First Chapter

Below you will find the first chapter as a sample of the book. I encourage you to read it, share it, and listen to how God is personally speaking to you. You may also download the PDF version here

Chapter 1

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:21

When my wife and God conspired against me, each one told me something I didn’t expect and certainly didn’t want to admit. But both said precisely what I needed to hear.

My life and ministry have never been the same.

It happened the night I was standing in the kitchen of my home in Chandler, Arizona, a prominent suburb of Phoenix that, back in the year 2000, was one of the fastest growing areas in the southwestern United States. That was important to me, because as a pastor I was in a race with many other pastors to be the first one to build and establish a megachurch in this sunny desert paradise; a church that would bring me prestige, prominence, and prosperity.

Like any other entrepreneurial pastor, I had a strategic plan to pull off my goal to hit the minimum Sunday morning service attendance threshold of one thousand people within four years. I hadn’t consulted with God about this plan, but why should I? After all, the Lord wanted the pews filled. That’s what the Great Commission is all about, right? In order to create a church that I thought God would be proud to call His own, we needed as many people as possible—and we absolutely had to be first. There was no way I could allow somebody else to claim the people I felt were rightfully mine.

But there was a problem. I was losing the race. One obstacle after another had thwarted my plan, and nothing was going to happen on my supposedly reasonable timeframe. I didn’t show my frustration; I was adept at going behind the pulpit every Sunday and putting on the necessary performance. I thought the messages were powerful, and yet very little transformation was happening in our people. Worse, I knew something was deeply wrong with me! I was depressed to the point of utter misery, and right there, standing in my kitchen, I was pretty sure I knew why.

 

Either she was going to speak the truth in love, or we’d be leaving our church, packing up our house, and trekking back down Interstate 10 to go to college, go into massive debt in the process, and more than likely realize later that med school wasn’t the answer on my quest for “happiness.”

 My wife, Linda, was over by the sink and I was sitting on a stool next to the counter. She was working and I was pondering. My father was a doctor, my mother a nurse, and Linda’s and my previous home of Tucson had a fine university with a world-class medical school. Frustrated with everything happening in my ministry, I hinted that perhaps I should consider a change of vocation.

Then I asked her, “Where do you think we are going to be one year from now?”

“I think we’ll be back at the University of Arizona, in an apartment with our boys as you go back to school,” she said. There was no sarcasm. No sharpness to her tone. Just utter discouragement.

I plodded forward. “Maybe I’ve missed my calling. Maybe I’m not supposed to be a pastor, and the ministry was just an emotional thing for me. Maybe it’s God’s will that I should be a doctor. Maybe that’s why I’m not happy.”

Linda turned and looked at me. She didn’t shake her head, but she didn’t have to. The expression on her face, a disheartening mix of exasperation and pity, spoke volumes.

“Moe, I don’t know if you’re ever going to be happy.”

Linda is a woman who tells it like it is. It was part of what attracted her to me back when we started dating in 1986. She was a part-time student at a community college, determinedly working her way through school with no monetary assistance other than what she earned on her own. I was just the opposite, a full-time student at the university pursuing my degree in religious studies (after switching my major from biology) and getting full financial help from my parents. On our first date she acted like she was going to shove a piece of pizza in my face. I told her, “I dare you.” So she did. I tumbled out of the booth in a failed attempt at avoiding the pizza, looked up at her, and thought, “That’s the girl for me!”

We are both very headstrong, so it’s no surprise that the first year of our marriage was a full-on donnybrook as we both jockeyed for control. This conflict was caused in part by my youthful male suspicion as she spent late hours away from me at her job. The monster of distrust grew until the Lord gave me a very simple thought at the end of our first year together: “Exactly how long do you think a person will stay with you whose integrity you are constantly questioning?” I confessed and repented of my distrust of my beautiful bride. I told her, “Please forgive me for questioning you. I am all in. You can trust me one hundred percent, and I will do the same. No more suspicion and no more questions. I love you and I’m sorry.” As we grew closer over time and developed the increased maturity that comes with age and growing in our relationships with God, we became a couple characterized by trust, mutual respect, and healthy give-and-take.

