Building a Love Avenue Team w/ Aron Tolentino & Joshua Kho
Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Christianna Doele.
Cara: Christianna, thank you so much for joining us today.
Christianna: Hi, Cara. Thanks so much for having me as a co-host. I’m excited to be here and to share this time with you guys.
Cara: Yes. We’re excited to have you. And in today’s episode, we will be talking with Pastor Aron and Love Avenue Champion, Joshua Kho of GCI Crossway in the Philippines about building a Love Avenue team. What is something that is important to you when serving on a team, Christianna?
Christianna: I think there are two things that really come to mind for me. I would say good communication. And then having a shared collaborative spirit. I think communication shapes the direction of the team, and it reveals the areas of strength and interest for each team member. So, then sharing a desire to collaborate and work together is what then helps to define how you move forward and face challenges. And that builds off of the communication you have with your team members.
Cara: Yes, that is excellent. I agree that those are two really important things for a team to be building. So, before we listened to the interview, I do want to take a moment to define a term that we use in the Love Avenue. It’s called a “person of peace.”
And this term will come up during the interview. Christianna, would you give us a brief explanation of what a “person of peace” is?
Christianna: Of course. So, a “person of peace” is defined as someone who belongs to the community and expresses the character, lifestyle, and subculture of the community. A “person of peace” is someone who can be your guide as you get to know the community that’s in your neighborhood. And through building a transformational relationship of trust, you can join in and participate in the neighborhood with them.
Cara: Thank you so much for defining that for us, Christianna. Let’s go ahead and listen to what pastor Aron and Josh have to share about building a Love Avenue.
Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host, Cara Garrity. And today I am blessed to interview Aron Tolentino and Joshua Kho. Aron is pastor of GCI Crossway in Pasig City, Philippines. And Joshua is the Love Avenue champion of GCI Crossway.
Pastor Aron and Joshua, thank you so much for joining us on the pod. We’ll be discussing today the building of Love Avenue teams. So, thank you so much for joining us.
Before we jump on in, I’d love to know—from both of you—what is a spiritual practice that has been formational for you recently?
Aron: My name is Aron. I’m a pastor from a GCI Pasig in the Philippines. Good question, Cara! For me since the pandemic, I would say it has been an awesome experience to do more prayer, especially in the context of the community, the faith community. It’s interesting that at the time of the pandemic where we could not meet face to face, in person through the worship services, we were able to take advantage of the online meetings, the video conferences, and that grew from meeting regularly for our connect groups and even for our prayer meetings.
And so that has been a tremendous blessing in recent months and even in the last year or so, just to be able to pray together with the church members and to hear the concerns and being able to share, to place share with them.
It has become a ministry for even those people outside the faith community, we would hear prayer requests shared to us and we’d pray with them, and we get some updates. We hear how God will bless and answer the prayers. And we’d be able to hear what people are going through. So, for me, that has been such a spike for me in regard to spiritual practice, especially in this time of a pandemic.
Cara: Amen. Thank you, Aron. And Joshua, what about you?
Joshua: Spiritual practice (also during this pandemic) for me (mostly because we’re just at home) everything that I do here—for example I am working or maybe cooking, even taking a shower—I always have something to listen to. Either it’s a worship song or a sermon. It just makes it much more wonderful. Whatever you’re doing, you’re hearing Jesus; you’re hearing our Triune God being preached. It makes everything nicer and enjoyable to do. So, for me, that’s been my spiritual practice.
Cara: Yes, that’s wonderful. Thank you both so much for sharing.
And why don’t we just jump right in and talk about what building a Love Avenue team has looked like for you in GCI Crossway. And can you describe your process for building the local Love Avenue team?
Aron: Oh, good question, Cara. I guess I could answer this.
It was, I think in 2020, and I had a class under Dr. Randy Bloom for Field education. And for that class, we were required to come up with a ministry project that we would work on during the term. And I used that class, that project as a prompt to look at our situation as a local church and try to sense where we are in the journey of the vision of healthy church and what will be the next best step for us.
And I thought that was the next best thing for us. And that’s what I did; that’s what I proposed to the class. I came up with a ministry action plan, ss we were required to do, and I presented the plan to the leadership team, of this is something that we feel as a group was God leading us to do, to participate in.
So, that’s basically the birth of that. Practically, I didn’t want to do a ministry project aside from what is already happening in the local church. So, I was thinking I wanted to do a ministry project that’s already aligned with what’s happening in our local church. That’s part of my thought process.
And so, I would break down the process into three phases. The first one was the grouping stage. It’s the part where I share the vision of the project to the leadership team. And then we started recruiting potential team members for the Avenues, especially the Love Avenue team.
We sent out invitations and then we met for orientation. And then the process continued on. We would meet regularly. But part of it is just to bring people together, build your rapport, and build the relationships, get acquainted and get connected with one another on a regular basis. So, that was the grouping stage.
The next part was the equipping phase. That was a time when we would equip and provide tools to the potential Avenue team members. So, that it would help them carry out their respective Avenue callings. We facilitated with the help of other pastors, denominational leaders.
We facilitated trainings in team dynamics, temperament survey or personality survey, spiritual gifts. We talked about consensus decision-making, other things like understanding the nature or the vocations of the church. And then we had strategic planning. I felt it was important that the Avenue teams, the Love Avenue team, and the others would be able to plan on their own, of course, with the discernment and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
And of course, part of it is really getting a good grasp of the vision of healthy church and Avenues. What do they look like? What do we want to see as a denomination? But at the same time, how do we contextualize that in our unique situations as local churches?
