It Changed My Life

Chad Merrell - Lead Pastor | North Rock Hill Church - Rock Hill, SC

“Something isn’t right here. It seems like the things we measure don’t produce what we say we are chasing.” This thought just wouldn’t go away. I was sitting in a service at my church and listening to a report that served as sort of a “state of the church” to start the new year. As an operations and productivity guy from corporate America, I was trained to look for key performance indicators and measures of efficiency and effectiveness. I was good at it and had carved out a nice career as a guy who could turn around unproductive departments and increase productivity in underperforming business units. But, as I looked at the mission statement at the top of the handout I had been given, and I heard the stories of changed lives, I was struck by the fact that none of the numbers we seemed to care about most were serving to measure the mission of the church. Our mission was about seeing lives changed and making disciples, but the celebration seemed to be about attendance and other metrics that fell short of the stories I was hearing.

I wrote down this thought, “Maybe the things that are easiest count actually tell us the least?”

Looking back, I see that God had begun to stir something in me. I was starting to have thoughts about what it would look like for me to be a pastor. I was beginning to have ideas about what I would do… “IF I was running a ministry or pastoring a church”. As these thoughts began to emerge, I began to intentionally dig into what Jesus had done when he walked the earth. I read the book of Mark, but this time read it slowly. This time I was paying closest attention not to the miracles and messages, but to the way Jesus led his team. I started to sense that it wasn’t just my heart stirring, my brain was too… there it was again, “What if?… If I was pastor, I would…”.

Soon after that, I read the book “Church is a Team Sport” and dozens of other discipleship books. I FINALLY had language to articulate the tensions in my heart and mind. The concept of Relational Discipleship resonated with me, and I knew that no matter where I worked, whether corporate or church… I was going to give my life to living and leading like Jesus in the book of Mark. Even more, I had finally realized that I had in fact been discipled the same way! I was actually a product of Relational Discipleship. I just hadn’t known what to call it.

All this happened nearly 15 years ago and since then, God has indeed called me into ministry. The “call” happened gradually as result of men building relationship with me and then calling me to my next steps and giving me a place to play. I have come to understand that I am a product of Relational Discipleship! If you cut me, I bleed it. It has changed me. Here are 3 specific ways:

  1. My Part, Their Part, God’s Part: I have had to repent of being frustrated and often even angry as I tried to force discipleship. The relational model allows me to be increasingly faithful to my part, while dependent upon God for His part and prayerful and loving and patient for others to do their part. This principle alone, may be the most freeing and impactful one in my life as a disciple and disciple maker. My trust in God is growing. My prayer life is improving, and my love for others is continually growing as result.
  2. Fighting for Relationship: As an enneagram 8, I often get accused of loving a good fight! But through relational discipleship I have learned that instead of fighting in relationships, I can fight for relationship. As a father to adult children, this plays out in fighting my calendar and clock and geographical distance to stay in relationship with my adult children. I fight to steward the influence they will let me have. As a pastor, it means that I fight the demands of the role to make sure I am investing in individuals not just in the crowd. As a husband I fight my own personality to be a better listener and to love my wife well. Simply put I have learned that the greatest growth often comes through fighting to stay in the relationship long enough to earn the right to walk with someone through the hard stuff! That is where I’ve personally grown the most, and where I have by grace had the most impact.
  3. ICNU conversations: Through the years, I have had people who fought for relationship in my life and have been willing to do their part. One of the biggest markers of this truth are the times someone looked at me and simply told me what they saw in me. They called me to a greater standard, or to greater impact or to greater obedience by knowing me and loving me enough to say that they saw it in me. (Even before I could see it in myself) I have come to appreciate these moments so much, and now often say, “the four most powerful letters in our alphabet are I C N U”.

As I look back over the story of my life, I don’t like to imagine where I would be had men of God not loved me enough to disciple me in relationship. I don’t think I even knew that is what they were doing, but I see the effect of it. More accurately, I am living the effect of it, to the point that I will give my life to it.

On my right forearm are tattooed the words “BEFORE ALL THINGS”. Colossians 1:17 tells us that “He (Jesus) is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Those words will forever mark my life because men like my father, my brother, Kirk, Brad, Cody, Dave, Will, Mark, Jordy and Joby have all called me to it. They all have (and some continue) to meet me where I am, fighting for relationship with me, and doing their part while trusting God to do His. (And because of their impact on my life, so will I!)

Chad Merrell
Lead Pastor
North Rock Hill Church
Rock Hill, SC