Joel Schmidgall on Moving People to Active Faith



Joel_Schmidgall_podcastHey, everyone! Thanks so much for joining us today for the unSeminary podcast. We have a great guest today, Joel Schmidgall of National Community Church in Washington, DC.

National Community Church was started in 1996 by Mark Batterson and is known as the Theater Church because it has several locations in old theaters. Joel is the executive pastor at NCC and oversees launches of new locations, plus is also a campus pastor at one of the locations. He got started by just showing up one day and volunteering before being hired on full-time.

  • Be a coach. // Joel grew up in the church, but he says he lived a lukewarm lifestyle for eighteen years. It wasn’t until he was an adult that things changed and he really felt a call from God and developed a passion toward ministry and the church. Joel now connects deeply with those people who know God on some level, but aren’t experiencing the fullness of life in Him. As Joel says, “I feel a passion to call us out in a coach-type way.” Joel wants to help those people move past living in the entertainment value of the modern church to really living out the call Jesus has on their lives.
  • Help people drive toward obedience. // Joel’s passion is to help people move from “information” to “transformation”. In other words, helping people take steps of obedience toward God and seeing their lives changed as a result of active faith. An example of this type of living on mission can be found in Luke 4; National Community Church uses this as a guide to create the acronym ACT: assist the poor, care for the sick, transform through reconciliation. Joel says this is what living on mission looks like for NCC. Live on mission wherever you are and tend to the needs of the people around you – this is what active faith is.
  • Love thy neighbor. // We don’t have to go far to live on mission each day; Joel follows Jesus’ instructions to love his neighbor by showing that love throughout his day, starting first thing each morning with his family, then expanding to his neighborhood, his gym, his bank, the grocery store, the workplace, anywhere he goes. Model that love in obedience rather than simply proclaiming it. Teaching God’s word and active faith go hand in hand for the follower of Christ.
  • Tag-team in faith. // One of National Community Church’s mantras is that they want to help their people be a part of the dream that God has given them as a church, but they also want to be a part of the dream that God has given each of their people. It may be a small group or a mission trip. NCC lets the people create their own service areas. Rather than creating the ideas for them, they let the people follow the dream and passion in them. Some work in specific ministries they feel passionate about, others lead small groups that they believe deeply in. Whatever it may be, help guide your members toward following the dream God has given them and let them build on that passion.

To learn more about National Community Church visit their website at www.theaterchurch.com.

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Episode Highlights

00:38 // Rich introduces Joel Schmidgall and welcomes him to the show.

01:06 // Joel introduces us to National Community Church.

02:13 // Joel talks about how he helps people live out an active faith.

04:23 // Joel talks about teaching and coaching by living in the scriptures with action and faith.

09:43 // Joel talks tells us about the mission trips and how they engage people.

11:34 // Joel talks about the church’s Tag Team.

13:28 // Joel shares a story that demonstrates the power of sharing testimonies.

15:30 // Joel talks about Second Saturday and their work with the Youth Services Center.

17:39 // Joel talks about the Dream Center.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // SaneBox

Ministries Following // Christ Tabernacle, Brooklyn Tabernacle, Chicago Tabernacle

Influential Book // The Pastor by Eugene Peterson

Inspiring Leader // Dr. Dick Foth and Theo Epstein

What does he do for fun // Basketball, Running

Contact // [email protected]

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich, thanks so much for tuning in. We know that things are really busy at your church, particularly as we head into this weekend and we’re just honored that you would take some time out from your schedule to tune in and we’ve got a great guest today, you’re going to love today’s interview with Joel Schmidgall from National Community Church in Washington DC. Joel welcome to the show.

Joel – Good to be here, thanks for having me.

Rich – No I’m so honored that you would take some time out. For folks that don’t know, NCC is a great church. They’re known as The Theater Church, they meet in a bunch of movie theaters around the DC area and in Virginia. It started in 1996, led by Mark Batterson, Pastor Mark Batterson. Joel why don’t you tell us a little bit about NCC and your role there?

