This is part of a series of transcribed interviews between members of the staff of Christ Church Lutheran and Senior Pastors throughout the LCMS.
Interview with Pastor John Brunette
Please describe your church and the community it serves.
I’ve been at Faith Oakville Church for nearly 30 years. We’re located 20 miles south of the Mississippi River bluffs of St. Louis, in the suburb of Oakville, which is surrounded by two freeways and two rivers.
We have another site across the river, Faith Columbia, which has been there for 12 years. It’s 15 minutes away and about 240 people worship there on a given weekend. We also have mission partnerships with Bethlehem Lutheran in North St. Louis, St. Trinity in South City, St. Louis, as well as partnerships with Hope Chest, working in Guatemala and Hands of Faith Ministry in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
What is your church known for? What is working well? Do you have a signature ministry?
Faith is a non-traditional Lutheran Church which offers only contemporary worship. We also have a preschool, Faith Early Childhood Center, with about 190 students. People mostly know Faith by the impact we have in the community, the city, and beyond. We are very active in the community with small groups, which we call Life Groups. Some examples of the work Life Groups are involved in include serving within our public schools, feeding children with weekend food backpacks, Monarch Jewelry which supports Crisis Aid International – a ministry to women who have been sex trafficked, and South County Foster Closet – a ministry providing clothes and toys to foster children. Quite honestly, the mission and ministry being accomplished through the Life Groups is the main way Faith carries out its mission (and it’s too numerous to mention all the ways it does this!).
I’d say our signature ministry is the Life Groups. The Life Group is formed out of The Rooted Experience (10 weeks) we adapted from Mariners Church in Newport Beach, California. It has been rewritten to reflect our Lutheran theology and heritage. There are plans being worked on for Mariner’s to publish a Lutheran version for sale in the future.
Nearly 800 people have gone through The Rooted Experience which does three things for us. First, it’s a membership pathway which allows people to join our Faith family as an active follower of Christ on mission. Secondly, it’s also the start of a discipleship pathway with the goal of opening a bible, experiencing a daily devotion, and learning to pray (alone and with others), and having a serve experience. These activities all reflect our definition of a disciple as someone who “gets the life of Christ (gospel life), experiences the life of Christ with others (gospel community), and learns to give this life away (gospel cause)”. And lastly, it’s a leadership pathway which allows the facilitators to identity potential Life Group leaders. Everyone who has a desire to be a leader in any of our ministries must first complete The Rooted Experience. We start the process with a kick-off and close with a celebration meal where they share testimonies and are welcomed into the Faith Family. It’s our goal through The Rooted Experience to help people take one more step in seeing people connecting people to the extraordinary life found in Christ – one person, one family, and one community at a time (hence, our mission).
What are your church’s highest values?
We have four values:
- Our highest one is living in the freedom of the Gospel. Oakville is about 60 percent Catholic, so grace and Gospel are important.
- We also desire to create relevant, fun, welcoming spaces for others, whether in our church facility or in our homes.
- We believe it’s better to be a giver than a taker, blessing others, so that’s our generosity value.
- And lastly, we highly value challenging people to take the next step in growth (that’s The Rooted Experience) and train future leaders sent by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s part of the transformation. And that goes with the Vision Statement of seeing people transformed, as we plant groups to have an impact where people live, work and play.
How do you reach people in the margins of society and culture?
This depends on what the passion is in each Life Group. For some, it’s working in an area to start new ministries. I also mentioned earlier the backpack ministry and sex-trafficking ministry, which is a big issue here. To reach the margins, we cancelled church one weekend in October to hold a Stomp Out Addiction Walk. We challenged people to a two-mile walk on behalf of someone: a person who lost a loved one due to an overdose or addiction, or someone who is fighting the fight. There is a brand new two-mile green-way that extends right from our parking lot down to the river. We had 800 people for this first-time event. We had music, food and did an opening to the event.
The number one addiction support counseling group in the area gave a testimony and spoke and we gave them about $15,000. It was awesome. It was our attempt to show the community we care and want to be a life-giving body of Christ in our community.
What goals and plans do you have for your church?
We’re operating with one goal for the staff this year. Our goal is increase the invitation culture of our church by challenging people to invite “their one” to an event, a weekend worship service, or any activity we are a part of in carrying out our mission. We basically ask, “Who are you identifying, praying for, inviting, and willing to bring with you. . .?”
If money, space, and people were not obstacles, what goals and plans would you have?
Our goal in the future, for next year and beyond, is to focus on developing the next generation of leaders into our leadership pipeline by intentionally raising up young people to be leaders.
If money were no obstacle, we would provide even more opportunities for the next generations to experience a mission trip, be able to invest in an intentional leadership pathway to growth, and experience leading something for the cause of Christ.
Speak about worship and sermons:
Was there any particular sermon or series that connected with your church?
People connect well with books of the Bible. We try to do a book of the Bible sermon series in the summer. This year we did, “You Asked for It, You Got It.” In five weeks, we had sermons on sex, sex out of control, same-sex attraction, and homosexuality. It included touchy issues, so it created a little bit of tension. Last year, we also did a series on fear. Presently, we are preaching a series on Hearing the Voice of God.
