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Travels of the CDF Guy

Travels of the CDF Guy Blog

Viva la Verve!

One day, what seems like a lifetime ago, I was attending the New Mexico Christian Convention in Farmington, New Mexico. I think it was in the spring of the year 2000. I looked out of the window of my hotel room and saw a mesa in the distance. It seemed like an interesting sight, so I pulled out my new digital camera and took this picture…


As it turns out, you can hardly see the mesa, it’s more like some kind of horizon. Oh well. So a few days later I was in Ashland, Kentucky, and there was a stream running behind the hotel and I took a picture from my hotel room window.


Not much to look at. But then I kept taking pictures out of hotel room windows and before you know it I snapped this shot in Las Vegas the other day,


my five-hundredth hotel room view. As bad as these photos are (notice how dirty the window is in this Vegas shot), I can tell you that when you take five hundred of them you actually get a few good shots every now and then! Of course it’s not the hotel rooms or the airplanes or the highways and bi-ways that make the journey special, it’s what you really go there to see.

My trip to Vegas was one of mixed emotions. I had intended for a few months to attend the fourth anniversary celebration of Verve Church, so I had all of my reservations made, but then just a few days before departing I learned of the sudden death of my friend Chuck Hiatt, Executive Pastor of The Crossing. Just a couple of blog posts ago I wrote about my trip to Vegas for the Grand Opening of The Crossing’s new building. What a great day of celebration!


Then, less than one month later, Chuck passed away suddenly while praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. So I drove across the California desert much earlier than expected last weekend, arriving at The Crossing for a celebration of Chuck’s life. As I drove into the parking lot with my CDF colleague Mark Briggs I said, “I really don’t want to be here today.” That was true. As much as I wanted to be at the Grand Opening, I didn’t want to say good bye on this earth to my friend Chuck.

After the service I got a bite to eat (did you know they have a Steak ‘n Shake in Vegas?!) and then it was on to a celebration of another kind. Four years ago another friend of mine, Vince Antonucci, launched a venture that had great purpose and little promise: a church on The Strip in Las Vegas. As we celebrated Verve’s fourth anniversary as a church we heard testimonies from people whose lives had been completely transformed by the power of the gospel: the fire-breathing clown, the former pimp, the Britney Spears impersonator, the Skinhead meth-addict, and on and on… and on… and on.

I have heard a lot of church leaders say, “We want to go to the places where Jesus would go.” Or, “We want to reach out to the darkest places of sin.” Or, “We want to stretch outside of our comfort zone.” Add your own cliché here. Verve is actually doing it.


Vince said that over 275,000 people live within five miles of Verve. That’s about equal to the population of Lexington, Kentucky or St. Paul, Minnesota. There are 450 churches in Lexington. There are 650 churches in St. Paul. Within five miles of Verve? Eleven churches. Yes, you read that right. Eleven churches.

Now Verve is launching a movement of churches in dark places where the church has either left or resisted going. Verve literally means “great energy and enthusiasm.” The name was chosen for the church as a talking point, a place to begin the conversation. Splagna is a Greek word that was used when it talked about Jesus’ compassion for people. It literally means from His guts, His bowels, He loved people so compassionately that it welled up inside of Him. Splagna is the church planting movement that will reach into those dark places with people who have no use for church.


OK, so back to the hotel room views. I took a lot of heat from my CDF friends about this weird habit, but it landed me on the cover of American Airlines inflight magazine a few years ago


as one of their “Road Warriors” and it has created a lot of conversation starters.  I guess a picture really can be worth a thousand words.  That’s what Vince is doing with Verve and now with Splagna, looking for a way to start the conversation, a conversation which can lead to life transformation.  With a vision of “unleashing Kingdom resources to transform lives” Church Development Fund is in the right place with churches like Verve.  As they say in Vegas, “Viva la Verve!”


If you’d like to see a few more of my “hotel room views” click here.

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My, How Time Flies

I slept in on February 20, 1989. That was twenty-five years ago today, my first day as a CDF employee. It happened to be President’s Day, so I had the day off – what a way to start a new job!

I remember the night before that, too. I went with Ralph Dornette to the East Anaheim Christian Church to watch him do a CDF investment presentation and then proceed to collect investments from about a half-dozen people. CDF seemed huge to me at the time — $32 million in total assets. Now, twenty-five years later, we’re over twenty times that size and I can’t even begin to count the memories.

