Transitioning in Difficult Times with Pastor Joseph Berkobien

The world is in transition. Pastor Joe Berkobien, from Frankenmuth Bible Church, has experienced this before in his career. How did he help his church through such a transition? And how did they thrive? And what lessons can we learn going into this new world?

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Transcript

Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:16] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Call of Leadership podcast, where we interview people from our Michigan community who answered the call of leadership while here they’re powerful stories and get their advice so that we can be better leaders for ourselves, our family, and in our community. I am your host Cliff, DuVernois. And today’s guest is a fixture, not only in the Frankenmuth community, but in the surrounding areas. He is also the pastor of my church, ladies and gentlemen, please. Welcome to the show. Pastor Joe Berkoben. Pastor Joe, how are you?  

Joseph Berkoben: [00:00:48] I’m doing well. How are you doing Cliff?

Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:50] I’m doing well. Thank you for asking.

Why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you grew up.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:00:54] Yeah, so I’m a relatively local, I’m a Michigander by birth, and I was born in Mount Clemens, Michigan, and then grew up in Saginaw, the Saginaw area. spent the first five or six years of my life growing up in the city of Saginaw on the West side of the city. And then I moved to Carlton, which is a little town, a community, that’s in Saginaw and that’s where I spent my school age years.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:17] Excellent. And so you grew up in the area. Where did you decide to go to college?

Joseph Berkoben: [00:01:22] Yeah, well, you know, I probably just like everybody else, where I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. And so, because I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do, I decided just to stay local. So I started off by going to Delta college. That’s where I started. I made the Delta difference and, enrolled there and pursued a, an associate degree.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:42] now, initially you chose to go into broadcasting. Why is that?

Joseph Berkoben: [00:01:46] Yeah. That’s a great question. so, you know, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. One of the things I did a lot in high school, so we had a school news show, at Carlton high school where basically it was mostly for seniors where they had to. To give the announcements for the school and it was filmed and edited, and then every day they would play that during our homeroom class.

For whatever reason, I had the opportunity to start that my junior year. So I was the only junior who could do that, and I did it two years in a row and just really enjoyed it. A lot of people said that I did pretty good at broadcasting, and because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I enrolled at Delta, I decided to pursue broadcasting.

So I got a a an associate degree in electronic media broadcasting, which. it was mostly just, you know, doing stuff with news, video editing radio. so it was, it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot, and, it was a good experience.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:34] Yeah. I have to say for somebody who has gotten into media a lot more recently, I, I absolutely love it. I think it’s great. So you originally wanted to get into mission work. Why is that?

Joseph Berkoben: [00:02:49] Yeah. So that kind of, invaded, my world kind of toward the last year of Delta. I was finishing up. That program at Delta and getting the associate in broadcasting. And it was kind of like, you know, trying to figure out what was next. And I realized as much as I loved doing that media stuff, it was a lot of fun.

I just didn’t feel like necessarily that was where my career was headed. And so I kind of tried to do some soul searching during that time. And it just so happened I got invited to go on a mission trip with, I had an uncle who was going on a mission trip with the church out of Florida, and they needed someone to, edit a video for the mission trip.

And they said, if I flew down to, it was in Peru, actually, if I flew down with that team and filmed everything and put together a video, they would pay for my flight and I could go for free. So I jumped on that, went on the trip. And it just so happened while I was on that trip that, God really started impressing on my heart,  kind of the meaning of, What was most important to me and, and, and where my gifts could be used best. And one of the things that happened when I was there as I met a lot of people who, didn’t know Jesus and who, who were far from God grew up in really low income areas. It was a poverty stricken community that we were in, in Peru.

And I had the chance to do a few Bible studies there with people and to, to talk a little bit. And I just felt more and more burdened that, God had placed that on my heart. So I came home from that mission trip and, It was kind of during that time also that I had a number of friends that I went to high school with who, they knew I was a Christian.

But to be entirely honest with you, I didn’t really live like it in high school and I was kind of ashamed of my faith. And after going on that mission trip and starting to feel kind of burdened,  about other people and people who maybe didn’t know about Jesus, I decided to start telling all my friends from high school about Jesus.

 I started a Bible study with a bunch of friends who were unbelievers, and that grew from just a few guys to, you know, like a. A dozen or more people who were coming every week to, to be part of these Bible studies. And none of them were Christians. and it was during that time that I just really felt a strong calling that maybe God had gifted me for something more and that God had given me an ability to,  communicate some deep truths about the scriptures and about who God was and about who Jesus was to people maybe who had never really had any context or heard about it.

So that’s where missions kind of that bug, that desire for mission started.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:08] And going into the mission field, and this was something that, growing up in a church environment, I would hear about people that were going off into the missions, whether it was Africa, whether it was Asia or any, any country really to prepare you for this, this actually led you to spend a period of time studying and learning in England.

