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Big Sandy Avenue Champions

The Faith, Hope and Love champions are leaders I can trust to take responsibility for the work of an avenue without a lot of management by me.

By Jerome Ellard, Pastor

As a pastor, I used to think that I needed to be the sparkplug for everything that was going on in the church. Of course, I had good people who could handle worship leading, conduct Bible studies, and handle the day-to-day finances, etc., but I felt that I needed to be the one to think up the next event or to organize the next special service, potluck, outreach or meeting. Sounds like a recipe for burnout, doesn’t it?

Thankfully, Grace Communion International has discovered what we call the Avenues—Faith, Hope and Love Avenues, to be specific. Maybe “inspired” would be a better word than “discovered”! Plus, the names of these “avenues”—Faith, Hope and Love—are biblical (see 1 Corinthians 13). More importantly, these avenues are the healthy spheres of ministry that the body of Christ has always been involved in as it has participated with Jesus in his mission to our world down through time.

  • The Love Avenue is the way we participate with Jesus in showing his love to others in tangible ways. This could involve such things as firing Halloween candy into cars with a “candy cannon” during a drive-thru Trunk or Treat event, visiting elderly people in the neighborhood or delivering a meal to someone. Love isn’t just a word, it’s an action, fueled by Jesus’ love flowing through us!
  • The Hope Avenue is the area concerned with our worship gatherings, primarily our Sunday service. We desire that our gatherings are inspiring and draw us closer to one another and to God as we worship together.
  • The Faith Avenue is the sphere concerned with discipleship—that process of being formed in the image of Christ through participating with the Holy Spirit through smaller, relational settings, such as small groups.

Our GCI website has a lot of information and guidance on these Avenues, and our denomination is spending a lot of time in sharing the value of these structures for our churches.

Avenue Champions

I like the word Champion to describe the leaders of these Avenues—they are called to “champion” or promote the work of a particular Avenue! What this means is that I, as the pastor, have leaders that I can trust to take responsibility for the work of an avenue without a lot of management by me. This is very freeing! I can be, as we say in GCI, “eyes on, hands off.” This arrangement also demonstrates another goal GCI has for our congregations—to be “Team Based, Pastor Led.”

I lead by equipping and encouraging my three Champions and being available to help them if they need it. They are learning how to express Jesus’ heart through their particular avenue, and they are working to build teams that can assist them in the work and responsibilities of each avenue. Having these teams responsible for their area of ministry allows me to be their cheerleader and frees me from being involved in so many decisions. Instead, I get to share responsibility and trust the Holy Spirit’s work in my Champions and their teams. Another benefit to adopting these intentional Avenue structures is the multiplication of spaces for others to serve in areas of their gifting.

This pandemic year has given us time to think through how we can implement and adapt the Avenues to our context here in Big Sandy. Rick Peterson is our Love Avenue Champion, George Strub is our Hope Avenue Champion, and his wife Sarah Strub is our Faith Avenue Champion. These champions are all elders (not a requirement by any standard) and were prayerfully chosen to lead their Avenues. In March 2020, I took them all to a Hope Avenue training in Cincinnati so they could hear more from others about the Avenue concept. This was a valuable time of training and fellowship. Upon our return to Texas, these Champions started to work.

Following our return to in-person services, George began overseeing our Hope Avenue—our Sunday service. I had been doing a Facebook Live message using my iPhone. George upgraded our technology and is working to obtain a more robust system that will allow us to share not only our messages, but our worship music as well. We are seeing that an online presence will be essential in the future. He has developed a Ministry Action Plan for 2021 to make our worship service better. One thing I asked George to do last year was to oversee the preparations for our observance of Advent during the weeks leading up to Christmas. In the past, I would have come up with the weekly readings and selected readers for each week, all in addition to preparing my messages for each Sunday. George sees his role as the Hope Avenue Champion to be like being a store manager— he doesn’t have to stock the shelves or make sure the produce department has enough tomatoes, he just makes sure those things are taken care of by those working with him (check out the GCI podcast interview with George for more of this!). George enlisted the assistance of one of our members, Carlos Gutierrez, and entrusted him to come up with the readings and the readers, and Carlos did a great job! This is a great example of how an Avenue Champion can oversee his or her area by inviting others to participate in the blessings of serving! As a pastor, it’s wonderful for me to be able to delegate responsibilities that I had previously considered mine to others and see them successfully exercising their gifts and talents in the church!

As we approached Halloween, Rick Peterson and his Love Avenue team came up with a unique and safe way to show love to our community by creating the “candy cannon” I mentioned before. They bagged candy and prizes in ziplock bags and “launched” the bags through a 10-foot PVC pipe into the windows of the cars of families that drove through our church parking lot Halloween evening! The kids and their families enjoyed this fun way of doing a “Trunk or Treat” event, and it was a lot of fun for us, too! And again, I didn’t have to think up the idea or organize it—this is pastor heaven! Rick and his team then prepared a wonderful float sponsored by our church for the Big Sandy Christmas parade, and they packed Christmas cookie bags to hand out along the parade route. He and his team also prepared special care packages and, with our love, delivered them to a number of our members who have not been attending due to the pandemic, as well as some other individuals in our community. Also, one of our youth teachers, Carrie Campbell, prepared and had “goody bags” delivered to the teens who attended our Wednesday Night Gathering prior to the pandemic. I’m looking forward to seeing how our Love Avenue team will continue to share creative, tangible expressions of the love of Jesus Christ with our members and our community!

Sarah Strub, our Faith Avenue Champion, has been busy, too. She prepared and facilitated a successful four-week Advent study on Zoom that several participated in. She enlisted tech-savvy member David Ferguson to work out the details of helping people use Zoom to attend. David continued to use his talent with the Faith Avenue by helping Sarah conduct a four-week Zoom gathering of our Wednesday Night Gathering teachers to connect with one another, to discuss how we can improve our discipleship practices, and plan for a hoped-for resumption of our youth outreach gatherings this year. Sarah is also thinking of ways that all our members can participate in opportunities for discipleship.

One thing that has encouraged me is how each of our Champions have been joining in coaching calls with other Champions who are involved in their particular Avenue. They share best practices with each other and are being mutually strengthened and encouraged. This is iron-sharpening-iron, and I’m looking forward to seeing how each of them will grow in their positions. These Avenues will be great spaces to invite others in our community to join with us as we “Live and Share the Gospel.” They are a blessing to our church, our community, and to me, their pastor!

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