Those memories could be counted in the hundreds of millions of dollars of investments raised. They could be counted by over 1,000 church loans for more than $1.6 billion. What I like to count, however is the people I have had the opportunity to cross paths with.


This was the CDF team about two years after I started. Harold Purdom, in the upper left corner took me under his wing when I was a young minister at Lawndale Christian Church. When an opening came up at CDF for a young guy to work along side Ralph Dornette, Harold went to bat for me and the rest is history. In between Harold and Ralph in the photo is Ginny Ohm, who served faithfully for over a decade and became one of my dearest friends. Friends we all were, and are. Standing to my left are Lynne McIntosh, Julie Watson, Nedra Macshane and Matt Hilltibran. I have shed the coat and tie since then, along with the mustache and most of my hair!

Since that time I have worked alongside dozens in our CDF family have not only poured themselves into my life, but have been faithful in pouring themselves into the work of CDF. The result is that the lives of thousands, make that tens of thousands, of people have been touched by the work of local churches who would say in unison, “We couldn’t have done it without CDF.” Certainly God could have directed those churches along another path, but I have been blessed to be right in the middle of the path He provided.

I guess it’s hard to celebrate twenty-five years somewhere without a few well-wishers coming along to offer their congratulations. I walked into the office today looking for another day of meetings, email, etc. and turned the corner a loud cheer of “Surprise!” from my Dodger-Blue clad co-workers! The depth of their love for me came through loud and clear with some whose being seen Dodger apparel was about as likely as me wearing a Giants shirt (never!!).


Kathy snuck a Dodger t-shirt and my Sandy Koufax jersey over to the office so I could join the Blue Crew. Among the many photo-ops of the day was one with some of the women who have been supportive of my work over the years. Jill McKee, on the far left, was my assistant for about five years and came in for the day to join the celebration, along with Ginny, to my left who hasn’t seemed to change that much from the picture up above! The other ladies in the photo have all passed some significant milestones with CDF, too. From the left, next to Jill is Anna Bedley (10 years), Kimberly How (7 years), Nedra Macshane (yes, the same Nedra from the picture above) who started the same year as me, Chris Mathis (eleven years) and on the far right is Liz Schroth (16 years). The average CDF employee has been with us for over nine years and fourteen of us have more than ten years of service. That is a truly amazing record.

Of course none of this would have taken place without the undying devotion of my family. Kathy has spent an untold number of nights as a “single mom” taking care of the household while I was traipsing around the country on CDF business. CDF owes her a debt of gratitude far greater than any accolades they could use to honor me. And then, wouldn’t you know it, on the day before the surprise celebration Kathy’s Mom suffered a fall and Kathy felt compelled (who could blame her!) to leave town to care for her Mom. I was so thrilled to see our beautiful girls at the office for the celebration along with my Mom and brother.


When I enrolled in Bible College three and a half decades ago I had the dreams of many a young person, I wanted to make a mark on the world. I wanted to do something that would have a lasting effect, something that would not only enrich my life but would enrich the lives of others. It’s ironic that by literally enriching the lives of others by selling CDF securities and paying interest on investments that I have lived my dream of enriching others; helping them hear the Word of God, eat the Bread of Life and drink from a fountain of water that never runs dry.

So, CDF family, thank you. Thanks for twenty-five years of great memories. The memories you created for me will live into eternity.


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Crossing the Country with a Big Heart

I have never been to Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey. One thing I do know about Lanoka Harbor, however, is that there is a Christian Church there that is proclaiming the gospel! I know that because in 1999 CDF investors provided the dollars needed to build an outpost for the gospel, a tool of ministry, a church building in Lanoka Harbor. Community Christian Church continues to serve faithfully today.

As the “polar vortex” hit the northeast a few weeks back Community Christian took the brunt of it. One of the things we Southern Californians don’t have to think much about is the cost of snow removal. Ryan Engen, in our loan department here in SoCal was thinking about that, however, and his thoughts drifted toward our friends in Lanoka Harbor and what they were up against. So Ryan floated an idea around the office, how about having CDF make the church’s loan payment for a month in order to cover the cost of snow removal. Hmmm. I’m guessing there aren’t many banks out there who would make that kind of an offer.

When Ryan called the church and told Lorna Thomas the news she was “shocked.” No surprise there. In fact, she asked Ryan three times if his call was for real.


