Welcome to another episode of the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Brett Coates, executive director of Real Life Christian Church in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Real Life is a contemporary church with about 500 people attending the services. The church is portable at the moment due to destruction of their building after a tornado. But the tornado isn’t the only trouble they’ve encountered in recent years. Today Brett is here to share about leading through disaster and how the church has dealt with those situations while reaching out to its congregation and community.
- Take one day at a time. // Brett came on staff in June of 2012 while the former lead pastor was on a summer sabbatical. The day before the pastor was scheduled to return, the staff received news that shook the church. It came out that the pastor had had inappropriate relationships with minors. That announcement left the church in a state of freefall. The news about the former pastor arrived on a Saturday, so on Sunday the staff and elders told the church all the details they were permitted to, including that the pastor had resigned. When news of this nature shakes a church, the best path is to focus your next steps on serving the staff and the church, including caring for the victims who have been affected. The church leaders decided to focus on one Sunday at a time by considering what resources they had for each day. As it turned out, Brett knew a lot of local pastors from his previous job working at Regent University, and they offered to help as they could, preaching at a service here and there.
- Be prepared for outside pressures. // The media was ruthless when they found out about the situation with the former pastor, asking outrageous questions in order to get an inflammatory response from Brett and other staff members. But Brett said best response in these situations was simply, “No comment,” to keep from giving the media further ammunition to use against the church. The church held an information meeting in which they had decided no media would be allowed, however a reporter from the local media outlet asked to attend and refrain from asking questions. Because he had asked to come with respect, Brett allowed the reporter to attend. This turned out to be a good decision because the reporter wrote about the true story of how the staff found out about the situation, how they acted quickly to involve the authorities, and how they’ve worked together since then to provide care and counseling for their congregation.
- Serve others in your pain. // The situation involving the former pastor wasn’t the only trouble Real Life experienced. In March 2017, a tornado touched down on their church, destroying the entire building just after they had finished a year long renovation. Thankfully no one was injured, but the damage left the building completely condemned. In a situation like this, the first work is to salvage as much as possible and file the insurance claim immediately. Then the church’s next focus was reaching out to both their congregation and the community. Instead of completely canceling church services that Sunday, the staff put together a simple service on Facebook Live to talk with the congregation. They were determined not to let a problem like this take away the church’s focus on ministry. Real Life used this experience to go out into their community and serve others who had been affected by the tornado. They spent $5,000 in gift cards—on anything from groceries to tools and supplies—which they gave to families with damaged homes in the area to use immediately before the insurance companies were able to provide them with money. As Brett recounts, “That was one of the highlights of my year – in a difficult, ugly, painful situation, just to see how God used those interactions.”
- God always provides. // The next question was where to hold their services. Another local church had a huge separate building and offered it for Real Life’s Sunday service for the next 4-6 weeks. They stayed a lot longer and paid rent, but eventually they had to find something else. That search led to Real Life currently meeting at a local high school while they continue to work on building a new church of their own. Brett shares it was amazing how other churches in the community rallied to help Real Life in their time of need, recognizing all were part of the body of Christ. Throughout the trials of these last 5 years, Brett sums it up best when he says, “In all the pain and everything we’ve been through, as we get through it and look back, I can say God prepared me for this right before I went through it, even though I didn’t know He was doing that.”
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Helpful Tech Tools // Trello
Inspiring Leader // Andy Stanley
What does he do for fun // Hop in kayak and go fishing