So last Sunday I did something that brought me some very quizzical looks from a lot of people. Last Sunday I brought Pastor Dan O’Leary up on stage with me during all 4 of our Sunday services at True North. During announcements, I told our congregation that many of them needed to pray about maybe leaving our church to join Dan in what he’s doing at Arise Community Church.
If you weren’t there, Arise is a brand new church launching this fall in the Mt. Sinai – Rocky Point area. They had their first preview service last week and 80 people showed up!!!
Anyway, it was a strange thing to say. Pastors are known for being a territorial bunch, protective of their flock and wary of anyone who might in any way decrease their attendance numbers. So why am I encouraging people to leave True North and check out Arise?
Two reasons: 1- Because the Kingdom of God on Long Island is bigger than any one church. It’s going to take DOZENS of healthy churches. Maybe hundreds – to make an impact here. And 2- Because a good example was set for me by another Long Island pastor and I’m trying to follow his lead. His name is Gary Zarlengo. He’s the lead guy over at Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle.
Pastor Gary and I couldn’t be more different. If by some strange turn of events we ended up as roommates, we’d be like the Odd Couple. He’s from a Pentecostal background; my heritage is very conservative. Gary’s church is very majestic – some would say ‘traditional.’ True North’s oldest traditions haven’t had their 6th birthday yet. Gary looks great in a suit and tie; I look like a doofus. You get it.
But Pastor Gary has been a friend to me during some very tumultuous times my life. He had my back and stood by me when I was struggling and I’ve never heard him say a judgmental thing in my life. On the day that our church opened its doors at our new facility, by the middle of the afternoon I had 6 emails in my inbox telling me that Pastor Gary had not only prayed for us that day, but had stopped the whole service and told everybody there what was happening and that the church lifted up a shout of joy on our behalf!!
On more occasions than one, when asking a new family how they heard about us, I’ve heard the words “Pastor Gary at Smithtown said your church would be a good fit for us.”
From what I’ve been told, that kinda thing would NEVER have happened on Long Island 20 years ago.
Gary is a Kingdom guy. He knows that the kingdom isn’t about earthly things. It’s not territory and branding. It’s not marketing and real estate. It’s not about how many people come to this church vs. that one. Gary knows what I hope to fully grasp someday – that the Kingdom of God is ALL about His glory. He is a living example of the phrase “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
So I told people they needed to leave our church because it’s the Kingdom-minded thing to do. Gary set a good example for me and I intend to follow up. When I saw the staff of Arise in our lobby after church and they expressed their gratitude to me, I reminded them that someday they would have a huge ministry and that eventually some struggling young pastor would need a hand. I hope all churches on Long Island can fully learn this lesson, including ours: That we must never see another church or another pastor as competition, but as co-worker and partners in a Kingdom endeavor that is going to take believers of all stripes and all types to complete.
Can a spiritual awakening come to Long Island? Yeah. It can. And we may just get to see it in our lifetime!!!
Hasta. Thanks for reading.