What did you do while you were there?

Joseph Berkoben: [00:05:29] Yeah. So that’s a unique, part of the story. So basically my journey, you know, once I, I, I realized that. My life wasn’t going to go in the direction of broadcasting, that maybe God had me going toward ministry. And specifically I, at that time, I was really feeling kind of a call to go toward the mission field.

 I started looking at how to pursue that. And, there was an organization that I was really familiar with. I have a lot of family members who were missionaries. And so growing up I heard stories about missions. And so I, a number of family members that were involved in a particular, missions agency, it was called New Tribes Mission.

 and they have a training center that’s here. actually it’s, I think now closed, but at the time it was here in the state of Michigan. It was in Jackson, Michigan, where the prison is. so they had a school there that, it was, you’d go there for a few years and then you had to go onto another school for a couple of years.

And so it was kind of a four year program to go to the mission field. And I just was so excited to, To go and actually do ministry that I didn’t want to wait that long. And so the same school had a program in England, in Lincolnshire, England, which is kind of kind of central England. It’s on the coast where the Humber river, kind of comes into the, or where the North sea is on the Eastern coast of England.

And, this little school, which was a, it used to be on a former, Rural Air Force, military base.  the school actually kind of doubled up the time it took to, to complete the training. So it was instead of four years of training, it was two years, but it’s just really intensive. And plus it was England and it was overseas.

So I thought that sounded like an adventure. So I enrolled to go to this school in England, and basically what they did is the whole first year, it’s very intensive biblical studies training. to prepare people to really understand the scripture as well. Then the second year was all about, kind of cross cultural church planting is what it focused on.

And specifically in environments that were more tribal or remote and areas of the world where, Where people don’t even often have languages that are written. So my training the second year had to do with, you know, learning, foreign languages, through immersion techniques with that. And so, and even even writing a language, so I had to learn orthography things like that.

So, so if there was a. Some sort of tribe or people group that didn’t have a written language. I would learn how to speak their language, and then I would create an alphabet for them so that way I could do Bible translation. So really that second year was all about phonetics, phonemics grammar, orthography, linguistics, all sorts of stuff to help me move into the middle of the boonies and and connect with a group of people and tell them about Jesus and plant a church.

So that’s what that training was all about.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:52] So that sounds pretty intensive and it was during this time that. Your, your plans for going to the mission field actually kind of were put on hold by forces, I guess that were a little bit outside of your control. Tell us a little bit about that.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:08:09] Yeah. So, you know, after I finished my time in school, which was great, I mean, that experience I would say, shaped me and helped me grow in ways that I never would have expected. Even just living overseas and traveling and seeing a lot of the world, when I had breaks was great. But when I came home, part of the plan was to go, back home.

I had to connect with my home church because the way that missions organization works. Is if people are going to move to a foreign mission field somewhere in the middle of nowhere, they needed support, financial support, prayer support. And so part of the plan was I was supposed to go home and reconnect with my home church, and that included a one year internship at my home church.

And so I came home. my, my home church I grew up in was a Emmanuel Bible Church in Saginaw, Michigan. A great church, a great people there, the lead pastor as a mentor and friend of mine, and has helped shape me and grow me in an incredible ways. And so what he had me do is he wanted me to be part of this one year internship.

And so he wanted to start a college ministry. And so I started this college ministry. And, And started kind of recruiting college students who are local, who maybe weren’t part of any other college ministry. And, it started to grow a little bit. And one of the people who started coming was a very beautiful young woman who, I was very interested in.

And later on, eventually, proposed to, and she said yes. And so we got married. And so once we were married and we finished up with that internship, the plan was to go. to go to the mission field. And initially, so my wife was on board with that and the only stipulation was the organization that I had the training with said that my wife needed to go back to the school for one year, that I would be on staff and England.

 I would actually, part of my job was to be traveling around to churches in England and recruiting other college students to join. And so, my wife would have to go for one year. And so we applied to go back to England and our Visas got denied. And we weren’t really sure why. So we waited and we applied the second year and our visas got denied again.

And for me, that was pretty devastating. So we applied, went to apply again, and the school told us, Hey, listen, don’t, don’t bother to apply. Right now, we’re not able to accept American students. The British government is cracking down a post 9-11 Christian education overseas. A lot of people were on edge about, kind of radical, religious education.

And especially in Europe. There was kind of a. A sentiment that, to have American students coming over to do training, that’s religious based, that they were not really in favor of that. And so because of that,  the school wouldn’t let us come back. And so we were kind of faced with a challenge because the American school told us we had to go back for four years.

