At our Annual Vision Meeting on June 3rd, 2012, I announced my transition and a very exciting new beginning for New Life Fellowship Church. It was a key moment in a four and a half year process that will culminate in September of 2013. The process and day reflected many of the riches of emotional healthy spirituality applied to a local church. It was a beautiful meeting that left many of us in awe! The video includes my commentary on the letter I released to the congregation.
Pastor Pete reads his Letter to New Life
A Letter from Pastor Pete June 3, 2012
This year is a special one for New Life Fellowship Church. In September we will celebrate and reflect on twenty-‐five years of bearing fruit for Christ in New York City. In addition, we are entering a new beginning that will deepen and expand our life together.
New Life began in September 1987 after a series of prophetic words that God was calling me to launch a new church in the Corona/Elmhurst section of New York City. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).
The DNA of this new church plant included a passion for people who did not know Jesus, prayer, the poor, racial reconciliation, worship, indigenous leadership development, authentic community, and love for the peoples of the world who were pouring into Queens.
I had a vision of planting a church out of which other leaders would go forth to plant and serve churches around the world. I never dreamt I would be the senior pastor of a church for twenty-‐five years. But God, in His wisdom, had a sovereign plan and a different strategy. He would lead New Life Fellowship through a crucible to form us into a visible, prophetic sign for churches around the world.
The rapid growth we experienced, along with the premature planting of new churches, exposed significant cracks in the foundation of what we were building at New Life. Significant illusions and gaps surfaced in both our personal lives and our approach to forming mature followers of Christ who love well.
This led to the revelation that you cannot separate emotional health from spiritual maturity (1994–1996), followed by the contemplative impartation of 2003–2004. Both deeply transformed New Life on all levels—in our relationships with Jesus, our experiences of singleness and marriage, our spiritual formation initiatives, our understanding of community, our elder board and staff, and the stewardship of our resources.
My best contribution to New Life has always been in the area of teaching and preaching, along with breaking new ground, providing leadership, and shaping our spiritual formation life together. In many ways, however, I am more like an artist: I love imagining, creating, and writing about new possibilities. This is a God-‐given part of me that has consistently called for greater expression for the sake of the
kingdom of God. Providing oversight and day-‐to-‐day leadership for a large, growing staff and church requires highly focused energy, and has limited my ability to respond to that call.
Three and a half years ago, in early 2009, Geri and I knew the time had come for me to hand over the senior pastor role at New Life Fellowship Church. We were also convinced that I was to remain at New Life in more of an “apostolic” role, serving and supporting a new leadership as they took our church vision and values into the future—making them relevant for this generation. New Life is growing and flourishing. Geri and I are growing and flourishing. This is the optimal time for us to pour our best energy into investing in future generations of leadership.
Geri and I also had an on-‐going sense that God was setting us apart, as He did with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1–3), to offer our gifts and services to the church in North America and around the world. Many pastors and churches have been coming to learn from New Life. This has been a growing phenomenon since the release of The Emotionally Healthy Church (Zondervan, 2003), Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Nelson, 2006), and I Quit! (Zondervan, 2010).
With this clear sense of God’s call for me to mentor and champion New Life’s new leadership, I approached the elders in 2009 and set September of 2013 as the date for my transition out of the role of senior pastor. This gave us four full years for a slow, prayerful process.
The elders and I began to research how other churches had transitioned from a founding pastor to a new leadership. There were very few success stories. A healthy transition would lead to another generation of fruitful service and impact for God’s kingdom. A poor process would lead to years of faltering before New Life landed, if ever, on her feet. Most churches, we learned, never recaptured the “glory days” enjoyed under the founder’s leadership. Yet we remained convinced that New Life’s best days were still ahead of us.
In late 2009, we contacted Dave Travis, the CEO of Leadership Network. His depth of experience doing “succession planning” with a wide variety of denominations and ethnic churches was an ideal fit for our unique context. After a number of phone and Skype video meetings, we formally hired Dave as a consultant in 2010.
The following were the key stages of our transition process:
1. Since I would be staying at New Life, the first thing we had to determine was
what my role and contribution would be once a new leader had been established. This would have a large impact on both the future expansion of New Life and the contours of the next senior leader’s job description.
- We then determined the job description for the new senior leader (as of September 2013), and his/her relationship to the elder board.
- The elders commissioned a Transitional Task Force to begin the search for a new senior leader. (This task force consisted of Jake Garcia, Greg Jao, Kelly Ng, and Jackie Snape.)