And then third phase was, I call it, the mobilizing stage, wherein we begin to allow the Avenue teams, the Love Avenue particularly, to begin to get their feet wet, to look at our situation, our church. Where do you think God is leading? What do you think Jesus is doing in our community, our target community? And then what do you think would be our participation in Jesus’ ministry?
So, the third phase is really about helping them get their feet wet and to try it out, and to do their own strategic planning for the Love Avenue. And I think—it wasn’t perfect—but I think it was a good flow of progression from where we started. So, now they’re able to do it.
Part of it was to launch them officially in the presence of the congregation so they’re recognized, and people can support them. Meanwhile, the Love Avenue can also speak for the Avenue, not just me as the pastor, but they can do that and they can give updates and they can invite people and share what’s happening, what God is doing in our target community.
So, basically those are the, I would call, the phases we went through as Avenue teams.
Cara: Thank you for sharing that. I especially appreciate the intentionality of the process for building that the Love Avenue team in GCI Crossway, the process of bringing, grouping the team together and allowing them to become a team first.
I’ve even heard of in some churches, there’ll be a connect group first of potential Love Avenue team members. So, this idea of coming together and building that relationship first, if they’re actually going to function as a team. But then the equipping! Because there’s some knowledge and skills that they’ll need. And then they get their feet wet, instead of just tossing them over into the deep end and expecting that they know how to swim. That’s good!
And then the second thing, Aron, I love that you did a commissioning in front of the entire membership so that they’re truly empowered. Like you said, they can give updates. They can communicate directly with membership about what’s happening, what God is doing through the Love Avenue.
It doesn’t all have to filter through you as the pastor of the church. That is huge team-based pastor led ministry that is being expressed in the Love Avenue. Thank you.
Aron: Yeah. Praise God for that.
Cara: Amen. You spoke a little to this, but I’d love to dig a little bit deeper.
How have you helped members discern and develop their giftedness in the Love Avenue ministry?
Aron: One of the trainings we did was the spiritual survey (spiritual gift survey) and then the personality survey. But I think, of course, when you do those surveys, it doesn’t necessarily mean automatically that you’re going to figure out where do you fit in the body or niche in the body. But I thought that was helpful to trigger, to prompt the people, to start reflecting and asking God, where are you placing me? Or what are the gifts that you have given me?
But I believe what was more important was we invited people from the church, from the congregation, those who have already demonstrated their passion and inclination towards the people outside the church. I thought that was really important. Because many of them I know personally. I’ve been the pastor of that congregation for 10 years now or so. And many of them I’ve been friends with, I’ve been working with for years, even before I became the pastor of the church.
And so, I just knew that there were people who are more passionate towards the people outside the church community than the others. And that’s what we look for. Same goes for the other Avenue teams, but especially for the Love Avenue.
I would say for our congregation, that among the three Avenues, that’s probably the weakest among the three Avenues for our congregation. And we admit that. We’ve done some assessment, and we can admit that this is something that we think God was bringing to our attention.
And so, it was important that we recruited, invited people who just naturally have the passion for the people outside the church. We have people who have experience for years in doing outreach events. We have our facilitator for our evangelism training, she’s part of the [Love] Avenue team. These people naturally, they’re confident about initiating conversations with strangers.
They have a friendly disposition. They enjoy meeting new people. And for many of them, I see that they’re comfortable in their own skin in terms of their Christian faith, that they do not shy away from sharing their faith to the people outside the church community. So, for me, that was really important firstly to gather those people who we think that have those gifts and passion for those people outside the church community.
Now, with regards to the new (quote, unquote) the new talents, (I learned this also from GCI) we look for those who have “faith.” We call it FATE: faithful, available, teachable, and enthusiastic. Those people who welcome your invitations to say, for example, a discipleship program or a training. You invite them to a connect group or to an activity in the church, and then they would show up. Those people are to watch out for. Many times, the new (quote, unquote) the new talents, they’re still at the stage where they’re still discerning their place in the church, in the community.
And so that’s where the leadership of the church could help them. But one of the things I do is give them an immersion. I begin with what’s obvious, what’s their interest, what’s their skillset, what’s their professional background, what do they do at work.
Or even their church experiences if they come from a different congregation or a different church, a denomination entirely. I begin with those obvious things. And then we invite them to an immersion, to try it out, not necessarily to commit for a long-term ministry. But just to try it out and then just to give that person (the new talents) time to see and experience. And try to feel, is it meaningful? Did they enjoy it? Does it trigger some passion in their heart in doing that certain ministry?
And then at some point, we sit down with them, and we help them debrief and assess, help them reevaluate. And so hopefully that person will continue with the ministry or maybe they would want to try a different ministry altogether.
But for many of our Love Avenue members, many of them have demonstrated such passion and comfort in going out to the community and, and being with strangers in a way, and to be able to share their faith. For me, that has helped me a lot in choosing, reflecting: who do we bring in to be part of our Love Avenue team?
Cara: Thank you. Joshua, is there anything that you would add from a Love Avenue champion perspective?
