A Chemistry Conversation with John Sanders
Tune into this Chemistry Conversation with John Sanders of Just Church Jobs and Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, as they discuss what John is seeing in the Church from his vantage point. He also gives a bit of encouragement and a reminder to pastors who are in the thick of ministry during this challenging season.
John Sanders is a 30-year+ ministry leader who is currently serving at First Baptist Church Pine Castle in Orlando, Florida, who also serves as the co-founder of Just Church Jobs along with his son, Bryan. Just Church Jobs is on the cutting edge of church job boards!
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Read the Full Transcript
John Sanders: Matt, I appreciate it. It’s good to be neighbors. When we met, I was living in North Carolina. It’s nice to see - well, we’re still looking at each other the same way through a computer. One of these days, we’ll actually get to meet each other.
Matt Steen: Exactly. One of these days in person, and then we’ll long for the days that it was just on Zoom.
John Sanders: [laughing]
Matt Steen: John, in these conversations, we basically ask three questions. Let’s just dive in. You’re serving in a local church. You’re also working with people in transition, churches in transition with church jobs. What are you learning about the church here lately?
John Sanders: I have been both fascinated and terrified of the roller-coaster nature of in-person church engagement over the last 18 months. And churches, they may have entered into a high tech or higher-tech - I talked to a guy who was using his old iPhone 7 and a stick to record worship services. So it may not be super high-tech. They may have gotten there in a hurry, and probably with a lot of mess, but they still managed to inspire and equip their church members and regular attenders. I love that. I love that. In fact, the first hire that I made back in April 2020, I hired a Communications Director because I knew that we were going to have to figure out new ways to engage with people and to do ministry in the digital space. Now, we had been doing live stream of our services and we had a good archive. But we could tell that this wasn’t going away fast. So we hired an expert. I’ve hired a lot of people - that was the best hire I’ve ever made. I think the silver lining that I see is that God’s still at work. And what He’s doing is He’s bringing people into the life of a church that without a global pandemic would have never considered showing up to church at all. I think it goes back to the early days when we were all just starving for content. People were willing to do anything. They needed something. So, “Well, this church is online. I’ll just go.” I think churches that were ready were digitally fulfilling the Great Commission. I think that’s pretty cool. And now it seems a lot of that is coming back around. So now, I think churches that are going to really thrive and become healthy, I think they’re going to have to learn how to better engage with people, especially those who are isolated. We learned a lot about that in the early days. But now we’ve got the isolated and the irritated because they’re the ones: “I’ve done this before. I’m really ticked off. It’s not the same thing.” So how are we going to minister to people like that. What I noticed is that we left behind a non-tech savvy crowd too, so we’ve got to figure out how to connect with those folks. I guess the answer to your question is, what I’ve learned is the church is pretty creative. It’s been really determined, and it’s pretty scrappy. That makes sense because obviously the God who designed us is immensely creative and wasn’t caught off guard by any of this stuff. I think church leaders who are leaning on God’s wisdom and following His direction are going to figure out ways to leverage that God-given creativity to connect with their community and even the world. I mean, even little bitty churches - ours is a church in the middle of North Carolina. We were a regional church, but through the pandemic, we were reaching people on other continents. Nobody had heard of us, but they were just so hungry, and God was making connections. That’s the biggest thing I’m learning. We’re coming back around to all this stuff again.
Matt Steen: Oh yeah. This sounds so unhopeful, but this may never go away, right? This is the cycle we’re going to be constantly in for the foreseeable future at least, right?
John Sanders: I think so. I’m afraid so.
Matt Steen: I think you were just telling me you’re 90 days into your current church role. As you look at the horizon, what are you seeing and what are you finding that you really need to invest your energy if you’re going to get ahead of this. That’s not a fair question, is it?