I did not want to wait another four years. And we just felt like at that time, maybe God was closing a door.  and that maybe God had something else in store. But at the time, we didn’t know what it was.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:45] sure thing, and I know I’m probably glossing over a little bit here, but what eventually brought you to the Frankenmuth Bible church.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:10:55] Yeah, so a lot of things, I mean, so first of all, I mean, after that internship, I got married and my wife got pregnant and, I was working. For a couple of years. During that time in between the internship and in between my job at Frankenmuth Bible church,  doing different jobs. I was a telecommunications consultant for a while, so I was, you know, basically, selling cell phones and stuff like that in Clarkston, Michigan.

I worked for a couple years for a Catholic organization, that worked with at risk children and families. It was called Holy cross children’s services. We’re basically, I was doing some spiritual, stuff there with, with students during chapel for a little while, but a big part of my job was being a treatment specialist.

But long story short, we’re just in that work environment, with the pay and with, the, the challenge with.  trying to support a family, I knew that that wasn’t the best environment for raising a family. And also, had gotta just put on my heart. So such a profound desire to do ministry that I knew that I just wanted to kind of.

 get involved somewhere. even if I couldn’t go overseas to the mission field, even locally, if I can get involved in ministry locally. So what I did was I kind of just did what everybody else does. I went online, I think I was checking it, a few different job posting websites, you know, Glass Door, Monster, some of those things.

And I happened to look for ministry jobs and it took me to a website that had specifically postings for churches. And, there were two postings in our area. One for a large, church and Saginaw hope hotel, and another one for a church, here in Frankenmuth Frankenmuth Bible church. And so I applied to both of them and Frankenmuth Bible church called me back first.

And, that was how I had my. My baptism kind of, so to speak, into my first job in a local church. initially they were only gonna hire someone. It was a worship leader position. So it was a musician. They were going to hire somebody part time. And Frankenmuth Bible church. He didn’t call me back at first.

So I applied. They didn’t call me back. I told my wife if they hired me, I would convince them to make it a full time position cause I need a full time work. But, They didn’t call me back. And then a couple of months later, they posted the position again this time, full time. And by God’s grace, they called me and even though I was under qualified to be their worship leader, they gave me the chance.

And yeah, that was right around June of 2011 that I got hired. That was, about five days after my daughter, our first child was born that I got brought into Frankenmuth Bible church.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:15] If you felt that you were under qualified for that position, why did you decide to go ahead and move forward with it?

Joseph Berkoben: [00:13:22] Oh man. You know what? I think the story of my life is I’m jumping into water that’s over my head and just trying to figure out how to swim.  it’s, it’s not comfortable for me to do things like that, but I just know,  you know, I really started in college when I went overseas to England. I had a friend who was a Northern Irish guy.

And he used to do street preaching, like they call it open air preaching there in England. And I thought this guy was crazy. And he said, no, I think you should try it sometime. I was like, no, I would never try that. And so he kind of forced me into it. And I got invited to an event once where I wasn’t planning to speak, but basically he pushed me out there and had me start preaching.

And, and I, I. Did my first ever street preaching. I ended up loving it after that, and they did it quite a bit in England. But, you know, moments like that getting pushed in a little over my head, I feel like, those were the moments where God kind of stretches me. And, sometimes the opportunities I have to grow the best are when, I’m over my head. And so yeah, that just seemed like an opportunity. I knew I wanted to be in ministry so bad. I wanted to get my foot in the door, but, I didn’t even know how to read music. I mean, I could read, I could, you know, play chords. but I can’t, I’m not trained as a musician, so I just felt like I was under qualified for the job.

but at the same time, you know, I thought this was my only chance to jump into ministry. So,  I dove in.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:33] Speaking of growth opportunities, there was a, an event that happened at the Frankenmuth Bible church in April of 2012 why don’t you tell us a little bit about that?

Joseph Berkoben: [00:14:46] yeah, sure. You know that season was a difficult season and I’m even going to. Kind of tread lightly as I communicate. exactly the, the events that took place, I don’t fully understand all of them, but you know, I got brought into the church and about June of 2011 and several months in, right around kind of the beginning of 2012 I started to, for the first time, feel like I was really understanding my job responsibilities.

And I was starting to feel a little bit more comfortable in my skin as a worship leader. So I learned the ropes a little bit. And so when I started to feel like. I was getting comfortable and things were going well.  that was the moment when, a transition took place in the church. It was unexpected, but the senior leader.

I was transitioned out in April of 2012 and for me, it came as a complete shock. And, there were a number of, a number of ripple effects that really, impacted the church for years. But initially what that meant for me was that I was asked to take on a little extra responsibility. So I was the new guy, the worship leader.

But during that season, I was asked if I would help out with preaching for a little while. So me,  the youth pastor at the time. And, one of our, guys who later became a lay elder in our church, but who’s a good communicator? He’s a school teacher. we all started kind of rotating and preaching every week.

And my job was actually to plan all the sermons series for a little while there. mind you, I was still, the worship leader have still paid the same. My, my job title was the same, but I was now taking on a lot more senior leader responsibilities. And so me and these two other guys, we started preaching and all of us were under the age of 30, so we were all.