Joshua: Yeah, certainly. Just like what Aron said, enthusiasm. A certain level of enthusiasm is really needed because you’re reaching out to people outside the church. So, you need to have a certain level of energy of passion and hope and looking forward to what you can do and what you can give to the community. A heart for others, as well, is definitely important. We can see that, actually, most displayed in our “person of peace.” This person really—she’s the one that’s really rallying us to commit and develop relationships with our target community. So, it’s really important.
Friendliness as well is very important because these persons are not members of the church. They’re technically strangers. So, we need us members of the Love Avenue team to be really friendly, know how to communicate, know how to build relationships and be patient because you will work with other people. And we seldom have the same methods of doing, for example, doing activities like schedules, et cetera. So, you really need to work it out with the target community.
Humility is very important. It means we’re teachable. And we really put our heart into the target community, getting to know them deeply, not just superficially, but really know them, who they are, their needs. So, humility is very important.
And then for the new talents, we invite them and include them in the programs of the Love Avenue. So, if we see members—potential Avenue team members—then we invite them, “Maybe you can join or come with us. Join in our activities with the community.” Then we would know if that church member is a good fit to the Love Avenue team.
Yeah, I think that’s all.
Cara: Thank you. That’s fantastic. I think those are incredible things that you’re looking out for that are gifts that may make a person compatible in the Love Avenue. And particularly what I want to highlight is that you’re helping to identify what might make somebody a good fit for ministering within the Love Avenue. And as you do that, there’s a continued openness to who else may God be bringing to participate in the Love Avenue ministries.
So, this idea of, maybe he’s continuing to bring people or developing these gifts, that there can be these new talents in the Love Avenue and that they can be invited to participate and try it out for a little while and see if that is what God is doing in and through them without making a lifelong commitment. I think that’s an incredible way to be apprenticing within our Avenue, to be continuing to support what God is doing in and through his people and finding how is God inviting people to participate in each Avenue.
But today we’re speaking about the Love Avenue in particular, right? So, that we’re always expanding how the Love Avenue ministries are working and who is participating in it in the life of the church. Yes, that’s fantastic.
Within the Love Avenue team, what processes are you using, or have you used to discern what particular roles people serve on the team?
Joshua: Just like what was mentioned earlier about the equipping part of the Avenue teams. Again, the spiritual gift survey was really helpful because you would get to appreciate and own the gifts that God has given us individually, so we would know where we can actually contribute. Because there are certain things that we are good at, there are certain things that we’re not that good at. So, we know where we can be placed that can really get on our potential. And so that’s very important.
Self-awareness tools like the 5 Voices. The members in the Love Avenue, they really appreciate this kind of self-awareness tool. Even the older generation, they appreciate it. It’s like they’re thinking it would have been nice if we knew these things earlier; we could have really ministered. [Yet] it’s all about God’s timing. I think this is the perfect time he allowed this equipping to be done so that they would really appreciate the blessings that they provide.
And then team dynamics, building relationships leading to knowing each other’s strengths. But again, overall, it’s about the person’s giftedness and their best fit. And then also to discern what cause, it’s based on the target community and its needs. So, for Crossway, we chose a school. Okay. Based on the needs of the school. For example, during the pandemic, there were a lot of front liners.
Some of the teachers still go to the school, so their needs were alcohol, face masks, those things that are really needed. In the Love Avenue team, we know one member who came from the pharmaceutical industry. It was obvious who we can ask to help; their role was by default.
Okay. We ask help of this person because she knows more than the other members, so it’s really based on the needs. And then people become familiar with their own abilities, skills, and inclinations.
The networks, for example, one member of the church is good at finances in the Love Avenue team. It just so happens, she’s a member of the Love Avenue team. So, again, obviously when we need wisdom financially, we go and ask help to that Avenue team member.
And then roles—where this comes in—the role in the church extends to the Love Avenue team. So, people in the church, their roles there, those that best fit the Love Avenue team needs, we put people there.
And then again, we practice consensus decision-making. So those things, it really helps.
Cara: That’s good. Aron, anything that you want to add to that?
Aron: Yeah. Thank you, Josh. Because he’s a part of the Love Avenue team. I get to see it from a bird’s eye view, but Josh gets to see it from where the action is.
I agree; it’s something that we are learning to practice. It’s something that I believe in. God has granted his giftedness by his grace in the spirit, and our role is to discern where God is placing us, what doors God is opening, and where is he leading. And I believe we all have a place in the body.
And so even in a ministry setting, like the Love Avenue, it’s still a good practice to find our niche, our best fit. But at the same time, we’re open for people to try it out. I think that’s also important, that we allow people to try it out. And even to invite others to experience it—even just for a little bit—and then they can decide if that’s something they want to be part of for a more regular basis. We wish that the more and more people will see the Love Avenue as an opportunity to—an exciting opportunity—to see what God is doing in our community.
Yeah, and again, a lot of times it’s really what God is opening, the doors that God is opening from the side of the community. That’s what Love Avenue is. Part of it is discerning what do they have? What are they doing? And how else can we participate in their events, in their programs?
And Joshua mentioned that every now and then we will donate alcohol because it’s a necessity now, even for the school. And there’s also an event that we do once a month where we give [an] inspirational talk to the student council of that high school. And what’s interesting is that it’s their program. It’s not our program; it’s their program of their student council. And because of the established relationship, they would invite us. And in fact, they did, and they’ve given us that for—I think they do it once a month, every Saturday morning for about two hours, but the inspirational talks would go for 15 minutes or 30 or so.