What does Bible study look like at your church? How is it structured? What topics do you study?
Most Bible study takes place in Life Groups, but we have also begun to offer Faith U classes throughout the year, which touch on many different topics, like the Creed, Lord’s Supper, creation, and differences between Catholics and Lutherans. We find people are more likely to commit to a few weeks rather than a few months in a class.
Last year we transitioned from doing a traditional confirmation process to offering classes through Faith U, helping people to see a relationship with God as “discipleship for life” versus viewing confirmation as a graduation. Versions of The Rooted Experience have also been prepared for middle and high school students.
Presently we do not have lots of rooms for adult Bible studies on a Sunday morning. We have a three-service structure with two hours of kids’ ministry. Kids are in church for the first 20 minutes to worship with their parents. During the offering the children go to Faith Kids.
How do you address marriage & family? Any special programs geared towards those topics?
We do a marriage retreat every other year. We have mentored couples for new marriages, and there will be different classes for marriage as part of Faith U classes.
How does your church minister to youth?
The youth right now have what we call The Landing every other Sunday at 4 pm for the middle school students and 6 pm for the high school students. Student Ministry events meet in The Hangar, a student facility on our campus. The high school student band leads worship at The Landing gatherings and occasional leads worship in the main worship center for everyone.
What adjustments or changes would you make in your church?
I wish I could fix the culture of parents rarely getting here on a regular basis. Sports, teams, weekend tournaments, and so many other activities provide lots of alternatives to being in worship.
This is also true for the adults in our Faith family. Commitment levels to being involved in anything “church” appears to be declining.
What is the best idea you have heard about lately that you would like to try?
Having an intentional leadership pipeline where we identity, invite, and intentionally equip our future leaders to become integrity-filled leaders. We want to disciple young people to be leaders. Succession planning has become a topic we are talking about more frequently with our staff.
How can we pray for your ministry?
In the last week, we just lost the person who has been with us for 21 years and for the last 10 years has been our full-time kids ministry coordinator. During the last year and a half we have seen three staff transition to the next stages of their lives. Staff transitions are difficult.
Tell us about yourself.
I’ve been a pastor for 32 years. We have a family of pastors! My father was a pastor, along with two brothers and a brother-in-law (and step brother-in-law).
I’ve lived around this southern Illinois/St. Louis area much of my life, even though I’ve lived in California, the Chicago area, and met my wife in the Milwaukee area where we lived for a number of years.
I’m the father of four girls, and have one granddaughter who lives with us with her mother, our daughter. My youngest daughter is in college.
How do you spend your week? What are the biggest things in your schedule? Where do you spend 20% of your efforts to get 80% of your results (Pareto principal)?
I don’t work as hard as I used to. I am mostly spending time looking to the future and sharing the sage wisdom. I want the staff to succeed. I have an Executive Pastor who manages the programs.
I meet with the Board, which is more policy-based, where I report about the staff and ministries. I’m the 30,000-foot view guy. I plan the message series and drive the worship, the direction. As the directional person, I need to pray, listen, get consensus, and infuse learning within the staff.
What do you wish you knew earlier in ministry that you know now?
I’m glad I didn’t know early in ministry how hard it was going to be. Don’t give up your hobbies and the activities that give life. Take your day off, never stop dating your wife, and always show lots of grace to your children while striving to love the children God has given you to serve in your calling. Never stop trying to have fun in ministry!
What do you do well?
I think probably looking into the future – the vision, getting a sense of where we’re going and making sure we have that in place; goals we’re working on, having a plan in place, and making sure that we have the right people on the bus to make it happen. Some, maybe many, would say I preach well, and I also enjoy playing guitar.
What books, blogs, or podcasts do you find helpful?
Right now, I read blogs and listen to podcasts from Cary Nieuwhof, J.D. Greear (Southern Baptist President) and James White (he’s a culture guy, PhD). I read many authors in connection to the message focus at the time.
What decisions are causing you the greatest stress right now?
Managing, motivating, and keeping our staff and church focused is always a challenge. Asking and attempting to answer “What’s next?” is a constant. Gaining clarity for our church’s future as well as having clarity for my remaining time in ministry will be critical.
What is on your bucket list for ministry?
I think perhaps being able to have a greater impact with more churches and ministries in terms of helping pastors and leaders to work out their unique mission, vision, values, and strategy. .
If you could change two things about your life/ministry what would they be?
- I wish that I could have always been a better father to my girls, not being so wrapped up with ministry and actually being home when I’m home.
- I would have spent more time developing meaningful relationships and friendships for life.
Who are your spiritual/leadership heroes?
Martin Luther, authors Tim Keller, Paul Tripp, N.T. Wright, and all the pastors who keep on keeping on in ministry. I am thankful for PLI leaders like Jerry Kieschnick and Steve Wagner who were mentors to me.
How can we pray for you?
I always want to pray that my kids and grandchild know Jesus and trust Him. Who doesn’t have that as a dream?
Have you thought about transition?
Yes, as mentioned earlier, we are intentionally talking about succession planning and raising up our future pastors.