So Community Christian Church had some nice, plowed driveways for people to come and hear the good news proclaimed, join each other in worship and remember Christ in communion. This is what I love about CDF – it’s a ministry with a heart for the local church that goes beyond dollars and cents to the heart of ministry.

Just as CDF investors in 1999 were making a difference in New Jersey, CDF investors in 2014 are doing the same in Nevada. This past weekend I drove across the Mojave Desert to another church that was built thanks to the faithfulness of CDF investors – The Crossing: A Christian Church, in Las Vegas, Nevada. No snow plows needed there. This weekend was the highlight of over a decade of work with The Crossing as they moved into their brand, spanking new 1,800 seat worship center.


I can remember walking the property back in 2000, not long after we made that loan in Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey, with Senior Pastor Shane Philip and local developer Jim Barickman as CDF was contemplating providing financing to this brand new church – which we did! Since then the dollars invested at CDF by you and others have gone to work providing financing for every phase of The Crossing’s development.

On Sunday Mark Briggs, CDF’s Senior VP of Loan Development and I had the opportunity of representing faithful CDF investors who made this project possible as Shane thanked everyone who had a hand in making the project possible.


The man I’m shaking hands with is Laus Abdo. Laus was instrumental in working with us to get the financing lined up and then because we were so impressed with the work he did in representing The Crossing we invited Laus to join CDF’s Board of Directors, where he now graciously volunteers to serve. By the way, Jim Barickman, who was the first person to commit to joining The Crossing back when the church started was on the stage with us, as he continues to serve faithfully and was instrumental in making this project happen, too.

The Crossing has been running about 3,500 in very cramped quarters and on the first Sunday in their new building had about a dozen shy of 5,000 people worshipping the risen Christ!


I took a bunch of pictures at The Crossing on Sunday, if you’d like to browse through them click here or on the picture below.


Every church has its challenges — plowing snow on the East Coast. Facing up to the challenges of property development in order to meet the needs of hurting people in “Sin City.” But there are so many victories! I’m thankful that a little over sixty years ago some Christian leaders, people who had a heart for ministry said, ‘Let’s do something unique.’ And they did. Their work continues today through Church Development Fund. People building churches. Churches building people!

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Doing the Dirty Work

“Being a pastor is hard.” Dick Alexander’s daughter made that assessment when she was reflecting on his fifty years in ministry. As Dick was sharing with a group of pastors this week he quoted his daughter’s thought. And his response… “It is hard, but is so very worth it.”

I think there are few more difficult occupations than being a pastor. I say that not as one who served as a pastor once upon a time, but I say that as one who has worked alongside pastors for many years. Pastoring a church is a 24/7/365 job. It never stops. And it can get messy. When Mike Rowe does his “Dirty Jobs” show on The Discovery Channel he should try a week of being a pastor.

I spent this week with about five dozen pastors from around the U.S. While it was a week of communicating some of the nuts and bolts of how to “do ministry,” much of the time was spent in heart to heart sharing of some of the messiness. Through times of prayer and encouragement


pastors came together to say “Lord, we don’t know all the answers,” but they collectively said the words of Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.”

When Dick was sharing with the group he referred to Paul’s words from II Corinthians saying, “…we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” The difficulties Paul faced were far different than those faced by pastors today, but don’t kid yourself, pastors today face real hardships that take a toll on themselves and their families. For these guys, having an opportunity to spend a few days with other pastors, in similar situations, who face many of the same challenges, provided a period of refreshment and support.

What I loved about this week’s conference was that the pastors set the agenda. Most conferences have a bunch of speakers who tell their rapt audience, “This is how it’s done.” Not so here. This was a conference of iron sharpening iron, a ‘band of brothers’ who understand the joy and pain of ministry encouraging each other to carry on. It was a real depiction of the “one anothers” scripture: “care for another,” “be kind to one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” “love one another,” etc.

These guys know how to have fun, too. We took a Tuesday night trip to “Fast Lap Karting” and while they were bearing one another’s burdens they were also clobbering one another as they raced around the track.


I would be remiss if I didn’t commend my fellow-Californians on sweeping the victory podium. Rob Denton from West Valley Christian Church in West Hills took first place, Kevin Finkbiner from New Life Christian Fellowship in Petaluma finished second and Chris Delfs from Lifepointe Christian Church in Elk Grove made the podium in third.

The old saying goes, “It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.” Being a pastor is a tough job. When you get to church this Sunday pull your pastor aside and do a little caring for one another yourself, say thanks.