So, it’s just part of the program, but they have opened that spot for us. And because we’re dealing with young people, our default is to bring in those, our leaders who know how to interact and communicate with young people. And so many of our speakers from the church have experience in youth ministry, have been SEP camp counselors. So, because that’s their giftedness, that’s what they’re comfortable with. That’s part of their competence.
True enough, the students enjoy it. In fact, they started out their first meeting I think there were about like 50 who attended. But then they liked the inspirational talk, and they began to open it outside the student council, to the club members, the committee heads of the clubs in the school just so they could hear the quote unquote inspirational talk.
But part of it is really seeing what [are] the doors that God is opening and discerning how best we can respond to those seeds and to those opportunities. So, it’s amazing. They’ve been doing it for, I think, five months now. And we’d be part of it for basically the same time. And it’s not something we created. Again, this is where we affirm that it’s really Jesus’ ministry and God opened that door and God brought it to our attention. And we started thinking, okay, who do we send, the best people we can send? Because we want to love them in the best way we can. And it’s been fun.
And the thing is, we were able to include those people outside the Love Avenue team, because their role is to speak there. They don’t have to be part of the Love Avenue, but to share inspirational messages that are biblically based. So, that’s our approach. Again, we’re bringing the best people that we can send because it’s our expression of loving them the best way we can.
Cara: Yes. Thank you. Thank you.
And first, we are a global church and international church. So, for our international listeners—so that there’s no misunderstanding—I want to clarify that by alcohol, you all mean sanitizing alcohol for sanitation purposes, just so that there is no confusion.
But second you both, Joshua and Aron, have named two things that I really want our listeners to hear. In the discernment process for what roles people are serving, you said two things. You’re looking for best fit in terms of how God has gifted the people in the church community, what God is doing in and through them. And what is actually happening in your neighborhood, what are the needs?
And so, one size does not fit all. This is not a forced fit. It’s not doing things just based on we have this template that we’ve really need to just fill out. As you said earlier, Aron, this is the Love Avenue: you have best practices, and these best practices are contextualized.
So, the roles of a Love Avenue in one neighborhood may be different than what the roles end up being in another neighborhood. The gifting of the Love Avenue team members in one neighborhood may create different roles than the giftings of the Love Avenue team in another neighborhood. And I think that is so key that you two have touched on that, because it’s about discerning what God is doing in your midst, in your context, and participating in that and to match those two things.
What are the gifts that God has brought into our midst and what are the needs in the community? (What is God doing in our neighborhood?) And how can we match those two up, bring the best people to participate in what God is already doing in our neighborhood?
That is incredible. So, thank you. I just wanted to highlight because our listeners—man, don’t miss that. Don’t miss what they just said, listeners!
Aron: It’s really Jesus’ ministry. And our goal is to sense where God is leading us. What is Jesus doing in that target community? What are the doors that he’s opening for us? Because we started out with—I think, the Love Avenue team (if they’re listening,) they would recognize that there was a time when we started coming up with programs and plans for the target community.
And the “person of peace,” who was basically the principal of that school, who happens to be part of our leadership team and part of our Love Avenue team, she was the one who was filtering those programs saying, “Okay, no, it’s not going to work. No, the government does that. No, they’ve had a lot of these programs already.”
It was through her that God was giving us those cues. “No, not this one but this one. Nope. We’re not going to—we cannot do that right now, but this is their program right now. Maybe we can participate.”
So, we had to learn to have that the dependent stance, dependent on what God is doing, where the Holy Spirit is leaving. And so that’s the amazing thing that we’re learning. And now there’s more matching to what’s happening in the community, what they are doing, what are their needs. And then we group ourselves together again and then [ask], “Okay what can we do? How can we respond to this in the most appropriate way? And who do we send so that we can love them in the best possible way.”
So, that’s one big learning for us as a Love Avenue, [that] we could not impose our programs! Because it was based on what we are hearing from the community. It was more like what the community is doing, and we were just riding along with their programs. And true enough, it has brought us to a deeper appreciation from both sides: us, and them towards us. And the relationships have been established.
So, for us that’s a big thing to praise God for, that the school recognizes us. And we’re able to embrace them as part of our extended family, if I may say it that way.
Cara: Amen. And so really every Love Avenue team is going to look a little bit different. And so, I’d love for you all to describe the rhythms of your Love Avenue team in GCI Crossway. In terms of what are the rhythms of fellowship, communication, meeting, and planning, recruitment, mentorship, training, all of those things. What are the rhythms that you’ve established as the team?
Joshua: Weekly, regular meetings. That’s very important to get updated with what’s happening in the school. In terms of communication, we have our own social media group chats. There’s one group chat for all the Avenue teams, and there’s one group chat dedicated only to the Love Avenue team. So, after our meetings, our zoom meetings, then all throughout the week, we can still further discuss in the group chats. That’s very important for us. So that even, for example, for me, I’m in the US. I can still actually work with the team members in Manila. So, it’s very important.
And then [Love] Avenue presentations to the congregation. We do that. We update the congregation, Crossway, and what’s happening with the Love Avenue, what are the current activities, the past activities. So, that the church itself is updated.
With regards to planning, it all comes from our “person of peace,” (again, what Aron said) who is the principal and, at the same time, a member of the Love Avenue team. She gives us input on the school’s events, calendar events and where we can join and how we can support.
