Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

“Showtime!” No More – by Walt Kallestad – part 3 of 7


One in a Million


According to researchers, one million Americans each year have a heart attack. On January 7, 2002, I was one in a million. After a six-way bypass surgery, at the prompting of my board, I took time to recover and reflect. That’s when I realized we had a huge church, a thriving school, a pristine memorial garden, and an influential leadership center. We had it all, but in the process of getting it all, I’d lost the most important thing—my first love.

The heart attack was a wakeup call for our board as well as for me; we came to believe that it would be a good idea to develop a succession plan, so I talked to colleagues around the country looking for an up and coming pastor I could hand the mantle to when I retired. One conversation stands out in my memory.

“It’s a pretty good opportunity,” I said. “We have 187 acres just off a major freeway, multipurpose buildings, and a great staff.”

Brian McLaren looked me in the eye and said, “Who’d want it? Who in their right mind would want to run that?”

That’s when it dawned on me. By the time we service the $12-million debt, pay the staff, and maintain the property, we’ve spent more than a million before we can spend a dime on our mission. At the time, we had plans for a spectacular worship center with a retractable roof. After that conversation with Brian, I scrapped it.

Then at one of our events at the new site, Robert Schuller said, “You must die as a church and be born as a mission.”

I couldn’t shake that statement from my mind. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I knew we needed to change. Could it be that our acreage, buildings, and budgets were interfering with the mission instead of accomplishing it? Why weren’t we producing empowered disciples? What were we missing?

I spent the next three months on a sabbatical, rekindling my love and intimacy with God and seeking answers to those questions. I wasn’t seeking a new technique or a new way to do church, as I’d done years earlier. Now I was desperate to feel the breath of God on my soul and for him to either affirm or reject the path we were walking.

My wife and I prayed and fasted and passionately pursued the heart of God: God, we have to hear from you. We’re desperate.


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