Young and immature and probably,  you know, ignorant to a lot of things sometimes.  but we, we jumped in there and for the better part of three years, I mean, probably over two and a half years,  we were the ones who were in the pulpit, preaching every Sunday at the church and, trying to navigate through a season of.

Transition and change and difficulty,  and instability because, you know, when the senior leader got, transitioned out, a lot of people left the church, and so it was a really unstable time. But, yeah, it was again, one of those moments where I was just tossed in over my head and, kind of had to try to figure it out as we went.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:48] Yeah. You had to learn how to swim real quick. So you did this, you, you said that, you mentioned you did this for two and a half years, so then what, what, what happened in 2015 then.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:17:00] Yeah. So for a couple of years, you know, what happened was the church was declining. I mean, in all honesty, for the first couple of years, we had, our attendance had dipped quite a bit and, we’d lost a lot of people, a lot of families left and for good reason. I understand that too. It was an unstable time.

And, so because of that, you know, we were just trying to hang in there.  actually what happens. So after 2012 after April of 2012 when I first got hired, I was one of several staffs. It was me and associate pastor, the senior pastor, initially a full time youth pastor. two secretaries, a children’s director.

There are a lot of people on staff. When I got hired,  after 2012, one by one. transitioned out and disappeared. So, we ended up, by the time may of 2015 came along. I was the only, Full time. I was the only staff left. Other than that, we had a secretary who came in after me. I was the most tenured staff, which is crazy to think that after three years, I was the most tenured staff there at a multi-stack church like that.

But it was me and a secretary, were the only staff, there. And we had someone who was helping out, filling in as an interim for a little while. And he, he was great. He helped us out quite a bit. But he, along with the elder board in the beginning of 2015 started asking if I would consider maybe putting my name in the hat to be a lead pastor for a couple of years there.

During that time of transition, the church had went through several pastor searches and those kept falling up short. And when I got approached and asked if I’d be willing to put in my hat, I had interest, and I’m not going to deny that. I mean, I definitely love preaching and teaching. I love doing that more than leading worship.

So there was an interest there, but I felt way under qualified once again. And so initially when I heard that, you know, I was hesitant and talked to my wife about it and we both had some reservations. But the more we talk, the more we prayed about it, you know, we kind of felt that maybe for those few years there have transitioned.

When I was filling in the pulpit, maybe God was preparing me for something more. And so we decided to. Say, yeah, we will put our name in the hat. And so the church voted,  after a little bit of a little bit of a candidacy period where I had to preach a little miniseries and, be interviewed by some people,  the elder board put my name forward for a vote to see if we would be, accepted to come in and, have me take on the role of the lead pastor at Frankenmuth Bible church.

And so, yeah, May of 2015 is when officially the church voted me in, and that’s when I became the lead pastor.

  Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:15] And I know you mentioned before that there was a decline in the number of people that were, were attending the church. And at that time,  you had some pretty big challenges in front of you because you’re looking at, you’re looking at a leadership change, plus, you know, you’re a brand new pastor at this church.

 When you took on the mantle of being the head pastor of the church,  what were some of the plans or what were some of the ideas that you, that you put into action.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:20:42] Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question for us. I mean, the decline was a big thing and we knew that it was hard to sustain, kind of the model for ministry that we had. We had a, a model that we try to do things with excellence and so our programming and everything like that, we try to make sure that we maintain quality programming.

And so to keep that going, we knew that we couldn’t continue to decline. when I first came on the church. Yeah. We were running. Right around 400 people. And then by, around 2015, we had dipped down below 250. in fact, a lot. I mean, a lot of people left and a lot of people came. So that actually is probably a deceiving number.

A lot more people left,  than it even sounds like to say. We went from 400 to under 250.  because a lot more people left. And then just younger families came because the people preaching were younger. But during that time when I got put into the that role initially, you know, I think for me, I was, I wasn’t sure what to do cause I had never been a lead pastor.

So, this was my first rodeo and yet at the same time, I knew that the people needed, someone to step in and take leadership and take on that mantle. And so for me, a big part of that process was just trying to communicate to the church that there was a plan.  and it started with the fact that I wasn’t going to go anywhere.

You know, I think that for them, stability was huge. And so I wanted to begin by saying, listen, I want to commit myself to this church for awhile. I’m not planning to transition or leave. And, and so that was a big part of it was just kind of allowing the church to, to feel that stability, to not.

Try to introduce anything that’s going to cause drama for awhile. I mean, drama and churches, boy, that’s an issue all the time. And so I just wanted to make sure that we had that stability at first. That was a big part of it. Another thing was staffing, you know, for us. We knew that we needed to bring on more staff.