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Another New Chapter

Life is a story.  I read a lot of historic biographies and I find it intriguing to see how individuals’ stories unfold.  Of course for any person, as he or she is living the story, things can be exhilarating at times, they can be daunting at times and there are times when they get to decision points that make all the difference as to how their story unfolds.


It’s really the same for organizations.  I have sat in plenty of seminars where they talk about the bell curve of an organizational life cycle.  What you don’t see on that bell curve are all the peaks and valleys along the way.  One thing that is pointed out, however, is that when you’re at the top of the curve there comes a decision point that makes all the difference as to how the organization’s story unfolds. 


Recently, Church Development Fund reached a decision point on how our story will unfold.  At the beginning of this month, Dusty Rubeck came on board as the new president of CDF.  I have had the privilege of serving in the role of CDF president for the past three years and now have the honor of serving under a man whom I respect and I believe brings great value to the organization.  




The world economic crisis that began in 2007 and really started having wide impact in 2008 affected CDF just as it did every other financial organization.  Fortunately, we had the strength to weather the storm.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to lead CDF through some very treacherous waters as we felt the after effects of that storm.  Now we turn the page in our story to a new chapter and a man with different leadership gifts and vision will direct CDF in ways that will continue to benefit local churches across the U.S.


In my twenty-five years with CDF I have never seen the church finance world change as remarkably as it has in the past few years.  Those changes have come from two primary directions.  First, for the most part, churches have become much more financially savvy, looking for ways to effectively minister with fewer dollars going to debt.  I have always said that I want to see churches using more dollars going to ministry and fewer dollars going to debt service.  Five years ago a church doing a capital campaign to reduce debt was almost unheard of.  Today it’s fairly common.  Church leaders are looking long and hard at how the leveraging of money can help, or hurt, them.


Secondly, there is a sea-change in how church buildings are being used.  Another axiom I have written and said over and over and over throughout my CDF career is that we finance “tools of ministry.”  How those tools, primarily buildings, are being used is changing rapidly in today’s church.  From megachurch to multi-site, missional to attractional, A-frames to warehouses, no matter how buildings are used, scripture is clear that the church is the people, the body of Christ.  CDF’s newsletter, The Cornerstone, got is title from the passage in Ephesians where Paul writes, “…having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.”  Peter describes us as “living stones” that build the church.  Even though the church building, and its practical use, of the 1950’s or the 1980’s or the 2010’s is different, the “foundation” is the same. 


So, CDF has come to a decision point regarding organizational structure and direction, one where vision-casting and specific targets are of the utmost importance.  This week Dusty took the reins and a new chapter in CDF’s story is being written.  Ordinarily, when a new president comes in they show the ‘old guy’ the door.  That’s not the case here.  I will continue to serve CDF and will support Dusty in writing that next chapter in our story.  Most importantly, the story will be about people.  How can CDF support the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in building His church?  Not church buildings.  Churches building people. 


Welcome aboard, Dusty!  I pray that God will add His blessing to the CDF story as He uses you to lead us through those decision points.  Exhilarating and daunting as they may be, in the end we’ll have seen Kingdom resources unleashed to transform lives. 

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A Child is Born

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  




In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,


“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”


When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.  When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.  And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.  The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.


Whether you’re reading this post on Christmas Day or in the waning moments after Christmas I pray that the One who traveled from the heights of heaven to the lowly manger has touched your heart, has challenged you to help “the least of these,” has brought you that same spirit of humility that he brought to the manger, to the cross, to the grave and back. 


Merry Christmas and a joyous 2014 to you and yours!

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The Footprints of a Giant

My travels usually require an airplane or an automobile, but I did a little time traveling today.  I stepped back into the memories of days gone by as I attended the memorial service of a man who had quite an impact on my life, Floyd Strater.  Several ministers eulogized Floyd and we sang old hymns that made me want to be young again, but I think Joe Grana really summed it up when he told a story of a recent visit he made to see Floyd.


As Floyd lay weak and dying his appearance didn’t tell the story of his life.  Joe began to tell Floyd’s caregiver some of Floyd’s story: how he had ministered to the sick and dying himself, how he had changed the lives of thousands of people through the preaching of the gospel, how he had impacted a movement of people across the country and around the world.  Joe summed it up when he said, “This man was a giant.”  Truer words were never spoken.