Joel – Yeah well I love where I’m at. My title would be Executive Pastor. I got started in their early days. I just showed up and started volunteering and then was hired full-time for part-time pay, as many in ministry are, but I kind of developed in my role.

So Executive Pastor. I oversee our launches with eight locations, which I help oversee all the Campus Pastors. Then I’m a Campus Pastor at one of our locations on Barracks Row, it’s about eight blocks from the capital.

Rich – That’s great.

Joel – So awesome space. It’s the oldest theater in the district in DC, so really a fun space. Then I help oversee A1:8 missions as well and our Dream Center project with his coming. So I’m getting my hands in a bunch of different places.

Rich – Very cool. Well one of the things I love about NCC, just as an outsider, looking in, is you really seem to have done a good job on kind of motivating people towards mission, really to live out an active faith. Why don’t you give us a sense of, maybe the various ways that you’ve done that as a church? How are people getting kind of plugged in to living out their faith?

Joel – Yeah, you know I think our passion comes out of our insufficiencies sometimes right? So I think for me, I grew up in the church, but I was, like the Old Testament calls, their certain sect to God fears, there are people who had respect for God but they weren’t like the holy remnant, the people who were really active in their faith. That was me for 18 years and then I hit this point where I started seeking God in a new way and it changed my life and that’s when I felt a call into ministry.

So I lived kind of this lukewarm lifestyle for 18 plus years and so for me I have a passion for those who might know God or respect God but don’t experience the fullness of life in him. I feel passion to kind of call us out in a coach type way right? Like, “Come on, try this, let’s do this.”

Rich – Try this. Yes.

Joel – So we have 8 locations. We have people come, man I think, and I hope this doesn’t come across in the wrong way, but I love our music guys, our worship guys are incredible. Pastor Mark would be our primary communicator, Mark Batterson, incredible speaker. So you can show up on a weekend and you can enjoy it, like going to a good show.

Rich – Yeah.

Joel – You can come and get something out of it and go away and feel good about yourself, pat yourself on the back. One of my biggest fears as a Pastor is that people will live in the entertainment value of what we bring to the table and my passion is to drive us past that. How do we go from information to transformation, that’s my calling right there, and [Inaudible 00:04:00] talks about this. The difference between information and transformation is obedience. So how do I help people drive towards obedience? So that’s kind of where maybe the passion comes from. I guess in terms of practicals, and I don’t know, maybe I’m taking off here, Rich?

Rich – No, no this is great, this is perfect. Keep going, keep going, this is great.

Joel – Okay, so practicals for me. One: How are we teaching about it? How does our teaching kind of lead us into that? And this would be a good theological jump. So mission for us, so starting with Jesus’ very first words in Luke Chapter 4. “The Spirit anoints Jesus to go and preach good news to the poor, to set the captives free, to proclaim the year of the Lord,” you know? And that’s not a full quote, but just a quick. It’s his first words, it’s his public address, it’s his first press conference coming out and he sets this agenda and he identifies needs, he identifies poverty within that. He identifies, kind of, health issues and then brokenness.

So we start in the first words of Act 4. Okay how do we address those things? And we break it down just with a simple acronym, ‘act’. So assist the poor, care for the sick, transform through reconciliation. I mean there’s 2 thousand verses on poverty.

Rich – Wow.

Joel – A third of Jesus’ ministry is healthcare and then the reason he comes is as the ultimate reconciler of us to God. So he lays his agenda out in his first words.

His last words are found in Act 1:8. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to the end of the earth.” So he breaks it down by giving us a strategy.

Then, okay, where do I go? Well first I don’t just go, I’m set with like the presence of God comes before his power. So I’ve got to get in him first but then secondly, when we’re in him we have to become active.

So Jerusalem, where am I now? And then Judea and Samaria is, where does nobody want to go? And then the end of the earth is, where has nobody gone? So how are we engaging on these three levels?

Then right in the middle of that is this Matthew 28, “All authority in Heaven and earth has been given to Me”, Jesus says, “Now go.” A translation can be, as you are going, in other words, how are you living—and this is heart stuff for me, this is passion stuff, this is wheelhouse for me—how are you living life, on mission, every day, wherever, whenever? So as you are going, go and make up disciples of all nations, ethnos, ethnicity, people groups.