So, the team, in a way, depends partly on her, on her updates, on her feedback: this is what’s happening in the school or this coming month; there will be this event and this event. And then the whole Love Avenue team [knows], oh, okay, we have these events. So, we ask the “person of peace,” do they need any assistance from us? Is there any way we can help?
In terms of planning, we depend on the “person of peace”. That’s why the “person of peace” is very important when it comes to the Love Avenue team.
Aron: Thank you, Josh. Josh explained it especially what happens on a weekly basis. I think it helped us to set a regular meeting for the Avenue teams, that includes the Love Avenue team.
And sometimes, there are times when we don’t have enough numbers, and then we would cancel or postpone the meetings. And that’s fine. But I think it helps that each member of the team can expect that, okay, on the weekend, we’re going to have a meeting. So, that’s part of our rhythm. Now that’s part of our routine.
Now, again, there are times when we have to cancel the meetings, but it helps that the teams anticipate that we’re going to meet on a weekly basis. And of course, a lot of times, it’s a planning meeting. But in our group, our meetings can become both productive, but at the same time, a time for fellowship.
When we started out, compared to where we are now, the relationships have deepened, and we’re able to get to know each other. We’re able to encourage one another, uplift one another, but even just extend grace to one another. There are times when we poke on each other and test each other’s patience and, we’re learning to extend grace and to work together in the midst of our imperfections and the team’s imperfection.
So, yeah, part of the rhythm also would be the trainings and equipping. Before we launched the Avenue team, we went through the preparation of grouping them, equipping them, and mobilizing them. Still part of our Christian journeys is to journey with the Lord for every day and for the rest of our lives. Even the learning is part of our rhythm. So, every now and then, we would insert that in our schedule so that we would continue to gain more awareness of who God is, and even the tools that we need so that we can be more effective in our participation with Jesus in his ministry.
Mentoring, you mentioned mentoring and or recruitment. As a pastor, I practice what we call the apprenticeship square. That has helped me in terms of coaching the teams. For example, that’s what I’ve been doing now with our Avenue champions. So, I slowly give them more and more hands-on participation so that I can slowly step back and allow them to take over and empower them.
So, that’s part of what I’m trying to do. We started out with myself and a few denominational leaders explaining what the healthy church vision is and healthy leadership and healthy Avenues. And part of the agreement was we’re going to learn this together so that at some point when we launched the Avenue teams, the Avenue teams would be the ones to cascade the vision to the church. And that’s what they did. The Love Avenue, that’s what they did. They were the ones, as part of launching them, they were the ones who cascaded: what is the healthy church vision and the Avenues? What would it look like in our local church in our context?
So, that’s part of allowing them to slowly gain more participation so that they are empowered. And for me, as a pastor, there’s less and less of me being hands on, allowing them and trusting them to be able to carry out their ministry callings as Avenues. Yeah, that’s part of our rhythm.
So, every now and then we include tools, leadership tools, or even theological insights so that we continue to grow and develop as ministry people and even as teams.
Cara: Thank you for sharing those rhythms.
Then, as we just discussed, every Love Avenue team is going to be a little bit different depending on the context, but the development of these kinds of rhythms as you said it keeps the team dynamic.
It keeps the team growing. It continues to build momentum and growth towards healthy church and healthy ministry and healthy leadership. And so that’s important to continue to think about and share, what are the rhythms and be intentional about the rhythms that are developing. So, thank you for sharing those with us today.
And you spoke a little bit to this, Aron, but I want to ask even more specifically, what difference has team-based, pastor led ministry made for the Love Avenue ministries?
Aron: Maybe Josh can answer that later on, but I can begin. I love the idea that we have become less pastor centric. I’m a full-time pastor, and there are times when people have this sort of paradigm that the pastor is supposed to do everything.
But because of the Love Avenue (and of course the other teams), it’s such significant evidence that we have grown to become less pastor centric, and there’s more empowerment and trusting the people to participate with Jesus in what he is doing.
So, imagine 3 Avenue meetings happening at the same time because we would meet on Sunday evenings. Imagine 3 simultaneous Avenue meetings going on; I wouldn’t be able to supervise or even facilitate those meetings.
So, it was part of the idea that we will really have to help them. That’s why there’s an equipping stage. There’s that equipping phase so that they would be able to carry out their respective callings.
In fact, Love Avenue is personally—among the three Avenues, that will be where I am personally the weakest. I’m strong with Faith Avenue and after that maybe the Hope Avenue. But Love Avenue, it’s probably where I am weakest. But I’m just so happy that we have a group of people that are—maybe you can say—that are more gifted when it comes to the Love Avenue.
They’re more comfortable in going out to the community and talking to strangers, engaging people that they barely know. So, I am grateful for that, that we are able to celebrate and provide platforms for those people that are gifted with specific gifts in those specific roles and ministries in the church.
So, for me, that’s one of the biggest gains for me. I have more time now to focus on other things. Not that I don’t want to do it, I’m still involved in the Love Avenue, but I get to focus more on the things that I will have to do as a pastor. I am able to become more strategic with my time and the tasks that I’m going to do.
It positions me as well to focus on the champions, to work with them more closely and to help them grow in their leadership as well, so that they can effectively lead their respective teams. So, Joshua, he knows this. We meet together with the other champions. We do that as well.
As a pastor, I’m happy with the fact that we have more people invited to the table and have ownership in the vision of the church. Many of the Love Avenue members have been faithful in the church and they’ve been, you can say, active members in the church. But the Love Avenue team, they have a bigger role now. They share in the discussions, they share in the decision-making, and they provide wonderful insights.