Floyd Strater came to minister at my home church, Knott Avenue Christian Church, when I was a teenager.  Our church had just gone through a terrible split and hundreds of people had left.  Floyd picked up his family and moved half-way across the country from a comfortable ministry in Springfield, Illinois, to see if he could help this sick, dying church find its way back to life.  It wasn’t easy. 


I remember Floyd telling the story of those first agonizing years at Knott Avenue as he tried to teach the church to forget the transgressions of the past and to learn to love one another.  Over time wounds were healed and the church began to grow.  During Floyd’s twenty year ministry at Knott Avenue nearly 5,000 people made decisions for Christ.  The church grew in attendance from 500 to 2,000.  Floyd performed 996 weddings at Knott Avenue (including mine) and over the course of his ministry at Knott Avenue thirty-five young men were ordained into the Christian ministry. 




I usually like my photos nice and crisp, but this is one I will cherish.  That’s me and Floyd in a blurry picture on the night of my ordination.  Floyd looks nice and crisp with his coat on and his necktie in place.  I guess I look a little sloppy.  I couldn’t stand up to Floyd’s style then.  I only dream of standing up to his stature now.


If I had to sum up Floyd’s ministry to me in one word it would be “encourager.”  Floyd was a minister to ministers.  I couldn’t count on all of my fingers and toes the times Floyd took me to lunch to encourage me in my ministry.  Funny thing is, I couldn’t count on my fingers and toes the number of ministers who have told me the same thing.  You start multiplying all those fingers and toes and you’re talking about a lot of lunches!  Floyd’s ministry, by itself, was amazing.  When you consider all of the ministers who benefitted from his encouragement, his ministry was multiplied hundreds of times over.


The hallmark of Floyd’s ministry for me, however, was the relationship he had with my father.  A lot of people over the years assumed that my dad was an ordained minister since he did so much work for the church.  My dad was a businessman who was incredibly dedicated to the service of Christ through the local church and served as an elder at Knott Avenue throughout most of Floyd’s ministry.  My dad caught the heart of Floyd’s leadership which was reminiscent of the Apostle John as he encouraged the elders to love one another.  Floyd and my dad were not adversaries, they were the closest of friends.


I have seen way too many adversarial relationships between elders and ministers in my travels over the years.  Way too many.  When Knott Avenue’s current minister, Shane Womack, got up today to talk about what it was like to follow Floyd’s ministry he talked about his first elders meeting at Knott Avenue.  As the meeting was ending the elders stood, held hands and sang “We Are One in the Bond of Love.”  Elderships don’t work that way by accident.  It takes someone to lead elders to that place.


After the memorial service I was talking with Dave Smith, minister of the First Christian Church of Downey and one of those thirty-five young men Floyd ordained into the ministry from Knott Avenue.  Dave and I had worked together at a Florsheim shoe store when we were in high school and Floyd would come in from time to time to buy a pair of his ‘trademark’ wing-tip shoes.  Dave mentioned to me that he still remembers Floyd’s shoe size because it was so unusual - 9 1/2/ A.  So I guess the secret’s out, that’s the shoe size which creates the footprints of a giant.

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Beyond Email and Going to Meetings

When she was a young girl one of my daughters asked me, “What exactly do you do at CDF?”  I jokingly told her that I answer emails and go to meetings.  Frankly, that’s not too far from the truth.  When you spend a lot of time answering emails and going to meetings you can tend to get away from the heart of the matter.  So I spend a lot of time trying to get back to the heart of what we do, unleashing Kingdom resources to transform lives.


This morning I received an email from Jeff Frankowski, one of our Construction Cost Managers with an aerial photo from one of our current construction projects, The Crossing, A Christian Church, in Las Vegas, Nevada. 




When I saw that photo, I thought, “Wow, that’s it!  I don’t just answer emails and go to meetings.  I see life transformation take effect in places like The Crossing.”  Thousands of people will come to know Christ because of what CDF is doing here. 


I wasn’t in a meeting, so I stopped answering email to jump on the phone with Chuck Hiatt, Executive Pastor of Operations at The Crossing.  Chuck and I go way back.  We have worked together on building programs at three different churches over the past fifteen years or so.  When I was talking to Chuck about The Crossing’s new building he said, “We’re carrying out the process of reaching people far from Christ, but at the same time we’re helping them discover growth and maturity and have real life transformation.  God has graced us with the ability to do both.”  When I say CDF unleashes Kingdom resources to transform lives (see paragraph one and Chuck’s quote), I’m not kidding!  It’s happening in buildings like those, at places like The Crossing!


