Life Lessons from Pastor Matt Dirks

Life Lessons from Pastor Matt Dirks 

Leadership   Matt Dirks

“Comeback leaders are able to explain, both in speech and in writing what a better future looks like. They convince people that things are not acceptable as they are, and then describe a better future to pursue. That vision and imagery make a dramatic difference.” (Comeback Churches, Stetzer and Dodson, pp 48)

“1 Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth.” Psalms 115:1 NIV

Meeting Pastor Matt Dirks was a great experience for me. As I met with him and sat down to talk outside of Starbucks Koko Marina, I felt almost immediately like we had been friends for a long time. Pastor Matt is originally from California and served as an Associate Pastor at a church in Kailua prior to planting Harbor Church Honolulu almost six years ago.

Harbor Christian Church is from the Evangelical Free Movement and this church in particular has partnered with the Acts 29 Network as a means to build a culture to aggressively plant churches. Pastor Matt recalled the early days of the church when things had grown stagnant rather quickly due to what he felt was a lack of depth in the leadership base and a time the Lord would use to deepen the roots of the leaders he was developing. He spoke excitedly about the church beginning to grow both in spiritual depth and numerically as “Community Groups” began to develop and expand.

When asked about the three most important lessons he has learned while serving in the ministry, Pastor Matt was quick to point out that all of the greatest lessons he learned were about God.

1. God is sovereign. God prepares and He is in control

“1 Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth.” Psalms 115:1 NIV

What Pastor Matt says is the most important lesson learned while serving as the Lead Pastor for Harbor Church, is to trust that God is prepared for everything that happens and that He is always in control. While this is a simple theological truth that can be easily stated and taught from the pulpit, it is often a hard lesson for a pastor to learn as he is planting a church.

When faced with less than favorable circumstances and the frustrations that come with planting a church, Pastor Matt recognized that there are times when it is easy to try and manipulate things in order to see faster progress or results that we feel are better. However the most important lesson for him in the last six years since planting the church has been coming to the realization that since God is sovereign, He is in control of all things. Pastor Matt recalled being blessed with the advice to, “Work like an Armenian and to sleep like a Calvinist.” He reflected. “I needed to learn to leave things to God rather than try and manipulate it myself.”

2. God’s goodness.

“1 Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. 3 Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;[a] We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.” Psalms 100:1-5 NIV

 Pastor Matt recalls a time very recently when a visitor to the church felt “led” to point out all the shortcomings of a recent sermon he had shared with the church. Pastor Matt pointed out that while he is open to criticism and to making improvements in his communication style, there are times when people come to the church seemingly wanting to attack shepherds.

A friend on the Big Island once told me as I was the shepherd of a church there. “Sheep bite.” While the criticism stuck with him (which criticism often does), Pastor Matt recalls that the Lord spoke to him and asked whose approval he (Pastor Matt) preaches for; the critical brother or for the Lord?

This was a great lesson in understanding that he didn’t need to seek success, comfort, or blessing from any other source but the Lord. Convicts need to find joy in how people treat me This is another easily stated truth, but very difficult one to live while in ministry. Pastors are people who just like everyone else, like to have the approval and affirmation from others. Pastor Matt stated that his second most important lesson while serving as a Lead Pastor of the church plant is that when serving the Lord, he does not need to seek man’s approval

3. God is gracious.

A feeling that is probably very common among ministers, especially those from smaller congregations and new church plants is the heavy burden that “I am not good enough.” Pastor Matt shared that the third lesson was recognizing that because God is gracious, he (Pastor Matt) did not have to prove himself in the ministry, since it is after all, about God. He recognized that when dealing with feelings of not being good enough, that is by God’s grace that he has been called and empowered to do ministry.

If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?

If he could do one thing differently, Pastor Matt says that he would increase the time spent on emphasizing leader development through systematic theology prior to launching the church.

This caught me off guard. I’ve never heard of teaching systematic theology as a course to teach in the beginning a church plant. I found it odd and interesting that he said that he would focus on systematic theology training before practical leading skills. Coming from a background with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Hilo where none of our senior leadership had any formal bible college education, leadership principles had always been taught and pushed, but in the 12 years I spent with the leadership there, systematic theology was never even in our vocabulary!

I asked Pastor Matt about the basis for the thinking behind his thoughts of systematic theology. He brought out a great point that to focus on theology prior to giving leadership skills and tools would be to present the scriptural basis and the “why” of what is done at the church, rather than simply leaping ahead to the “how to’s” of the ministry.

When the ministry gets moving, people wouldn’t just be doing what he said to do, how he said to do it, but they would know the scriptural basis of why they were doing what they were doing. The bottom line is that he would teach the “why” through theology before the “how to.”

Systematic theology as a course for laypeople and leaders prior to a church plant did not seem to be the most practical idea to me originally, but hearing Pastor Matt explain it to me, opened my eyes to a concept new to me.

APPLICATION: I take away from my meeting with Pastor Matt the great importance of not simply learning the “how to’s” about the ministry, but also the “why’s.” I have a strong tendency to jump in to serve the Lord and to lead in order to accomplish tasks rather than taking the time to slow down and reflect on the biblical roots (or lack of biblical roots) of what I do. I begin to see that there are many mistakes that I could have easily avoided in my life and leadership if I paused to reflect on they “why’s” before the “how to’s.”

Lord Jesus thank You for my friend Pastor Matt Dirks and for the keen insights and wisdom that You have given him to serve You. Lord I take this meeting as a reminder to slow down and always reflect on what I do and say in light of Your word, rather than according to what I think needs to be done. In Your precious name, amen.

For more information on Pastor Matt, click on the following link.

Check out the website for Pastor Matt’s church at the following link.


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