For me that’s a big it’s a highlight, that there [are] more people invited to the table and have ownership of the vision of the church. For me personally, that’s what I would say the is biggest difference. And I’m happy that we’re able to—by the grace of God—we’re able to find these people and group them together and carry out the vision of the Love Avenue—sorry, the calling of the Love Avenue. And they’re doing it on behalf of the church, but at the same time, inviting others to participate.
Yeah. Josh, how about you? From your end? What would be, would you say, is the difference that the Love Avenue made?
Joshua: Yeah. Your question is really very nice for me personally. It’s a life changing difference. Knowing that I’ve been in the church for a long time as well, I was part of the system where in mostly we depend on Aron’s leading or the agenda that he set, and then we follow, we [have] input. But now, in regard to when we transition to team-based pastor lead ministry, it has really opened up so many—it’s just like the potential of the church was unleashed because members are empowered. Almost everyone [is] empowered to speak up, to contribute all their thoughts. Their input [is] important. We try to squeeze out ideas, suggestions from everyone. That’s why discussions become really productive. We get to better hear all input, again in the context of decision-making.
The team is empowered. The team members have become more hands on in participating. For example, in the previous outreach efforts before the Love Avenue was established, only those directly involved with the community had the say. If they decide the activity, then the members will just follow: Okay, we need to do this for the community; then, okay.
But now, with the Love Avenue team, after it had been established, people can participate. We decide as a team, and it has helped in the discussions and even in the small execution of plans, because everyone is in one accord of what to do.
So, it really has helped to establish programs, to make it from start to finish. It’s much smoother and faster because everyone is on the same page. So, it’s really good. It’s very important to really practice this team-based pastor led system.
Cara: Thank you. Thank you both for sharing that idea of increased participation and ownership and unleashing the potential in the church. That’s just beautiful to hear you both describe that.
Are there any additional challenges or blessings of building a Love Avenue team that either of you would like to share today?
Aron: Yep. Looking back, part of the challenge was—just because we were not used to working together, these teams, the Love Avenue in particular (and everyone else, really.) We just didn’t know how to navigate when it comes to the team dynamics.
There’s not much self-awareness so—it’s not really a challenge—but it was important for us to learn how to navigate the different personalities, the different voices, and the different inclinations of each member of the Love Avenue team.
So, that’s part of the challenge, and every now and then, that comes up where there are misunderstandings. That’s part of the reality of being in a team. And so yeah, those things happen through just misunderstandings and not [being] able to see eye to eye. Yeah.
At the same time, part of the struggle was to keep the momentum, especially at the start. I thought that was really important, as well, if we’re gonna engage in pursuing the vision of healthy church, that we would build the momentum by being able to meet regularly and keep a certain base, with flexibility, of course. But we wanted to build the momentum, but of course initially, that’s something that we needed to watch out for.
But I’ll go back to the first thing I mentioned. It’s just part of reality when you are in a team setting where there are times when you don’t see eye to eye or [have] misunderstandings. But the bigger issue: how do you deal with it; how do you get over that hump and in love and with grace to one another.
But the blessing we can say (how do we say it usually?) that the blessings outweigh the challenges because with the Love Avenue—I’ve been wanting to recognize our church in Surrey Hills [Oklahoma, US.] They’ve been instrumental by providing trainings for us. Pastor Mike [Rasmussen] spent some time—and with Ceeja [Malmkar]—helping us understand the Love Avenue and what is it for? What does it look like?
But what happened, one blessing was that it really defined for us clearly the vision and the strategy of the Love Avenue where we get to focus our love and our resources and our efforts to a certain community. So, for me that’s one [blessing.] For the Love Avenue, in terms of reaching out to the community, it became clear what we want to see happen. And we’re able to unify our efforts towards that community.
We were able to define our target community, and that was part of the consensus decision-making. It wasn’t decided by me; it wasn’t decided by a couple of people. So, we were able to agree on the target community, the community that we think God is leading us to. And that was part of the dialogue.
So, now it’s clear even to the congregation. Not everybody is literally part of the efforts at the moment, especially with the pandemic but it’s clear for everybody who is our target community that we think God has given us to love and to focus on our efforts on. So, that’s one blessing as well, that we have defined our target community, and it’s owned by the church in the midst of the pandemic.
It’s amazing that we were able to express our love towards that community. For me, that’s a big blessing as well. And that’s part of the decision-making to choose this target community because in the Philippines, in our setting, the government is more strict when it comes to being able to go out. And because it was a pandemic, and we set up the Love Avenue during the pandemic wherein, we couldn’t really go out.
Part of the discussion, (we believe that God led us to that decision) is this school where we have a “person of peace” and they already operate in an online format (because schools here now operate online. Online classes are being held.) Yeah, that was part of the factor in deciding to focus our attention for this community.
Part of the blessing, as well, is after several months we know that the community has welcomed us. They appreciate our presence; they appreciate what we’re able to offer them. So, there’s organic growth in the relationship within the target community. So, they’re able to get to know us more personally. So, that’s one blessing as well.
It’s built a deeper relationship among the teams as well. Again, it’s not a perfect team, we’re not. Nobody’s perfect. But through the regular rhythms of meeting and interactions and learning together, going through some trainings together, we’re learning to embrace one another in the midst of our strengths and even our weaknesses.