CDF’s bottom line is so much more than financial.  We entered into an innovative and collaborative partnership with a church where we have cultivated authentic relationships to work toward life transformation.  We have strategically stewarded financial resources to make this project happen.  The result?  Kingdom resources have been unleashed to transform lives! 


Las Vegas is one of the most hurting communities in our nation, not just financially, but spiritually.  Contrary to what the marketers say, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.  The hurt and pain of ‘sin city’ spills over into the lives of people who envision the Vegas lifestyle and transport it to other places, far and wide.  Churches like The Crossing are stepping in front of this locomotive of sin and saying, “No!  There is another way!  Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more”  With the help of churches like The Crossing, Canyon Ridge and Central Christian, Las Vegas being transformed into ‘Grace City.’  Nearly two percent of the city’s population attends one of those churches every weekend — churches that would not have the footprint they have created without the financial support of your investment at Church Development Fund.


When we started talking with Chuck and Senior Pastor Shane Philip four years ago about The Crossing’s need to expand their facility they were packing 2,400 people onto their campus each weekend.  Finding every nook and cranny to put babies, kids, youth and adults into a setting that helped them see the value of the gospel when their financial world was crashing around them.  Today, in the same facilities, The Crossing is packing in 3,400 every weekend, using the same cramped facilities that they were using four years ago. 


On Sunday, February 2, the floodgates will open.  The Vegas bookies will be celebrating Super Bowl Sunday that day.  The Crossing will be celebrating their Grand Opening Sunday and people who never darkened the door of a church before will walk in and have their lives changed.  Now, that’s Super. 


The new building will seat 1,800 for worship and is expandable to 2,500.  The building on the far right is their current worship center which will be converted for children’s use when the new worship center is opened.  The grey, open spot is the pad for their next phase, which will give more and greater opportunities for children’s ministry. 


What happens in Vegas will certainly not stay in Vegas.  Not if The Crossing can help it.  Their mission focus goes way beyond the boundaries of a city in Southern Nevada.  They have been carrying out a worldwide mission and will continue to do so through Reach Café, which will be the central focus of the entry space to their new facility.  The purpose of Reach is not to serve coffee, but to remind people of the focus of The Crossing, to reach around the world with the mission of Christ.


Well, I have to run to a meeting or get back to email or something now, but thanks for taking this little journey to Las Vegas with me.  And thanks for making a difference in a place like Las Vegas — even if you don’t live there.  What happens with your investment goes to Vegas… and far beyond.

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We Should all be Vanilla

When I was a youngster my Dad’s sister and her family attended Eastside Christian Church in Fullerton, California.  They didn’t just attend, they were stalwarts, they were part of the core.  The minister when they started attending Eastside was Ralph Dornette, who later became the CEO of Church Development Fund.  By the time I was old enough to know what was going on at Eastside the minister was Ben Merold.  




Ben slowly and steadily built upon the foundation that Ralph laid, somewhat like Paul and Apollos in the Corinthian church.

Fast forward years later and I find myself in Louisville, Kentucky, at the Continuation Committee Meeting of the North American Christian Convention. Tim Harlow, this year’s NACC President was talking about the legacy of the NACC and how it was time for us to pass that legacy on to a new generation. He referred to some of the NACC leaders of years past, like Ben Merold. It was Ben who famously said, “If our movement didn’t have the North American Christian Convention we would have to create something like it.”  Ben was a local church minister, but he had a vision for something greater, something that could change the world.  


That night Tim also talked about how he was heading out first thing the next morning to California for Exponential West, a church planting conference that was the brain-child of a bunch of guys within our “restoration movement” of churches.  Three thousand people gathered at Saddleback Church to hear Rick Warren, Miles McPherson, Gene Appel


and others talk about the power of new church evangelism.  I walked up to Tim that night and told him that I was heading back to California for the same conference,




so we found ourselves together again, 2,000 miles removed, about sixteen hours apart.


That morning Tim and I heard Gene Appel tell his story; the story of his ministry and how a man had taken him under his wing, somewhat like Paul did for Apollos.  Who else but Ben Merold?  Ben hasn’t just been an expert at growing churches, he has been an expert at growing leaders. 