Still, her statement in the kitchen was completely unanticipated. I think she realized our family was at a vital turning point. Either she was going to speak the truth in love, or we’d be leaving our church, packing up our house, and trekking back down Interstate 10 to go to college, go into massive debt in the process, and more than likely realize later that med school wasn’t the answer on my quest for “happiness.”

Whacked by her words, I stumbled out of the kitchen and trod around the corner and up the stairs to the bedroom where I went inside, closed the door, flopped onto the bed, and hugged my pillow. Why did she say that? I mused. How could she be so unsupportive? I was wounded, but as I laid there and prayed, the Holy Spirit began to show me that Linda wasn’t threatening me, nor was she being invalidating. She was simply stating a fact from her perspective. The sadness in her eyes also made me realize that this wasn’t only about me—I was going to drag her and our eight-month-old twin boys along for the ride. So if I was going to leave the ministry, I had to be absolutely certain that it was really what God wanted me to do.

As I continued praying, another truth came to the fore. I recalled how I had been on fire for God as a college student, filled with the Holy Spirit and up early every morning before going off to class to spend time in His Word. I realized each day was a gift from the Lord. I was also a minister’s assistant at a church, helping out with the choir and leading the worship service. I was serving, receiving tons of affirmation, loving every moment of it and thanking our Father for it.

I had also been front and center for a miracle from the Lord. It was the last day of a weeklong sailboat trip with our college age youth group. We left from Los Angeles and sailed to Catalina Island. It was an incredible time just to slow down, immerse myself in Bible study, get to know a lot of other kids, and relax in some of the nicest weather on the planet. The only problem was that we had not seen any marine life! Well, I shouldn’t say that. There was an old seal that limped by one day. I’m not sure, but it looked like he had an oxygen tank and was wearing a flotation device. Needless to say, I had hoped for more.

So I was up in the bow of the boat spending time in prayer. I thanked the Lord for the week, though I did mention how it would have been nice to see more marine life. I opened my eyes, looked out to the horizon, and saw a dolphin jump! Then three jumped—then six. Next thing I know, a whole group of dolphins were swimming alongside our sailboat. They seemed to ignore all the other boats around us, but they had us completely surrounded!

We leaned over the side of the boat and touched them. More arrived in droves and before long there had to be over one hundred dolphins; they were everywhere! It was mind boggling! They stayed with us, jumping and playing around the sailboat, for at least fifteen minutes. Everyone was astonished. I was overwhelmed. All I said, over and over again, was, “Thank you, Father. I love you, Father.”

When I returned home I took out a sheet of paper and wrote on it, “Remember the dolphins. Do you know how much our Father loves you? Live for Him!” I taped it to my wall.

I was so excited to serve the Lord! If I’m on fire like this, I thought near the end of my senior year in college, imagine how much I’m going to love the Lord after going to seminary? But that was before I went to a mainline denominational seminary to be trained to become a “professional” pastor. Here is a fact that astonishes many people: at no time during those four years in seminary did anyone ever ask me about my relationship with Jesus Christ. Not once! I recall hearing a liturgical priest later say, “When I went to seminary, they taught us how to take the Bible apart. But now I realize the Bible takes me apart.” Sure enough, I had stopped reading the Bible. I stopped listening to Jesus. I stopped submitting to Him! I blamed the seminary, not realizing then that it was my own fault. I got distracted and neglected my relationship with the Lord. In the years since, I had never recovered that earlier passion.

I had given my life to Jesus, but never my ministry. For the first time in my life, I gave up control of the ministry to the Lord.

So I knew I was no longer on fire—at least, not for the things that mattered to God. I was, however, well versed in the intricacies of church growth and megachurch management and had attended conference after conference on the subject. But Jesus? The Holy Spirit? His miracles? I’d forgotten the dolphins. I’d become a personification of the church in Leodicea in Revelation 3. I’d lost my first love of Christ. My lukewarm pot of water was sitting on the stove top with the burner completely off. No Holy Spirit fire here! Truth be told, I was getting downright cold, a dead pool. But I did spend a lot of time complaining to the Lord about my situation with very little, if any, time given to thanking and praising Him for all His blessings each and every day. I wonder: if I had only complained to the Lord on that sailboat without also thanking Him, would He have sent the dolphins? How many miracles are connected with a thankful heart? Remember, only the leper who was healed and then returned to give thanks to Jesus was declared “well.” (Luke 17:19)

Somehow I thought no one else knew of the lukewarm state of my soul, but Linda shattered that misperception.