So, I can feel that in the Love Avenue team. Again, there are challenges, but the blessings just outweigh the challenges.
Cara: Amen. Joshua, any challenges and blessings that you’d like to speak to?
Joshua: Maybe for me, blessings [would be]—for example, I mentioned earlier [that] we parallel with what is happening with the school and even the local holidays of the country, or even, worldwide. For example, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, National Teacher’s Appreciation Day.
That’s a blessing that, as a church, we can minister and bless the target community. For example, the last Teacher’s Day, we were able to just give them a token of appreciation. We gave them mugs. If they like coffee or something, there’s a print there to appreciate the teachers. So, they really liked that.
And then we gave cakes during the Mother’s Day [holiday.] So, it’s really just a wonderful experience, a blessing actually, wherein we can participate in what Jesus is doing. Actually, because now in the pandemic, we’re now mostly—at least for Crossway—we’re online so, we can bless the community with our financial blessings, and we can bless them actually.
So, that’s truly one of the things wherein the Love Avenue is blessed by making the community happy that some of their needs are met. So, that’s really good.
Cara: Yeah. Amen. Thank you for sharing. And as we begin to wrap up our conversation for today, what final encouragements or pieces of advice do you have for our listeners who are beginning to build their Love Avenue teams?
Joshua: For those who are starting to build their love up in your teams, it really will be worth it because you can develop wonderful relationships with the people in your target community, from being strangers to close friends. You can do that.
And then there is a deep fulfillment in making a difference in people’s lives, to hear people from the target community who benefited from the church love effort that addressed a certain need. And then they would say—I remember in one of the events that we participated, one of the persons in the community said, “I needed that.” So, it means maybe he heard something in the message or in the sharing, in the testimony that he needed in that certain time of his life, and it came from the church.
So, again it’s really wonderful to be part of the Love Avenue team. So, it takes time, it takes effort, it takes commitment. But when you see the faces of the target community, they’re happy, they’re blessed. Their faces shine because you have imparted to them the gospel. It’s really worth it.
Aron: Yeah. Thank you, Josh.
Yeah, there are times when you would really hear the responses of the people from the target community, and you would know authentically that they are grateful that the church is able to make a difference in their lives.
Yeah, but I would say maybe an encouragement would be when we help our church build her Love Avenue team, we would be able to participate more in Jesus’ ministry, in loving our neighbors and hopefully drawing them to Christ. Jesus is already there. He is the one loving our neighbors, our community, but Jesus is inviting us to participate. I think that’s a beautiful idea.
The other thing, personally, part of the breakthrough for me and in our Love Avenue team as well (even as a church), as we studied and became more familiar with the Love Avenue and its purposes and its calling, there’s more emphasis now on loving the neighbor.
We want our community, the people in the community to get to know Jesus. And maybe experience the life of the triune God in the church. Of course, that will continue to be our prayer. But just the same, we’ve learned not to gauge our quote unquote success primarily based on the numbers of the people coming into the church and all of that.
Our primary role is to participate in loving our neighbors, so that has become our main gauge. Are we loving our neighbors the way that Jesus does? So, that has been what prompts us in doing it. And we continue to pray that people would get to know Jesus and experience the life of the triune God in the church. But whether that happens or not, our calling is to love them and to participate in what God is doing in loving our neighbors.
I guess lastly would be, for me to the churches or even pastors hearing this, that the process will take time. It’s better that way, that it’s going to be slow and steady. So, the process will take time in developing the Love Avenue team in the church, but it will definitely be worth it.
I can say personally that I can see the difference it made in our church, in our leadership team, in the group of our ministry workers and leaders. So, I can say that personally, it will take time developing the Love Avenue team, but we’ll definitely be worth it.
Cara: Amen. Amen. Thank you both so much for sharing these incredible insights, but we’re not finished yet.
We’re got a few fun questions for you all and no pressure. Just say whatever comes to mind first. This first question, we’ll go ahead, Aron, you can answer this one first, but all these questions will be for both of you. Okay.
What book or movie have you read or seen recently that you would recommend and why?
Aron: Oh, man. That’s difficult because I’ve been studying under Dr. Gary’s [Deddo] class, and I’m not sure. No, I’m just kidding.
Lately I’ve—I’m not sure if I can recommend this—but on Netflix, I watched this series on the World War II. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but it’s been it’s something I’ve watched recently.
And I thought it was helpful for me to learn what was happening around that time, the events of the World War II, and that includes the Pacific wars, so it connected with me personally because we’re here. I’ve learned so much when it comes to the mindset of the world leaders then, and what people suffered, and all those things.
So, it was helpful just to have a picture of the world at that time, the mindset of the people, and to learn from those events, to learn from that (you could say) era.
Cara: Yeah, Joshua. What about you?
Joshua: Recently I’m reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s been nice. What it says is, “An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad one,” which I have many bad ones. So, it’s very helpful for me. It’s really good.
It gives you practical advice to really build good habits. And, the bad habits we do, we stopped doing them. It’s really the little changes. But one example he has here is, for example, you fly from LA going to, for example, Florida. When the plane takes off at LA and just slightly change its flight path for just like three degrees, you will not land in Florida. You would land somewhere else. That’s how powerful little habits are. So, it’s really been a blessing, at least for my personal development. So, yeah, I can commend it.
Cara: Nice. Nice. All right. This next question. What food do you always bring to a church dinner?