About six years ago I had the opportunity to interview Ben for Christian Standard magazine.  As I mentioned above, I have known Ben for virtually my entire life.  We traveled together when Ben would speak at conferences and events that were sponsored by CDF, so I really got to see the man behind the man.  He’s the real deal, folks.  One of the questions I asked Ben in the interview was “You have quite a legacy.  How would you like to be known?”  His response, “I used to think I’d like to be known as an evangelist, because I held a lot of revival meetings (we stopped counting at 500).  Today it would be more as a church builder and a friend of the small church.”  That really reflects the humility of a man who could be so proud of his accomplishments, proud of building big churches, but really had a love for Christ’s church, no matter the size of the group that happened to gather. 


So after I’ve made this transcontinental journey from Kentucky to California I head back east and end up just outside of St. Louis, in St. Charles, Missouri, at Harvester Christian Church.  Ben came to Harvester when he retired from Eastside to lead this small church of about 200.  But Ben has a way of turning small churches into large churches.  When he re-retired shortly after that 2007 interview Harvester was running about 3,200.  Now Harvester continues to reach thousands and Ben, in his eighties, continues to serve the church, conducting seminars and revivals at churches throughout the country. 


When I traveled with Ben he had one rule.  We had to stop every day for ice cream and he had to pay.  I came to find out over time that Ben is one of the most generous people I have ever met.  At the time I would protest, “Ben, CDF has a travel budget and we can certainly pay for the ice cream!”  But no way, the rule was Ben pays for the ice cream.  So when I interviewed Ben I finished with a question that seemed pretty innocuous but turned out to be the most memorable of any question I asked over the course of 144 interviews I did for Christian Standard: 


Brad:  What’s your favorite ice cream?

Ben:  Vanilla.  I’m pretty much vanilla in my entire life


Vanilla.  Wow.  I wish we all could be so vanilla. 




Click here to read my 2007 Christian Standard interview with Ben Merold

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Peeking into the Future

I just took a peek at my blog post from one year ago yesterday and it is interesting that I wrote about what I was thinking today. What does the future church building look like? As an aficionado of church buildings I don’t just want to know where we’ve been, I want to know where we’re going. And I assure you, it’s not just bricks and mortar I’m looking at, I’m passionate about CDF’s vision to unleash Kingdom resources to transform lives.

As I was helping a planning group put together the program for this year’s Denominational Investors and Loan Administrators Conference (acronym DILA, it’s a fancy title for church lenders from various denominational groups) I suggested that we have a guy who has ‘been there, done that’ help us understand where he’s been and what he’s done — and where he’s going — with respect to church facilities. So I asked my buddy Greg Nettle to put something together on video for the group and he nailed it.

Greg gives a very practical explanation of the attractional/missional thing people are talking about. It’s the simplest explanation of what can be a very complex issue that I have heard. Then, using some of RiverTree’s campuses and another church campus he takes us on a field trip to show how different types of buildings are being used and what the implications are for the future. Finally, he shows how the American church has changed over the past couple of generations with respect to its approach to reaching people for Christ.nettle-dila-points2

The video is only 22 minutes long, so it’s really worth your while to take a look. In fact, if you’re church is growing and looking at what your future entails, this is a must see. Click here or on the photo above to link directly to the video.

What Greg shares here has tremendous implications for CDF. In my last three blog posts I wrote about CDF’s vision, mission and values. Here’s the synopsis:

Our vision is to unleash Kingdom resources to transform lives.

We do that by…

  • Cultivating authentic relationships
  • Pursuing innovative and collaborative partnerships
  • Strategically stewarding financial resources

And our core values serve as the basis upon which we carry out that vision and mission. We…

  • Depend on God
  • Invest in people
  • Balance creativity and discipline
  • Remain faithful

I have said it for years, but ultimately what we’re trying to do is to help churches get the tools they need to be most effective in ministry. You might have noticed that our vision, mission and values don’t include the words “church buildings.” Buildings may be one of the tools, and that may be the way we help churches, but we want to strategically steward financial resources to give churches and ministries the best shot possible at transforming lives.

The church has taken all kinds of different approaches over the centuries. Even contemporaneously, churches on one continent approach things differently than others. In Africa the church may meet under a baobab tree, in China they may meet in an ‘underground’ setting, in America, well, things are changing, but it usually involves a building. CDF is ready to meet the changes, meet the challenges, ready to unleash Kingdom resources to transform lives.

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