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Belong, Believe, Behave – Joel Kovacs

Today on the Multiply! Podcast, Brian is joined by Joel Kovacs, Lead Pastor of Five14 Church in New Albany, OH. They talk about a variety of things including the church and student ministry leadership culture at Five14 and how they are ministering to transgender and homosexual people who are coming to their church.

Leadership structure in Five14 Church:

Had the opportunity to do something completely new, which is a different dynamic than most are dealing with.

They are a Staff-lead church with an observing and authoritative board. However, the day-to-day operations are run by volunteer teams under staff leadership teams.


Leadership Team: Joel Kovacs and three others.

Background info: Joel Kovacs (in his 30’s) is the lead pastor. There is One part time member in his 50’s, one girl who grew up around their current model of church leadership (about 30), and one guy who has no previous church leadership experience, but with experience in real estate, now takes care of the business side of things (also about age 30).

Student Team: one step below the Leadership team, serves both high school and middle school students. All four members constantly collaborate and are actively engaged, including the director.

Student Ministry Structure:

All members of student team speak as well as volunteer guests. It is important for students to hear from the stage both those they know and from guests.

Small groups follow a large group gathering every week throughout the year. However, small groups are not secondary. Even the rest of the church is small group led.

Once a year they attend retreats and camps.

Secret Sauce – Leadership Development:

Volunteer small group leaders, who are there every week, grow into the lives of their students and become serious allies when students face struggles in their lives. This puts the people who care for students on the front lines of this ministry.

Purposely avoid the one-man show style of ministry. Develop a leadership team to set your ministry up for long term success.

Develop yourself as a leader: Keep reading leadership books. Their transcendent themes will always reveal something to improve on in your own life and ministry. “Don’t just work in it work on it.” -Brian

Resources: “Good to Great” by John Collins; books by Patrick Lencioni who writes in fables so his books are easy to read.

Delegate leadership opportunities to replace yourself:

Find the rising stars in your ministry’s volunteer positions to be possible future leadership staff members. This is how you find good people.

Engage them to bring them on. Take the risk of giving them opportunities to lead. They will make mistakes, but you will too, so why not be building the future of the ministry with those same inevitable mistakes?

Joel’s tip: ICNU – “I see in you:” four most powerful letters in alphabet. Look for raw leadership influence ability, and in any form. A rising star may be a writer, communicator, thinker, organizer, or possess any other unique leadership strength.

Belong, Believe, Behave

Many churches unknowingly function under the expectations of “Behave, Believe, Belong,” when we should be functioning under the concept of “Belong, Believe, Behave.”

Everyone belongs. Jesus was proximate with people that didn’t behave, but to Him, belonged. We don’t have to have all the right theological questions. Focus on the important theology of full, genuine compassion and community with outsiders, because Jesus made that extremely clear. Jesus didn’t tell people they needed to agree with Him. However He did say that He wants us to go and love the people you don’t agree with.

Bob Goff stated, “People learn more by being included not by being instructed.”

If you say everyone can come as they are, be ready for when they do. Be ready to love the people that make you feel uncomfortable, because treating them poorly after telling them they belong will do more damage than before.

“Its exciting to be able to love people who don’t think like the evangelical pastor that they live next door to.”

In regards to the church being against society accepting homosexuality as a cultural norm – “The church is fighting a fight that Jesus didn’t say to fight.” That ship has sailed. It already is a cultural norm. Jesus still wants us to love people, and the people that make us feel uncomfortable still desperately need the church.

Addressing transgendered kids in the small group model: The answer must involve a relationship with their small group leader, who will talk to them one-on-one, and ask if it is a problem for them to be in their particular group. Normally this is not an issue, so long as they feel valued and loved.

Bringing anyone in who doesn’t get biblical morality is uncomfortable. They do not believe in Jesus so they should not be held accountable to biblical standards. They will make you stretch yourself, think differently, pray more, and gain wisdom. You will not mess up as long as you have genuine compassion for every single kid. You won’t make everyone happy, but you will be able to act in a heart of compassion and love.

Joel’s Challenge: The discussion of addressing uncomfortable topics in your ministry should be relevant to you. If not, you are not reaching unbelievers like you should.

If they are not coming, it is probably because you are communicating that they are not welcome, so don’t have a stiffened heart towards something different about somebody.

Our greatest longing is belonging. The death that Jesus went through was the greatest death because of the emptiness the lack of a connection with His Father created.

Connection: Jesus’ greatest belonging in is His connection to His Father, so we need that too. Everyone’s greatest belonging is through an intimate relationship with the father.

“If we only love people who behave we eventually will not love anybody.”

The heart of us needs to change, to think of people differently, and we should also be living an invitational lifestyle of engaging others different from ourselves.

Resource: “Everybody always” by Bob Goff (book)

Closing thoughts:

Adjustments: You should be able to pinpoint adjustments you have made in your ministry, because they are the mark of spiritual growth. We know very little about God and will be constantly learning so what we know should consequentially be morphing. When you learn something new, make an adjustment so long as it is not against foundational biblical principles.

One adjustment Joel’s church is looking to focus on is reaching families as a whole. Currently they gear their service towards teens who bring their families. But they are further looking into ministry models that reach the families of elementary students (Kid Stuff).

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