So right from right out of the gate,  because I, I became the lead pastor in 2015, part of my job at that time, I was leading worship and I was preaching. And at that time we didn’t have a youth pastor either. So we had volunteers who were filling in there. And so the first step I took was starting to hire people.

And so, You know, I communicated that that’s a big part of what we need to do, is we need to bring on staff to be able to make sure that we’re ministering to people and the way that we intend to, to do with quality and that that requires people. So we brought on a youth pastor and then we brought in some children’s people and we brought on an associate eventually.

And so staffing was a big part of it. But another thing that was important for us was just making, making sure that the structure for the church was conducive. For growth and, not just numeric growth, but spiritual growth. And so we had to make a few changes to, constitutionally, internally. There were some issues we had in the past with some nepotism and stuff like that.

And so we, we changed those things in the constitution just to make sure that, there were no untouchables and that, and that we had the best, Structure to be able to advance herself and move forward. So that was a big part of it. And then I think the final thing, and I think that, for me, what I, what I would say is this is something I’m learning as a leader more than anything else.

Yeah, people just need to know that there’s a vision behind what’s going on. And so what I try to do is just begin to cast vision to the church and say, listen, you know, I, I believe that God has placed us here and this community and Frankenmuth to make an impact for Jesus. And so. Right from the beginning of 2015, one of the things that we started to do was we started to cast a clear and compelling vision for the church.

Something that they wanted to be a part of, something that they could all, join into a story and narrative that they could be part of. And we started casting vision early on and, and. You know, by year, by year, that vision started taking shape and, and morphing and changing a little more and getting a little more clear and, a little more visible for people.

And so I think that’s been one of the things that’s been most successful is just letting people know that, Hey, we, we believe God has a plan for us. We’re not content to, to be doing the status quo. we know that God has big things in store, so let’s go ahead and trust God to do big things.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:27] And I want to take a step back here cause you said a couple of things that I would like to, I would like to do a little bit of a deeper dive on when you were talking about bringing on the staff, because basically it was just you and. an executive secretary, but now you’re starting to bring these other people that are on board.

What are, what are the things that you look for, from, from people that are coming forward that are, that are potentially going to be other leaders that are in, within the church to make sure that they’re, that they’re buying into this, this new culture that you’re laying down, these new ideas that you have?

What, what, what are some of the, what are some of the traits or what are the things that you look for, in, in finding these people.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:25:08] Yeah. No, that’s a great question. In fact, that’s one of those things that I’m learning as I’m going to be honest, Cliff, I don’t, I have not arrived by any means. I’m still in the middle of my leadership journey, but. For me early on, I think a big part of it was trying to find people who had the competency to be able to do the job.

And so a lot of it was looking for people who have formal biblical training and who have experienced, you know, doing X, Y, and Z. And those were the people that, you know, I kind of set the resume aside and interviewed and you hit the nail on the head when you use the word culture because. Today for me more than anything else, it’s about looking for culture and to see if people are the right fit, if they’re onboard with where we’re going.

Alignment is so important because for us, you know, I view leadership, it’s kinda like we’re all in a canoe and we all have a paddle. And, if someone’s paddling in a different direction, even though everybody else might be paddling straight, just that one person paddling in the opposite direction can easily veer that canoe off course.

And so, Yeah, I want to make sure that people are all headed the same direction. So there’s a number of things we, we try to do, but a lot of it is just spending time talking with people, you know, what are the things that you love? What are the things you’re interested in? the, the most recent interviews I’ve done with staff,  you know, some of those formal questions about, you know, talk about your work history and, you know, some of those things, those are great, but I spend a lot more time talking about, you know, like what music to listen to.

You know, what things do you enjoy doing when you have time off? Those things tell, tell you a lot about a person. And I think it’s really, for, for us,  culture often, you know, that’s one of those things to diagnose where people are at and you just gotta get to know them. And we’ve done a lot of that.

And then I think also a big part of that, and I’m trying to learn through this, is onboarding new staff.  What I would say is culture is not easily taught. It’s a lot easier to catch it, right? It’s, it’s more easily caught than taught. So what we try to do is we just try to, bring on staff and indoctrinate them, kind of into, to what we’re doing by.

 having them jump on board with a number of things or it’s just spending time with them hanging out. I think that’s helpful for us to be able to try to shape culture of an organization is, to have a number of values that we demonstrate. We don’t just talk about them, but we demonstrate them. So that’s been a part of how we try to bring on new staff is making sure that they’re aligned.

That for me, that’s number one. Culture is number one.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:27:20] and with regards to to culture, and I do want to, I do want to go back and visit and talk about this because when, when we talked about it before I, I was captured by this phrase, but, but earlier mentioned vision casting. Why is vision casting so important? Especially for the, for, for what it is that that you’re trying to do and what the church is trying to do?