Aron: Church dinner? Okay. I don’t cook, so I like buying deliveries maybe pizza or pasta. Those are easiest for me. I just call the delivery and they bring it to you, bring it to the events.
Cara: Yes, same!
Aron: And I wouldn’t bring anything that I cooked to the church. I don’t think it’s going to be wise.
Cara: Joshua. What about you?
Joshua: Maybe… it’s been a while since the last time. We always have—that’s what’s also good in Crossway. We have fellowship after the service, eating. But for times like that, I’m always assigned to bring the drinks. We take care of the drinks, juice or soda or something else.
Cara: Nice! We’re all on the same wavelength then, right?
If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
Aron: For a year? Okay. Probably somewhere there in the US. My sister lives there. Ida, my sister, she’s in New Jersey. And so, every time me and my wife would have a conversation—because we love to travel—and every time she would ask me, where do you want to go next? And my default is (I don’t mind going elsewhere), but my default is to visit my sister. She’s been there for decades now, and we only get to see her rarely. So, that would be my answer.
Joshua: Oh, for me, I think Japan. I just personally am fond of their culture, their way of living, their history. So, I would certainly love to stay there for a year.
Cara: Okay. Nice. And final question. If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Aron: Oh, wow.
Joshua: It’s hard. Coffee?
Cara: Oh, coffee! I thought you said goldfish. Coffee. That’s a good one.
Aron: For me, I would probably say fried chicken. It never gets old. You would get tired of fried chicken for a day or two, and then, you’ll get some again after, so yeah.
Cara: I love it.
Aron: I think I can try, Asian fried chicken, southern states in the US, New York or whatever. Whichever kind of dish regards to chicken, I’m good with that.
Cara: Oh, that’s true. There’re different kinds of fried chicken too. So, you get variety. I like it. Coffee and fried chicken. Yeah.
Thank you both so much for taking your time to join us on the GC Podcast today. It is our practice with GC Podcast to end our show with a word of prayer. And so, Joshua, would you be willing to pray for our listeners, our churches, pastors, and ministry leaders in GCI? Thank you.
Joshua: Let’s pray.
Our triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we thank you so much for this time. We thank you for Cara, Pastor Aron, and me. I thank you for the team who will put this together.
We just praise you, and we give you thanks for the love that you have showered on us. Lord, our prayer is that we would be filled with your love first and foremost, that it would overflow in our lives, Lord. That we personally experience your deep love for us. So, that as we see our neighbors, as we see other people, Lord, we can extend that love towards them.
And we thank you, Lord, that you have blessed us with leaders who are faithful to you in teaching and equipping us. Lord, we thank you for this podcast, and we lift this up to you that many people would be blessed. And we just are honored, Lord, that you would grant us the grace.
Use us, Lord, imperfect as we are. But because you are perfect, it is your work. It is your ministry. You enable, and you equip us. All the needs that we have, Lord, you provide so that we can make a blessing and a difference in the world. So, we just thank you, and we praise you. And we give you thanks for your wisdom, your provisions, your guidance, Lord, in not just in the Love Avenue team, but in the Faith, in the Hope Avenue team.
And we pray Lord that every church will become healthy, Lord. And that’s not our desire; that’s your desire. So, we just thank you that you invite us to join in your kingdom. So, we just thank you. We thank you for all the listeners, Lord, we bless their heart. And thank you so much for your grace. All of these things, Father God, we ask and pray in the mighty name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Cara: Aron and Joshua shared a lot of meaningful insights with us. One thing that especially stood out to me was the practice of creating space for people to just explore different areas of ministry, to try it out, to see what it’s like to participate in that area of ministry without a lifelong commitment. To do that as a process of discerning God’s gifting and calling in ministry. What stood out to you from what they had to share?
Christianna: I really appreciated their emphasis on discernment, not only in understanding your gifts, but also in recognizing and seeking to meet the needs of the community. I think, as they mentioned by centering the discernment of people’s gifting as they engage in ministry, but also recognizing the community needs, that’s a really meaningful and important way to shape the expressions of the Love Avenue.
Cara: Yes, absolutely. That key piece of discernment is so important in the Love Avenue. And then another piece that’s important in building out the Avenue teams is engaging emergent leaders. As a young adult leader in GCI, what advice or encouragement would you share with our ministry leaders as they engage young emergent leaders on their Love Avenue teams?
Christianna: I think communication not only relates to the development of those strong collaborative teams, but also engaging young leaders in the ministry of the church. So, in a sense, creating space for individuals to fully participate from seeing their voice shape the direction of new efforts or receiving encouragement guidance, I think that really allows for the expression of everyone’s gifts.
And when each of us has an opportunity to leverage our insights and our energy and being a part of the community, that’s how you create really powerful and authentic expressions of love.
Cara: Amen. Thank you for sharing that. This episode, it really got me thinking about the Love Avenue. And for those of us who are wondering where we can go to learn more, how can we learn more about the Love Avenue, Christianna?
Christianna: If you’d like to learn more about the Love Avenue, visit resources.gci.org/love to explore the GCI Love Avenue resources and the love Avenue toolkit.
Cara: Friends, thank you so much for listening to the GC Podcast. If you like what you heard, go ahead and give us a rating wherever you listened to the podcast. It really does helps us get the word out and invite others join in the conversation. Until next time, keep living and sharing the gospel.
We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast. We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.