“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
– Matthew 17:20 (NIV)
When you’re in the thick of a problem, these encouraging words from Jesus can seem about as far from possible as mountains actually are from downtown St. Paul. When you’re in the thick of a problem (or honestly, even when you’re not) and you read this passage, it’s almost laughable. You can just imagine standing at the foot of the Rocky Mountains being like, “Move, you guys.” They’d be all like, “Hmm, let us think about that for a second…um…no.”
This last year, Woodland celebrated our 25th birthday. Over those years, there have definitely been problems that, in the moment, felt like immovable mountains. In 2004 Greg delivered a sermon series called “The Cross and the Sword” that led to about 1000 people leaving the church. It was extremely challenging for the church, and not just for a few weeks – for a long, rough time. The relational and financial challenges that resulted were huge, and if we’re honest, hope seemed a far away comforter.
“The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” Ecclesiastes 7:8
Patience + faith is really one of the best combinations. The way God so uniquely and masterfully provides in the end always pales in comparison to the trial itself (i.e. Jesus crucified, resurrecting from the dead and defeating Satan). We stand back and look with awe at the mountains God moved for Woodland during those challenging times when so many people left the church. Two years after it happened, the NY Times published an article about Greg’s beliefs on the Church’s role in politics. Nearly overnight, people from around the world came out of nowhere to join the Woodland Hills family through our podcast (our website server crashed from the traffic that followed the coverage!). We knew God had big plans for our church, but we never knew that they would reach so far beyond our building!
We began to call them our “podrishioners,” a term that has stuck ever since. Our “podrishioner-ship” grew steadily and continued to thrive. But in 2010 after the economy tanked, we were having trouble meeting our annual budget and praying for solutions. Thanks to some creative thinking (and some inspiration from the MN Public Radio annual member drive), we began asking our podrishioners to consider financially supporting our ministry. That year, we had 124 people give over $87,000. This was a huge provision, getting us through that difficult time! We’ve continued our “Sustain Campaign” every year since then. Last year, we had 382 Sustainers (from 19 different countries!).
People become Sustaining Podrishioners because the message God speaks through Woodland is moving something in their lives too. If you attend Woodland Hills regularly, it can be easy to forget that the message of a radically loving God is as rare as it is in churches today. Yet most Sustainers talk about how their picture of God was changed significantly through listening to the messages. We hear stories of people ready to give up on Jesus entirely and walk away from the church forever, but rediscovering hope. We receive testimonies of people incredibly frustrated by having their questions and doubts overlooked or judged, finding community at a place that welcomes them to think critically. We are amazed at how God has moved people out of deep depression, anxiety and suicidal thinking because of our podcast.
One person meant to give a donation to Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, MO. He gave a gift online (to our church) but thought it was for his own church. After discovering the error, he called and chatted with us about who we are and all the activity that happens in our building/community. In the end he decided he didn’t want the gift back – and it was no small amount, either!
It is truly mountainous what God has done through this ministry that we never could have anticipated or planned on. About 1500 people attend our services on the weekends. But from their computers, tablets, phones and ear buds, thousands of people from around the globe tune in every week too. As hard as it might be to believe, no matter what problem we may be facing in our lives right now, God has a promise and even better provision waiting for us on the other side. Have faith in that and believe us: he moves mountains!