Why is that important.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:27:43] Well, I think it’s important for a number of reasons. number one, I think it’s important because my idea of vision is that there’s something that should exist. That doesn’t currently exist, right? I mean, that’s what vision is, is you have a vision in your head that there’s something that should exist that’s not currently existing.

And so when it comes to the church in particular,  that whole premise of this idea that, you know, there are people in our region who are far from God, people who, Who we can reach with, the greatest news that’s ever been told to begin to talk about what it would look like to be a church that’s actually reaching the community and investing in our neighborhoods and caring about what people care about.

That kind of stuff.  that gets people excited. And so for us, we wanted to begin to tell people something and people want to be a part of something big and important. I think if you ask any individual, do you want to give your life toward something that’s not important? Everybody would say, no. We want to give our life towards something that’s important.

And I think for us, when we think about the church, we think about the mission of the church. You know, Jesus said, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, the son, and the Holy spirit. That’s the great commission. That’s not the great suggestion. Yeah. He commissioned, he commanded the church to go and do that.

And we take that serious. And so to be able to frame up for people a vision of how we can make that happen and to paint a picture of a future reality that doesn’t currently exist, and to do it with passion and excitement and energy.  yeah. People, people want to give their lives toward that. And so, in the church, you know, we operate with volunteers.

And the currency for volunteers is not monetary, right? It’s vision. We cast a vision. People, people buy into that vision and, and they give time and energy. They sacrifice themselves for that. And so without vision, yeah, you, you, you don’t have anybody who’s following you anywhere and you’re not building anything.

And so vision is so critical for, especially for a church. To be able to say, Hey, you know, God has bigger things in store for us and this is what it could look like if we all get on board and we’re all invested. This is what God might do in this region. and to rally behind that, I think that’s really powerful.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:29:49] So here’s a little bit of a question, and I’m going to, I’m going to probably throw this out here, and even, I don’t even know the answer to this one. Do you think that. The culture supports the vision

Joseph Berkoben: [00:29:59] You know, I think so. I think they’re, I think they’re, they’re married a little bit. I think that that’s part of it is, is, culture. I would say so. I mean, there, I’m trying to think specifically how, how that plays out. I guess I would say that that culture and vision are certainly cousins because if you think about it, part of our culture, I’ll, I’ll try to give an example of this is that we are a church.

That we don’t want to just be about ourselves.  You know, part of what it means to love your neighbor. And Jesus said that the most important thing you can do is love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And then he said to love your neighbor as yourself, part of what name, what it means to love your neighbor is it means to actually care about your neighbor and the things that your neighbor cares about.

 so often in the church, what ends up happening is, churches just try to invite people to come and see, come and see. But they never go out and be the church. And for us, part of our culture is we actually care about other people. And so what we do is we do events every once in a while where we’re, we’ll.

 we did an event last year called serve Vassar, where we got 400 people to go out to the community of Vassar and to spruce up that the town we spent months and months planning this. But part of, part of that’s connected to our culture because we actually care about Vassar. We care about people’s homes.

We care about the viaducts that were there that we painted, we care about, you know, the playgrounds that we worked on. These were all things that we care about. And so that’s part of our culture is we actually care about other people. And the vision is connected to that because, what we call people to do as we call people to go out and to reach their neighbors.

And so I’m part of that proceeds from the culture that already exists in the church.  and so I think, I think they kind of shape each other. I don’t know. I don’t know if that helps, but.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:31:35] No, that’s actually a really great answer. And since, you know, since you’ve, since you’ve had this, you know, this change in leadership, you, you have implemented this culture, you’ve, you’ve assembled. A team of really great people that not only buy into the culture, but help to spread it. You’ve painted this, this vision of, of what could potentially be, how many people are now attending the church.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:32:02] You know, that’s a tricky question right now. the room is empty, but, but, but no, I mean, I think before this whole thing, The whole coronavirus issue and the stay home order started. We were kind of roughly averaging, I want to say somewhere around 700 that’s kind of a fuzzy gas. I know we hit some services that were significantly higher than 700 but we had some that were lower and you know, it was winter, so some weeks when it’s really, really bad out and there’s snow everywhere, you have lower attendance, but right around 700 we were, we moved toward three services on a Sunday morning.

And, but that had been trending upward pretty rapidly. We had a triple digit growth rate for three years in a row. So, so in terms of statistically we were, we were growing quite a bit. and then we have this new building that we’re looking at moving into. Actually, we’re supposed to move into just a couple of weeks ago.

And, our projections there were, were that there’d be a significant increase in attendance. once we, we moved into the new new facility.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:32:59] And I know you brought up the, the Covid 19 we’ve got that stay at home order and as of as of this recording, we’re just a few weeks away, hopefully from having it lifted. When this event first took place, and the governor said,  you’re not have to stay home. You converted your entire ministry platform from,  preaching to a room full of people versus preaching online, potentially reaching the world.