I was at a point of decision, in the throes of a Holy Spirit intervention that night on my bed. My spirit grieved and cried out to God. Lord, you have got to show me how to come back from this. I don’t love you the way I used to. I don’t love my family the way I’m supposed to. I don’t love the lost; I don’t love the church. Fresh tears moistened my pillow. If being a doctor is what you’d have me to do, God, I’ll do it; but I’d like to stay in the ministry if at all possible. But Lord, you have to show me how to come back or move me out, because I can’t keep doing this.

An interesting thing happens when you get to the end of your rope— you stop! I was hanging there too weak to climb back up and too afraid to let go and plunge into the abyss. I needed to be rescued, and my deliverance came.

It was a voice, His voice, booming in my mind.
“Moe, are you going to give me back my church?”
God had posed a strong but simple “yes” or “no” question, and He 
wanted an answer. Without hesitation, I responded.
“Lord, it is yours.”
Two things happened in that moment.

First, I realized my problem had nothing to do with my circumstances and everything to do with my heart—and, more specifically, my ego. I had sunk so low because I wasn’t working to bring people to God; I was bringing them to myself! You can’t have “megachurch” without “me,” right? It was clear that my ego was more than clouding my vision; it was blinding me. It was also destroying me. I had given my life to Jesus, but never my ministry. For the first time in my life, I gave up control of the ministry to the Lord. “It’s all yours.” I repeated. “Build this ministry as big or as small as you want, but I promise you this: from now on, it will be all about you.”

With the declaration of that promise to Him, the second thing happened: I immediately experienced a surge of joy—pure, uninhibited, and not felt in years—sweep through my spirit. I sensed God was proud of me, and not only did I know I was restored to Him, but I was convinced the ministry was going to be different from that point on.

There was no way to know then the radical changes the Lord had in store for us all.

This book is for people in ministry who truly want to honor and serve the Lord, but you are starting to question your call. Now, it could be that He has something else for you. If so, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and pursue that vocation. He will use you mightily there. But there might be another reason for your discontent. Perhaps, if you’re like me, you are meant to be in the ministry you’re in now, but you’re doing it wrong. Praise God! The first step to a new life is admitting the problem. Know this: our Father loves you. He loves you enough to discipline you. What you consider burnout may actually be Him withholding peace and joy in an attempt to get your attention. You need to hear nothing I say and everything He says. Perhaps something in these pages will ignite your spirit and encourage you to become the unique child of God He created you to be. I hope so. God gets the glory when you become uniquely you— and the ministry you serve will never be the same.

I am sure my story is similar to many others in ministry. I started seminary in the strength of and reliance upon the Holy Spirit, wanting to serve Jesus, but slowly I made it about me. By the time I became a pastor, I was no longer seeking the praise that comes from God, but rather the accolades of man. I would have been right at home when Jesus said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)

Jesus refused people’s praise. He said quite clearly, “I do not receive glory from people.” (John 5:41) Simply put, He did not let people’s praise or criticism control Him in any way. Instead, He focused on obedience to His Father, and His Father rewarded Him with glory, the glory that comes from the only God. I believe that is what joy is: our Father’s reward for obedience. People cannot give us this joy. It is our Father whispering to our souls, “I am proud of you. Well done!” It is fruit of the Spirit and only comes from God.

Look at the connection between obedience, love, and joy in this teaching from our Lord. He said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:10-11) Jesus was obedient, abided in our Father’s love, and His Father gave Him joy. He desires that same joy for us! I had been disobedient, had not abided in His love, and He had withheld His joy. I gave the Lord back His ministry and my life, and He gave me back His joy! Praise be to God, for the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

The morning after my wife and my Lord dealt with me, I rose early and read the Bible, once again on fire and blazing. The subject of moving or medical school never came up again. I knew what God wanted— and so did Linda. That Sunday at church, I preached with a power and freedom that was a visible manifestation of the fresh renewal of my relationship with our Heavenly Father. The Spirit’s power was back and burning! Those who were there that morning said later that they knew something was different about me—it was clear that something had changed within.