John Sanders: Yeah, let me consult my crystal ball. I think what I’m learning from my church here, but also, I’m like you - I talk to a lot of pastors. I talk to pastors every single day, and what I’m hearing is this common theme of concern about waning church attendance. It seems that a lot of pastors are convinced that their church members are convinced that COVID only strikes on Sunday morning. Because their auditoriums, they have a few more seats now than they used to. But as they scroll through Instagram, they’re finding folks living it up at a restaurant or, where we live, at a theme park or out of state on vacation. It’s always easier to blame somebody else. I had a guy when I was a church planter. He was one of my coaches. And he always used to joke that if you can find somebody to blame, you’re halfway to healed. It really is easier to blame somebody else. But I have faith in the communal nature of the church. I really do believe that ministry moves at the speed of relationship. That was God’s plan way back in the beginning. When Jesus instituted the idea of the Church, that was the deal, and I don’t think anything’s going to change that. I think we’ve got to change our model a little bit. I’m just not giving up on the gathered church. We’ve just got to find new and meaningful ways to help people engage.
Matt Steen: I’ve been saying a lot, and people are sick of hearing me say this - but I don’t care. They can record their own calls. I’ve been saying a lot that the Church has an NFL problem. I can go, I can get dressed up, and I can drive to an NFL game. Or I can sit on my couch and not have to worry about the drunk standing next to me and the fact that I can only see bits and pieces of the field. The football experience has really been made for TV. One of the challenges that we have is we’ve just spent however long realizing that it’s really nice to sit in my chair and eat a waffle and watch service, but we need to figure out how to we get people to get back in and really engage the communal part of this. Which the tendency is, let’s keep making it digitally minded and ready for the livestream.
John Sanders: It’s two sides of the same coin. You’ve got the observational side, and then you’ve got the engaged side. So flipping that from being just a passive observer to an active, engaged, fully functioning, fully bought-in, follower of Jesus who is living out their calling through a local church, though I might be locked down for a while. That’s a tough one to figure out, but there are churches that are figuring that out.
Matt Steen: You talk to a lot of people in transition, just by nature of your work with Just Church Jobs. Any encouragement you’d give pastors out there right now as they’re looking at the days ahead?
John Sanders: Yeah. I think two things. One, I’ve noticed we’ve been watching a lot more TV lately because there’s really nothing - well, that’s not true. But I’m watching a lot of TV lately because I think it’s primarily that I’m pear shaped and don’t want to do much active. What I’ve noticed is the commercials that I see, they’re harkening back to a time that was pre-COVID. So capturing that lure of the nostalgic. I’m planning on jumping all over that. I’m planning a Christmas Eve teaching series and Christmas Eve service that yanks on all those heartstrings. So we’re going straight nostalgia with that. But beyond that, even though a lot of ministry is taking place digitally these days, there’s not a pastor on YouTube who has been called to shepherd your church. That’s your job. So pastors, live out your calling. Love and shepherd your people. Lean into them. Lean on them. You’re part of this family of faith too. A well-produced video - sure, it’s going to capture somebody’s attention. But boots on the ground ministry will anchor people in the life of your church. So don’t give up. Matt, you and I both love the church, which is why we do what we do. I don’t believe for a second that Jesus has given up on His bride. I see good days ahead. We’ve got to be creative, but I see some really good and positive days ahead.
Matt Steen: That’s good, that’s good. Well John, I think that’s a perfect place to wrap this up. Thank you so much for sharing. Thanks so much for the work that you guys are doing at Just Church Jobs. I will put it this way. If you’re not doing a search with Chemistry - which, why?
John Sanders: Why would you not?
Matt Steen: Why would you not, exactly. But I love what Just Church Jobs is doing. They do a great job of helping your church market search and push it out there. It’s one of those things that we share with churches that are looking for places just to market it. If you go to justchurchjobs.com, I think John and the team over there has been really generous. They’re going to give you $50 off a post if you use the word CHEMISTRY when you check out. Thanks for doing that. Thanks for all you’re doing to serve the local church. We’re grateful for you and grateful for your partnership.
John Sanders: Well Matt, I’ll pass that along. Thank you very much. We’ll get together one of these days and catch up in person. Sound good?
Matt Steen: Looking forward to it, man. Thanks.
John Sanders: Alright, buddy. Take care.