What was that transition like.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:33:31] It was chaos.  yeah.  For us,  things were so fluid. It was such a, kind of nebulous week that first week when we moved toward livestream, because, you know. From Monday to Friday, the amount of transformation in what was being communicated from the governor and from the President. that first week we did live stream.

We technically technically,  we could have met, it was a recommendation, a recommendation that we. Not have gatherings, I think on that first week more than 50, but I don’t think it was an order at that point. So for us, we technically could have met, but we kind of saw the writing on the wall and knew for the sake of public health that we would need to make a transition.

And so our, our time, our transition time from when we made the decision that we needed to cancel our services and move toward live stream, it was less than 72 hours.  and in that amount of time, it was just, it was chaos to try to figure out. How we live stream. Do we have the right equipment to do that when unfortunately we have an amazing team of people.

I take very little credit for the technological, transformation we needed to make to be able to move toward live streaming. We’ve gotten great staff, great volunteers who gave up lots of time that weekend to make sure everything was working. And also just a shout out. I know a lot of your listeners are maybe local Cliff.

 St Lorenz Lutheran church, which is the big Lutheran church here in Frankenmuth. They’re awesome. we had, equipment that was failing on the Saturday night right before we were supposed to livestream. And I had a buddy who I reached out to who happened to also work with St Lorenz, and he said, you know, I think the guys at St Lorenz has have a piece of equipment that you might be able to use to live stream.

And so we borrowed that. And, that was how we were able to actually live stream the first week. In fact, we’re still using that piece of equipment today. So, Shout out to St Lorenz. You guys are awesome. Thank you for the help there.  but yeah, it was just a lot of people jumping in, doing whatever it took.

And for me, it was trying to wrap my head around this idea that the week before I preached to, you know, maybe almost 700 people in the seats and under the next week, that week, we had a few people out in the congregation cause that week, that was the first transition. We had a few people in the, in the, in the crowd.

And then the next week it was getting used to the idea that I have to preach to an empty room, which was. Strange, but, but yeah, we figured it out and, and our team was a big part of that.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:35:42] That’s absolutely awesome. During, during a conversation that you and I had previously, you said something that really struck me with regards to   Covid 19 especially just you calling it a difficult time, a difficult season, but you said, we can see this moment as a liability and posture ourselves that way.

Or we can move through the season and view this as an opportunity. How important is it having the right attitude when you are making decisions?

Joseph Berkoben: [00:36:13] Well. Yeah, I think, you know, there is a, that mantle of responsibility is enormous, especially in times of crisis. I mean, you just notice what’s happening in the world around us in times of crisis. How much more interested are people in what leaders are saying and doing. I mean, I know for myself,  I didn’t really Google very much about what governor Whitmer is talking about or the President is talking about on a regular basis.

But in times of crisis like this, I was very interested in everything that’s going on. I mean, people can’t stop, trying to figure out, you know, what, what are their leaders telling us? Because it’s a time of crisis. It’s a time of difficulty. And for me, you know, when all of that rolled out, I know that there, especially for the church, right?

What does the church do? Well, we gather that’s what we do. Like, that’s our bread and butter. And now we’re told we can’t gather. And so in that, not only do we face a crisis, but, but you know, the thing that we do is not something we can do anymore. So in that moment, in a season like that, I think leaders often take a few different, Approaches. There are some leaders who just are frozen, who do nothing,  which doesn’t help anybody. I think there are some leaders, leaders who are hesitant, who kind of just take their time and in times of crisis, I don’t think you can be so hesitant. I think you need to be decisive. And I think there are other leaders who pivot and adjust.

And so, yeah, for us it was just a matter of saying, listen, it is what it is. We’re in a season that’s unprecedented. We have a pandemic taking place and for the sake of public health, we are not able to gather. So, as the church, what we can do is we can just sit here and do nothing. We can be frozen. We can wait around and be hesitant and hope that things just get better right away.

Or what we can do is we can leverage this moment, this season, this crisis for the kingdom. We can say, okay, people right now, more than ever before.  at least in my tenure at the church, more than ever before, people are struggling. People are fearful, people are scared. They’re anxious about the future.  what better time.

 what better opportunity than to use this moment to impact people with an amazing news of Jesus with the hope that we have, with the confidence that we have that really dispels fear, that when the world around us is crashing and crumbling, that we have a rock solid anchor of our faith. That’s Jesus Christ that we can cling to in times of crisis.

But if Jesus has the power to rise from the dead,  that he can do the impossible that we can, then we can trust him with this and trust that he’s in control and he can lead us through the season. And so for us, yeah, we didn’t want to posture ourselves by seeing this as something that was a detriment, but we really wanted to use this as a catalyst to impact more people.