- They, along with the elders, concluded that we had two potential candidates internally at New Life: Drew Hyun and Rich Villodas. Drew had given New Life years of significant leadership, but we also believed that Rich’s gifting, history, and temperament made him a serious candidate. We began conversations with each of them to discern God’s choice for this role. During this process, Drew determined that remaining at New Life was not God’s will for him.
- The elders then set up a one-‐year framework for “testing” Rich and possibly choosing him as the next lead pastor.
- That year of “testing” successfully concluded in December of 2011, and the elder board affirmed Rich as the new lead pastor that would follow me. In addition, Rich began functioning as my “number two,” with all church staff reporting to him.
- Finally, we planned to make a formal announcement at the New Life Annual Vision Meeting in June 2012, informing the congregation of the transition that will take place in September of 2013. This would give us fifteen additional months to train and develop Rich for his new role.
This prayerful, thoughtful, careful process has already borne much fruit. Our church has expanded and deepened. We have grown in number to a congregation of between 1,250 and 1,400 people weekly. Over 1,900 people attended on Easter Sunday alone.
Rich brings gifts of leadership that are uniquely suited to us in this season of our history. The values and vision of New Life are not changing, but they are deepening and expanding outward. That is a great thing. People ask me if I miss leading staff meetings. My answer is, “It never entered my mind.” (This is indicative of Rich’s strong leadership abilities.)
Another significant development in this process has been the emergence of Redd Sevilla, the executive director of our Community Development Corporation (CDC). Over the past year, Redd has become a “number two” person for Rich. Redd brings a strong set of executive and leadership gifts to New Life. His training as an engineer, experience in the marketplace, and background in small business development make him a wonderful complement to Rich. The synergy of Rich and Redd working together has already been transformative for New Life.
I would like to highlight and thank our elders (Jake Garcia, Andrew Favilla, Greg Gardner, Bonnie Wheaton, Kelly Ng, and Carol Oliver), along with Jackie Snape, for their outstanding leadership as they steered this transition on behalf of all of us at New Life. They have carried a heavy weight of responsibility during this process
since early 2009. Their prayerfulness, discernment, and wisdom have been a gift to us all.
New Life, I believe, is a sign and sacrament of the kingdom of God. Through our existence as a multiracial, international community, and through the deep embrace of our unique values (our five M’s—Monastic, Multiracial, eMotionally Healthy, Marriage to Christ, and Missional), we make visible the invisible. New Life is a gift of hope to many around the world. Our community offers a glimpse of what is possible by the power of God, and is a taste of heaven itself.
New Life is moving into a phase of expansion—partnering with churches and denominations from places as diverse as Germany, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and the Philippines. Geri and I plan to spend part of our time equipping coaches and trainers to bring the grace, or charism, of New Life to the wider church through the ministry of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. We are excited about that.
I am also very excited about having the time and space to write. God has placed within me a number of book ideas over the years. These have grown out of the crucible of New Life. These include, for example, books on the unique contribution of emotionally healthy spirituality to leadership, marriage/singleness, and reconciliation (bridging racial, economic, and cultural barriers). In addition, I am eager to write monthly Daily Offices (that will be available through an app) and a small group curriculum for marriages.
Nonetheless, my first priority remains the integrity and health of New Life. I will continue to be the “Chief Champion and Cheerleader” for Rich, Redd, the staff, the elders, and all of you. I love New Life! There isn’t a church like ours anywhere in the world. I will continue to serve as a teaching pastor, preaching and offering retreats and classes under Rich’s leadership. Moreover, I will also mentor, lead small groups, and be a resource to our leadership and CDC.
While I recognize there will be a normal, healthy grieving process to navigate through during this transition, I also want to invite you to join us in our enthusiasm about the future.
New Life is called to be a movement of people, not a monument or institution erected around a person or building. For this reason, one of the greatest gifts Geri and I can offer is the investment in a new generation of leaders who can carry forth New Life’s mission for the next twenty-‐five years. We are looking forward to 2038!
One of the most important tasks in the spiritual life is letting go and receiving God’s new beginnings. While this transition remains fifteen months away, God has a
number of new and wonderful things standing backstage waiting to make their entrance. We want to receive all of them.
Here is what I am asking you to do: Begin to embrace Rich as the person God has called to lead us at New Life as of September 2013. Let’s join together in what God desires to do in and through our church during what surely will be one of the most exciting, expansive times in our history.
Thank you all for being such a great church. With much love,