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Justin Davis: My First Affair Was with the Church

What has to happen for the church not to be a pastor’s mistress, when ministry is almost designed for that?

Justin: Ministry is not intended to be a machine. And that’s not what’s in most ministers’ hearts. But there’s a business aspect to it, and most of us are wired to accomplish things.

But think about what is celebrated. People celebrate success. They don’t celebrate character development. They don’t sit around going, “Oh my gosh, Justin, you’re so patient. I love how you’ve developed patience over the past year.” They say, “Wow, you’ve grown your campus to over a thousand people in the past year, that’s awesome! Keep it up!”

So we have to change what we celebrate and give more attention to celebrating what matters. It’s not as sexy, not as noticeable. You’re not going to have a main speaker at Catalyst who is there because he’s so humble. No, he’s there because he’s dynamic, outrageous, and because his churches are exploding. When we constantly shine lights on those people, we’re going to continue to have church planters constantly aspiring to be those types of people.

Trisha: One of the church planting heads we spoke with said, “The story we’re telling is that success is numbers, but we need to start telling a different story.” If your church stays at 200, does that mean you’re not successful? A smaller church might feel safer for a broken family to not feel overwhelmed.

Justin: Most church planters are more concerned with their fame than with their health. That used to be me. I knew that working 80 hours a week wasn’t healthy, but I knew it would help me get the job done. My first mistress was the church.

The question now is “What is most healthy?” We do that in our physical sense, exercise, watching what we eat. But we take the relationship we’ve been given, the one that’s supposed to be second only to Christ—our marriage—and we think we can “cheat” it with time and attention and it will magically be OK. That’s why we’ve geared our ministry toward church planters. We want to help them avoid some of the same pitfalls that we’ve experienced.

What’s different about being in ministry where you are, at Cross Point, and being in a church plant ministry? The Bellevue campus is an offshoot, but it does have a lot of commonalities with a new church plant. So why is this palatable?

Justin: You just talked me into planting another church. Thank you! (laughing) Well, there is a support system in place. But the biggest difference is that Cross Point already has a vision. I didn’t have to initiate or sell the vision. I just had to join in with it. As a church planter, you have to create momentum, but here, I get to ride other people’s momentum a little bit, as well as contribute to it.

Trisha: Where is our counselor when we need him? Cross Point elders asked us hard questions, and not just questions to benefit the church, but questions to benefit us. There are people on our elder board who have experienced their own brokenness, who have a genuine desire to see us succeed as a family even before seeing Justin succeed as a pastor.

Would you consider church planting again?

Justin: At this point, the way that I’m wired, the way I’m designed, I don’t know that I have the emotional capacity to do that. You have to sacrifice yourself, and honestly, I don’t know that it’s worth it to me. I would definitely have to be audibly called by God and He would have to visit Trisha in a dream and write it in the sky and have a donkey speak it to her as well.

How has this changed your perspective on people in the pew? Has it changed how you do church?

Justin: From a personal standpoint, not even as a pastor, it’s made me appreciate grace so much more, taught me not to have a judgmental spirit toward anyone.

I remember, when Trisha and I were separated (after the affair), we’d go to church and were literally hanging on to every word the pastor said because we needed it so desperately. So when I’m speaking on a Sunday now, I know there are people there for whom this is their last chance. They’ve given God or their marriage or maybe even their life one more Sunday, and then it could be over. I’m more keenly aware of this fact.

What used to matter to me was the production, the lighting, the sound, the transitions. Being out of ministry for four years, being desperate for God, I didn’t need a lighting cue, I didn’t need a production. I just needed the Gospel. It doesn’t have to be perfect for God to show up.

Also, for us collectively, we’ve gone ahead and given people permission to be broken, to speak hard truth, to be vulnerable, and to not have it all together.

Trisha: I think people listen with a more attentive ear because we’ve experienced it. And we’re still experiencing it. People want to package our story with a pretty bow around it, but it will be a struggle till the day we’re in heaven—parts of our story that are not redeemed—and it’s hard. The core of God who created us to be, our healing and redemption are in His hands. There are consequences to our actions. What is broken will always be broken, but there is always hope. There is nothing God can’t work through with a broken spirit.

At the end of the day, we’re still married today because we’re both broken. Had I not chosen that, we wouldn’t be married.

And that’s the hardest thing, in the church planting world, when we prepare our church planters, they have to own their brokenness. Part of it is innocence, not even being aware of their own childhood wounds. And part of it is pride, not wanting to risk the opportunity. But they have to choose to lean into the truth, to what’s being asked of them, to own it and move forward from that place.  

 

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