So for us in DC, we have 150 people groups in this city, so we are fulfilling great commission in our city. Going into Georgetown, it’s different than Capitol Hill in South East DC and the U Street Corridor, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, that’s the old jazz part of the city.

So we kind of live in these three scriptures to talk about action and faith. That would be the teaching part. Second would be maybe modeling it, by living it personally.

I’ve got a group of guys I meet early morning with. Tuesday morning we’re going through the scriptures, but one of the things I am held accountable, we have a covenant for all our leaders and one line there is, “How are you sharing your faith with those who don’t know Christ?” So I have those guys hold me accountable to that. So how do we love our neighbor? Who is your neighbor, it’s that kind of Bible College or Seminary question, but we’re not in seminary, we’re living outside of that.

So neighbor for me, you’ve got marketplace neighbors, you’ve got workplace, you’ve got kind of special interest neighbors. So for me, what does it look like in my neighborhood? What does it look like at my gym? What does it look like in my home? What does it look like in my church? I’m held accountable in those four areas. I wake up in the morning, my first neighbor is six inches away from me, my wife.

Rich – Right.

Joel – Then I’ve got three distractions, three blessings, you know three little kids. But then my neighborhood, we’re active and then my gym as well. When I’m not getting in fights on the ball court, I’m trying to share faith. So I’ve got to model it and that goes hand in hand with teaching on it. So in my teaching I’m always talking about my neighborhood and my gym and things like that.

Rich – Absolutely.

Joel – So I’d say teach it, model it. Tag Team is a huge one for us.

Rich – Very cool. Before we jump on the Tag Team, so a part of what I hope people aren’t missing, but I think there was a time, and this time I think has passed, but there were some church leaders that separated, I would say the proclamation of the gospel and the demonstration of it. So they pulled those two apart. They said, there’s kind of an intellectual assent side of faith and that is somehow distant from, we actually are supposed to care for the poor, we’re supposed to reach out to people around us and help people in our communities. What I love that you’re doing, and I hope people are catching it, is you’re weaving those two together and saying, “These two are intrinsically connected. They’re both a part of the same thing.”

Does anyone ever challenge you and say, “Wait a second, shouldn’t we just be all about the proclamation? Joel why are you talking so much about demonstration?” Does that ever come up and what do you say to them?

Joel – Ah man. I mean that’s what we talked about earlier.

Rich – Yeah.

Joel – That obedience piece right? Like if we just live in Jesus’ words. I mean he left us and he said, “The Spirit of God now is… you’re going to do greater things than I have done.” That’s a challenge right there.

Rich – Right that’s powerful.

Joel – So if I’m just proclaiming and not living and modeling it, I’m not using Jesus’ strategy. I mean he didn’t proclaim it and then not live it. I mean his life was the ultimate, apologetic I think, for us. So for us to remove the information from our life, oh man, it’s Dorothy Sayers, it’s declawing the lion of Judah.

Rich – Right.

Joel – It’s making it docile and again that’s fear stuff for me.

Rich – Yes.

Joel – Yeah, how are we engaging people? So our small groups are built around that and our intentional efforts into mission, we’ve got, I think, 38 missions this coming year and you can’t separate discipleship and mission, in our opinion.

Rich – Yes.

Joel – So our mission trips are the most… I call them IDTs, Intense Discipleship Training, they’re our most intense form of… Give me a week long mission trip with somebody versus a year of them coming to our church, because the voice that I have and the proclamation that is made and the obedience that happens, like something clicks in people’s faith when you put it into action.

Rich – Yeah, absolutely.

Joel – So that would be my quick…

Rich – Tag Team, talk to me about that. How is it that you kind of work together and can encourage people to work together in faith?

Joel – Yeah so one of our mantras at NCC would be, “We want to help you be a part of the dream that God has given us as a church.” I think for most churches that I’ve been in, that’s kind of where we stop. “Now how do you get involved in what we’re doing?”

Rich – In our stuff.

