ukraine with his wife and five children.
Every once in a while I get nostalgic. The dictionary defines nostalgia as "a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past." Truth is, I'm usually too busy striving to build the future to have time to think about the past. One of my favorite quotes is "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." A current scripture which gives me strength comes from Psalm 27:13. It reads, "I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord." This verse is a reminder to me that what God promises, he fulfills.
This past year, our oldest son, Luke, graduated from Hickman High School. Luke recently left home for college all grown up and ready to face the world. We are very proud of him! But we also felt the "emotional shift" of his empty seat at the dinner table. Nostalgia is more than sentimentality. It can also be beneficial because it reminds us of valuable lessons from the past. Luke was just 13 when we began the exciting adventure of beginning a new church in Columbia.
I want to take a minute to reminisce about some of the lessons learned from the past few years in raising a child and also building a church. I hope you find some of the "lessons learned" helpful.
In 2006, Jeni and I decided to invent the future (with God's help, of course). We moved back to Columbia from across the ocean with the dream of starting a new church. It was slow going and pretty lonely at first. Some people we met would say things like, "Aren't there enough churches in Columbia?" Others were encouraging and liked the idea, but certainly weren't willing to join in the fun. For many, it sounded like too much work! It didn't seem to matter to them that only 3 out of 10 people in Columbia even attended a church — but it mattered to us! And it mattered that many people were looking for the good life, but were living out something much less. We knew far too many people who were living broken lives with no hope of any change in sight.
In 2007, when we started the first Sunday morning Bible study in our home we knew of only one couple who was committed to help build the dream of "Enriching Our Community One Life at a Time" by connecting people with Jesus. We knew starting a new church from scratch could be tough. We dreamed about becoming a church serving families and mending broken lives. And yet, we didn't have a core group of people or ministry leaders ready to serve children, students, or families. Not to mention, we lacked other resources like a building, a worship team, and a budget. But just like the little train, "Thomas the Tank Engine," who said, "I think I can," we believed in our dream and gradually we saw God bring people around us who also believed in the dream. I loved those early months when we were just getting started because people didn't expect much and they only came for one reason — the dream. We had nothing else to offer, no services, no great worship gatherings, no conferences, and no facilities.
In September of 2007, we began meeting publicly at the ARC (Columbia's Activity and Recreation Center). We were only a handful of people with little more than a hope and a prayer and most people in Columbia didn't even know we existed. Although the growth was slow and the stories of lives touched or transformed were only a few, something was happening — a new church was being formed and beginning to grow! As growth came, so did problems. Building up a new church can be a messy process, much like raising a child. Some days you take two steps forward, only to take a step backward the following day. Not everyone accepts the difference between current reality and future destination. And not everyone is willing to move past being a consumer in order to become a builder. Many are quick to point fingers and say "This is not the dream you promised." But others hold on to the dream and keep moving forward.
I remember so many "firsts" — there was our first ever I Love America Festival, the first ever Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, our first choir, our first couples conference, and our first leadership retreat. All of these events represented growth in the church, but also in individual lives. As I look back over the past five years of parenting and pastoring, there have been a number of emotional ups and downs, but here's some of the lessons which I have learned along the way...
Make your vision clear... You will never reach your dream by changing the dream for others. So make your vision clear and hold on to the dream! Being intentional about your dream works in raising kids as well. I still remember the day our oldest son was born. I remember our hopes and aspirations for him. Over the years, those hopes never really changed. What did change is the need to share our dreams with Luke so that our dreams became his dreams. Never underestimate the power of influencing someone else's dream with your dream.
Identify your values... People know you by your values. We all have values! Your values are like an unspoken nickname. It is important to identify them and then be intentional about promoting them. This is especially true as a church, organization, or as a child grows up. Not everyone will share your values. Your child may even question your values, but if you identify your values and promote them, you can develop a unique and memorable brand as a person, a parent, a church, or an organization. At New Life Community Church our greatest value is spiritual growth and life change. Promoting this value helps us attract people who want to experience personal growth as they follow Jesus.
Be patient and persevere… Someone once said to me, "Tom, if you want to be successful, you have to be patient, but not too patient." Good things take time to grow. Raising a child to be solid, successful, and significant takes patience, but also perseverance. So does beginning a business, launching a new career, or… starting a new church. Things don't always go as planned, timetables sometimes get turned over. It's easy to give up or lose hope, but those who hold on to the dream and persevere reap the rewards.
And that is the greatest lesson of starting New Life and raising a child — the rewards are great. Yes, there have been challenges, setbacks, sweat, tears, and much prayer, but the joy of seeing the dream grow far outweighs any suffering along the way.
As I look back on the last five years of church growth and the last five years of my son's life, I know that the next five years will be even better as I (along with others) work to build the dream. I hope you caught that — We are no longer alone! Others, many others are now dreaming the dream of New Life. The dream can only grow! We are stronger now than ever before! I hope you will join me in building the dream of New Life! Together we can proclaim Psalm 27:13. It reads, "I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord."
This slideshow was created by Jennessa Ewing of the Columbia Missourian's community outreach team. If you can't see the slideshow embedded above, view it on Flickr here.