And so that was the pivot we made. We wanted to be nimble enough to pivot. And impact people during the season, during this crisis. And so that’s where that kind of leadership came in. And it wasn’t just for me, it was from my associate pastor, from our youth pastor, from our children’s people, like we all rallied together and said, okay,  let’s step up.

This is the time to step up. We need to make an impact, and take advantage of this moment.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:39:03] Speaking of. Having an impact on people. As I mentioned before, we’re just a few weeks away from having the stay at home order lifted, and I know when that happens there’s just going to be a lot of fear, a lot of trepidation about people that are,  just wondering about when,  of the things is going to get back to normal. You know, when, when can they do something as simple as, go to church or go to a restaurant or something along those lines? What are, what are some of the things that we should be thinking about at this time?

Joseph Berkoben: [00:39:33] Yeah. You know, this is a unique season to be thinking about some of that stuff. And, and, as you probably know, Cliff. wait five minutes and whatever we hear from the media coming out from the governor or whatever, all of this is subject to change, but at least what I envisioned right now is that, yeah, there’s a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety out there.

A lot of people are nervous about getting back into a normal routine.  and so there’s a number of things, I guess. I think you’re number one, I, I wonder what normal looks like in the future.  there are just basic things like even just sitting in the church, right? Where we, we often do a greeting time where we shake one another’s hands.

I, as a culture, do we continue doing that? I don’t know. That’s really, it’s one of those things. I wonder if that’s one of those things that kind of goes by the wayside or if this all passes and people are back to doing that. I don’t, I don’t know. But, I think that the big thing for us is we just take it one step at a time and we try to encourage people to, practice, safety and wisdom.  but trying to manage this moment and say, you know, incrementally step-by-step, we want to try to get back to a season. I think that the church is going to gather. that’s what I’ll say is that.  where people who, who do gather, I think that that’s important. That’s imperative at some point that we get back to that and believing that that’s going to happen, knowing that that’s, that needs to happen.

It’s just preparing for how to do that. And so initially for some people, they may want to be hesitant, hesitant. We want to continue to provide the online options for awhile. but we don’t want to only do services online. We want to begin to open it up at some point. And so it’s just encouraging people when they’re comfortable to come out.

We’re certainly going to do best practices initially to try to make that a safe, comfortable environment for people. And we also know that, you know, depending on churches, some churches are smaller and for them to be able to gather if they’ve got 50 people, they may be able to start gathering before we do.

And, or we may need to change our model for a little while where we do smaller gatherings that we do preregistration for. I don’t know, there’s a lot that’s up in the air, but for us, we certainly need to be creative. We need to be open. We need to be nimble, still ready to pivot at a moment’s notice and wise in terms of how we move forward at this point.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:41:35] Excellent. Love that answer. If, if people want to connect with you, follow you online, maybe even check out one of the online services, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Joseph Berkoben: [00:41:46] Yeah, so there’s a few things that you can do. certainly if you use social media, you can follow us. Frankenmuth Bible church. You can follow us on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter right now on Facebook, every weekday morning, we’re doing morning devotionals just during the season to try to encourage people to help them during this time of fear and anxiety.

So that’s one of the ways they can tune in. And, I provide video devotionals in the morning so you can tune in that way and just see everything we’re doing online. Our live stream services are available through Facebook live and through YouTube live right now. you’ll notice if you tune in or if you’ve already been tuning in that, there’s every once in a while we’re working through a few bugs technologically.

Sometimes there’s challenges, especially when you’re trying to live stream, on Sunday morning, I know that with both Facebook and YouTube, there are a lot of people who are live streaming on Sunday morning. So I’m trying to work through some of those bugs, but you can check us out. subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us there or on Facebook for the live stream services.

Probably the best way to engage in a lot of our content in the past. Is if you have a smartphone, which I think just about everybody has a smartphone these days. We have a flip phone. Sorry, I don’t know how to help you with that, but if you have a smart phone, you can download our mobile app, which is available in any of with any smartphone you have.

It’s free and just go to Frankenmuth Bible church in the app store, download that. All our sermons from the past are there. updates are there and if you want to stay in the know with everything, make sure you say yes to our push notifications because we send you important information when you need to.

But that’s probably the best way to stay in touch with everything that we’ve got going on.

Cliff Duvernois: [00:43:16] awesome. And for audience, we will have all the links in the show notes down below. Pastor Joe, it’s been awesome having you on the podcast today. I cannot thank you enough. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this.

Joseph Berkoben: [00:43:28] Thanks Cliff. I appreciate it, man. I always enjoy talking, so thank you. But this has been great. I appreciate it so much. 

About The Host

About The Host

Cliff Duvernois

Cliff is the host of “The Call of Leadership” podcast.  He has published over 500 short stories over Facebook, Medium and LinkedIn.  He is a passionate lifelong learner, marketer and philanthropist.  He currently lives in Reese, Michigan with his fiancé Sherry and her two children.

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