Joel – But we kind of take it that next step. We also say, “We want, as a church, to be a part of the dream that God has given you.” Okay? So that’s whether it’s small groups, like we don’t say, “We need this bible study group. We need this one. We need this sermon series.” We say, “Everybody has a group in them. Now how can we get behind you?” Same thing with mission.

We do something called Second Saturday Serve. It’s not our initiatives that we come up with, we say, “Listen we’re going to get up and serve and bless our community. Now what dream has God given you? You come up with it, we’re going to empower you, we’re going to give you people to go out and serve.”

So that’s how we’ve engaged in, like the Capitol Pregnancy Center, where we’re serving 19 year old girls who are pregnant, have nowhere to turn. That’s why we go to the Youth Services Center, kids who are in jail because of something… These are all passions, these are dreams that God has given different people that we said, “No don’t just come along and serve in this one ministry, we’re limiting the gospel being spread in our city. No we know you can benefit if you come alongside of us, but we want to come alongside you.”

So that would be, in terms of Tag Teaming, I think just that idea that we’re trying to do this thing together and walk alongside one another.

Rich – Very cool.

Joel – So I think, like a share of the win would be a big part of that.

Rich – Okay, tell me about that. What is share of the win?

Joel – So testimony breeds testimony right? So anytime I share a testimony, there’s always a next generation to that testimony and this just happened two nights ago and we had, we call it A1:8 Engage, where we’re just talking and sharing testimony, what God is doing.

So if somebody gets up and shares a testimony, how they’re going to foster four kids and we’ve got, I think it’s 300 kids right now in immediate need of foster care in the DCC system.

Rich – Wow.

Joel – So okay, we can get behind this, we can actually knock that list out. 600 churches in the district, so if we can… So anyway, a year ago we shared a testimony of somebody stepping out and beginning to foster and the dad, the father shared his heart like, “I didn’t want to do this thing and then I just realized, this is a single step of faith that I can take to be a part of the Kingdom of God in this city.”

Rich – Cool.

Joel – That testimony alone sparked, out of this guy who had been with… and his wife was trying to get him… and he said, “No, I’m not going to do this,” and then that one testimony took him over the edge, he said, “I’ve got to be willing to do this.”

Rich – Right.

Joel – We’re sharing now, generations of testimony. I am personally committed, 2015 was the year of testimony for me as a Pastor. I committed that two times a month, I’m going to get testimony into our services. We’ve got to share the win. We can’t just talk about what you’re supposed to be doing. I can’t just model about what we’re supposed to be doing. I need to share the win of what we are actually doing.

Rich – Right.

Joel – Then testimony will breed testimony and that’s revelation stuff.

Rich – That’s cool.

Joel – We overcome by what? The blood of the lamb, that’s what we focus on, Christ. But also the second thing is the word of our testimony.

Rich – So good.

Joel – The testimony is a part of us overcoming. So that would be that share-the-win piece.

Rich – So good. Now what about, is there anything else, when we think about engaging people in active faith?

Joel – I think, and this is maybe the last thing I’m throwing up is, the focus on the one, like how do I make it practical?

Rich – Yep.

Joel – I think we’ve heard it before, nobody can do everything, everyone can do something. So how do I break it down and make it simple? Application is so huge in our messaging, it’s also huge in our discipling.

So for instance, when I go out on Second Saturday, I mentioned the Youth Services Center, well we go over and we just play ball with the kids. It’s 16 to 18 year olds. We’ll go and play ball with them. There’s a gym inside, you go through the gates and the door locks down and we get in there and these kids are amped up. Then we play ball and you know what happens, it starts breaking down barriers in a way that conversation won’t.

So at the end of it, we get around. I do coaches huddle and we talk about, “What just happened good out here?” Then we make the application, “Okay, when you make decisions of sharing the ball or hitting the open man, when you make that good decision on the court, that’s what we’re trying to do on life and listen, here’s our story, here’s our testimony of how that happens.”

Now I’m going too far with that, but my point was this, every volunteer that comes with us to the YSC, here’s the one thing I tell them, “My only goal for you is for you to connect with one person. I want you to get one name today of somebody that you speak boldly, the hope of Christ into that day, and then a name that you take with you and you’re praying for this coming week.”