And it had. But this was only the beginning. There was still so very much to burn away inside of Moe Redding.

 

That was sixteen years ago, and what has happened in my life since then as a pastor and as a child of God as well as in the life of His congregation is miraculous. Light of Christ Church, “A Place to Belong,” indeed fulfilled a building program—but it was on His timetable, happened through His maneuverings, and it achieved His purposes. We are a church that first listens to Jesus, is then Spirit-led, and then follows with servant ministries founded and operated on the fact that, as we serve the least in the world, we are actually serving Jesus. (Matthew 25:40) God has shown us that the key to life is to give our lives away, first to the Lord and then to others. This relentless focus on listening to Jesus and serving others has resulted in real-life stories of God’s life altering power that you will read through the testimonies of the very people He has used and blessed to His glory.

We realize that Light of Christ is a very small part of God’s worldwide ministry, and we constantly ask for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to discern the work He has given us to do. Through insight given by God, and the refining fire of the Holy Spirit over the last two decades, we have identified five principles— repent, rededicate, restructure, refocus, and rejoice—that I will detail throughout our story and wholeheartedly believe will result in God’s ministers and His people discovering the unique purpose and destiny He has for each one of us. We now have a different vision that is not about church growth, but is primarily about the heart of the ministry leader and his or her spiritual growth, who then leads by example.

Praise be to God we have the witness of His first disciples! We can learn from them. There are also many sold out followers of Jesus in our world today who are shining examples for all of us of true discipleship—if we have the humility and desire to learn.

I believe God has placed a dream in the heart of every believer to reach out and serve others. This starts with what Jesus says is the only necessary thing: listening to Him. As we listen to the Lord and draw close to Him, He will lead us in His perfect love to serve others and help us discover what it means to be true disciples of Christ.

In the Great Commission, our Lord commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28: 16-20). This was their job then—and it is our job now. However, we may have overlooked a massive truth. I know I did. When Jesus gave this command, He was talking to His core group of men; eleven guys. This was not a command for thousands. Why? These eleven were actual, fully committed followers of His. He knew it. They knew it. Making disciples was going to be relatively easy for them: simply teach others what they were learning. However, if they were disciples in name only, making actual disciples of Jesus was going to be next to impossible. They wouldn’t have any idea what they were talking about!

The situation is precisely the same today. Before I begin asking how to make disciples, I need to address the most basic question: am I, in fact a disciple of Jesus? Would I be included in that small group of sold out, fully committed followers of Christ—and is there any way to know for sure?

Praise be to God we have the witness of His first disciples! We can learn from them. There are also many sold out followers of Jesus in our world today who are shining examples for all of us of true discipleship—if we have the humility and desire to learn. The Lord will give us eyes to see them and hearts to learn from them. The Holy Spirit will bring them to us and use their incredible faith to ignite our faith! All glory to God!

Finally, I believe the Lord wants us to learn that all ministry belongs to God. He owns it. It never belonged to us. This was never about us. It was always about Him. Ministry is not an ego thing, but an obedience thing; die to self and follow Jesus. He chose us to be a small part of what He is doing, but He gets all of the glory. That’s the deal. As we allow God to set us free—from ego, from expectation, from competing against each other, from the numbers game, from “professionalism”—He’ll slow us down and use us to serve others. Instead of looking for blessing, we will each become the unique blessing we are created to be, and so will His ministry.

It all began for me that night when I repented and gave the Lord’s church back to Him and started my walk as His disciple; a follower, not a leader. I invite you now to join me as I share how the Lord persistently chiseled away at me from that point forward—piece by piece, layer by layer in an all-encompassing battle against my ego—to learn to listen to God, decrease so He may increase, and be positioned to help Light of Christ truly become His ministry, for His glory! As awesome as the dolphins were, that miracle paled in comparison to what the Lord had in store.