So in everything we do, discipleship, evangelism, speaking, we’re always trying to point back to the simple, to the application and to the warm, otherwise it’s going to get lost.

Rich – Right, absolutely. Very cool. Now I know you guys are in the process of opening the DC Dream Center. Could you tell us, just take a few minutes, tell us, what’s the vision behind that? What does that look like? Maybe people have heard of dream centers before, but maybe some people haven’t. Tell me a little bit about that.

Joel – Yeah, so for us we’ve got eight wards in DC. Wards 7 and 8 are kind of the Samaria if you will of our city. So all of the statistics spike. I mean just yesterday I heard this statistic, 20% obesity in childhood and DC, which is one of the lowest end of the spectrum. In Wards 7 and 8 it’s like 45%, one of the highest ends of the spectrum.

Rich – Right.

Joel – So everything kind of, we call it east of the river, the Anacostia River and the Potomac, but the district’s on the other side, you’ve got this other world in DC. So how are we engaging and going to that Samaria, the place where other people avoid?

So God opened up the door for a place, a building. A praise that $600 thousand and we were looking around and couldn’t find anything for a number of years and then God opened this door. $38 thousand we paid for that building.

Rich – What? That’s crazy.

Joel – It’s crazy.

Rich – Wow.

Joel – So just an awesome thing. So we’re already doing work on the ground there. We’ve got 40 mentors of young, teenage and elementary aged kids already. We’re mentoring 40 kids. Here’s a demographic that our city, that our government, that I don’t think our nation knows how to handle or help right now and here’s what we’re doing. We’re helping that generation and here’s how we doing it, one by one.

Rich – Right, very cool.

Joel – Break it down to the ones. So mentoring is one by one. So Dream Center, it’s a faith based community center essentially. So mentoring afterschool programs. A place where families can come together. A place where hope can become habit in kids’ lives. It’s not a church, it’s a place of dreams. How are we inspiring kids to dream? You’ve got kids who live 25 blocks from the capital, who have never visited the capital in our city.

Rich – Wow.

Joel – So you live in this, it’s almost like Ancient Israel, where you live within 25 square miles and you never… and this is the deal. We’ve got a rooftop terrace that we’re building and by the way, we’ve just started demoing the building to rebuild it up, to be a dream center. So we’re doing stuff with the building, it’s actually not done.

Rich – Right.

Joel – So if anybody wants to give, I’d love to talk to ya.

Rich – Yeah exactly.

Joel – You wanna come and be a part of the Dream Team for year one, I’d love to talk to you as well.

Rich – Very cool.

Joel – So for us that vision of Abraham, when God gives him the vision, he doesn’t let him stay inside right? Because the ceiling is over your head and that’s what we found in Wards 7 and 8. Kids have a ceiling and we’re just trying like God told Abraham, “Go outside and look at the sun.” We’re trying to take kids outside. So go outside of your little area and then God will begin the dream. So the top of this will just be an expanse of the city. You look, you see Capitol, you see Washington Monument, you see National Cathedral and it’s a physical view of what we want God to do and inspire dreams in that part of the city.

Rich – That’s very cool. If people want to learn more about what you’re doing at the DC Dream Center or if they want to get in touch, I appreciate your plug in there, like there may be church leaders that are listening in today that are saying, “Hey maybe our church could do something to support in DC,” or maybe they know a young person who’s like, they’d take a year, not necessarily even a young person, maybe it’s retired person who would love to take a year and help invest in that. Should they just get in touch with you or should they check out the website? What could they do?

Joel – Yeah, [email protected]. That’s my email, [email protected]. That would be the best way. We’re redoing our website right now, so I don’t even know…

Rich – That’s great. Cool.

Joel – Thanks for asking about that.

Rich – Is there anything else that you want to share before we move on with the rest of our program?

Joel – There’s got to be a passion in you for it to become a passion in other people. So all of those steps and everything you’re doing like, it doesn’t matter unless you’re personally living it in your life. So I just think that’s the heart of that conversation.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.