Pastoring a Community

Twenty-one-year-old Monty Sears sat in the parking lot of Oroville First Assembly of God late one Saturday evening. He hurled another beer bottle to the ground and watched the shards scatter, racing across the asphalt.

Thirty-four years later, Pastor Monty Sears roams through the parking lot of Christian Faith Center in Nampa, Idaho, gathering the litter his own community has left behind. It has become a routine for Pastor Monty. “I personally walk and pick up beer cans, beer bottles, cigarette butts, and every time I do I just smile,” he shares. “Because 34 years ago, those were mine.”

Partying with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Monty had no personal relationship with God in his early life. In his teen years, drugs and alcohol became his authority, and partying became a frequent hobby—until one Sunday evening, shortly after his 21st birthday. Just 24 hours after throwing his beer bottle across the parking lot, Monty returned to Oroville First Assembly of God to attend the evening service with his best friend. That Sunday, Monty met His Lord and became a devoted disciple of a new authority.

Immediately, God began to use the young man to change lives. “I stopped throwing parties,” says Monty, “but I didn’t stop going to parties. I would literally take Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with me, and I led a bunch of my partying friends to Jesus.” As a transformed believer, Monty was filled with the Holy Spirit’s redemptive power and anxious to share it.

Doctor’s Orders

As Monty’s life progressed into adulthood, responsibilities and obligations surfaced. He moved to Arizona to help his mother adjust after his parents’ divorce. While there, Monty met and married his wife Kelli. He also started a career in construction and began building a comfortable life for his growing family.

One afternoon, Monty bent over to pick up a trowel and felt a sudden and intense pain race up his spine. He had ruptured a disc in his lower back. “Mr. Sears,” his doctor said, “life as you know it is over. You are never going to do construction again.” Monty remembers the questions swelling in his mind—questions about his future, his career, his family. “I was in the darkest hour of my entire life with my livelihood taken from me,” says Monty, “then God reminded me of a call He had placed on my life when I first got saved.” God was leading him into ministry.

Today, the Sears family has spent 26 years pastoring three churches, and each has been drastically impacted by the Sears’ dedication to the community. Pastor Monty first served as a youth pastor, and the group grew from 11 teenagers to 140 in just three years. Later, as a senior pastor, he baptized 800 people in the Colorado River in three years. “We just saw a move of God that was way, way, way beyond us!” he says. Pastor Monty also invested in the homeless community, opening a “miracle home” to help men and women find work and recover from past addictions and trials. “It’s all about empowering your people,” he says, “teaching them how to make a difference with the influence God has given them.” For Pastor Monty, an individual’s history carries no weight. It’s their future he cares about.

Navigating to Nampa

“God can only trust you with what you’re willing to let go of.” Pastor Monty reflected on the message he had just preached as he drove home one hot Sunday afternoon. While a warm breeze whisked through the windows, he heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “Son, do you believe what you just preached?” Pastor Monty responded, “Well, I knew I was being set up, but I think I do.” On that day, God directed the Sears family towards a new chapter in their ministry, asking them to let go of their life in Arizona and to trust in Him—and they immediately obeyed.

Then, six miserable months followed with no clear direction as to where God was calling the family. Pastor Monty always had a heart for his hometown—Oroville, California—so the Sears relocated there after leaving Arizona. Still, nothing. As Pastor Monty browsed through job listings, one finally caught his eye. Senior pastor. Christian Faith Center. Nampa, Idaho. “I’d never been to the state,” he says. “To be quite honest, I didn’t even know where it was on the map.” In spite of this, he sent in an application.

Following a detailed hiring process, Pastor Monty became the new senior pastor of Christian Faith Center. Once they arrived, the Sears “jumped in, and the church immediately started to grow.” “We had several very undeniable signs this was God’s will,” says Pastor Monty. Nine years later, the congregation has grown from 300 people at one campus to 4,000 across five campuses. “People are getting saved every single Sunday,” he says. “God is really blessing us.”

“CEP saved us $3,000 a month”

Throughout his ministry, Pastor Monty is often reminded that “the will of God is always one step outside your comfort zone.” In fact, God’s will has frequently led him right out his church doors and into the real, raw world. “Exposure equals opportunity,” he says. “Eighty-five percent of our growth is from people getting born again. We have about four or five thousand people who call Christian Faith Center home, and the majority of them are brand new Christians.” However, while Christian Faith Center’s church body continued to grow, the church’s income increased at a more gradual rate. So when Pastor Monty began to look for a company to refinance their loan, he did so with financial concerns in hand.

During spring 2013, Christian Faith Center hosted a District Council where Pastor Monty met Gene Haraldsen, a ministry consultant at Church Extension Plan (CEP). Just a few weeks later, the two met again. Gene says, “I saw him again at a Northern California District Council he just happened to attend.” So as Pastor Monty began to communicate with different companies, he remembered the introduction he had with Gene. He picked up the phone and gave Gene a call, unaware of what the conversation would mean for his ministry.

Once CEP completed the refinancing process, Christian Faith Center had thousands of extra dollars to fund their outreach efforts. “I wish I would have known about Church Extension Plan when I was in Arizona!” Monty says. “CEP saved us $3,000 a month, and that has literally meant life to us.”

A Safe Place to Grow

After years of ministry, Pastor Monty says with confidence, “I really believe a good pastor pastors a church. A great pastor pastors a community.” For eight years, Christian Faith Center has given away 200-250 bicycles to underprivileged children for Christmas. In addition, for several years the church has provided gas vouchers for all single moms who visit. Monty Sears has intentionally served his community as well as his congregation, and the more he has endeavored to do so, the more his community and congregation have blended together. “Many of the people who worship at Christian Faith Center met Jesus because of a giving church that met a physical need,” says Pastor Monty. “In the culture of our church, we understand it’s a safe place for all of us to grow.”

Pastor Monty’s commitment to nurturing this type of culture is also reflected in his choice of leadership. Campus Pastor Jordan Hodges was once a meth addict and the target of many local newspapers. Campus Pastor John Mitchell was once hungry and homeless on the streets of San Francisco. Veteran’s Pastor Reed Pacheco was once on 19 medications for depression and various physical afflictions from his military past. They came burdened and broken, but today each of these men have “found a new purpose,” Pastor Reed says. “We don’t attract who we want,” says Pastor Monty, “we attract who we are.”

The Numbers and the Names

As Pastor Monty looks ahead to the future, he dreams of reaching even more people for God’s glory and His Kingdom. “He has a vision for the lost,” says a volunteer in the children’s ministry. Pastor Monty’s goal is to expand Christian Faith Center to seven campuses—two outside Idaho and five within. He specifically hopes to plant a church in Boise within the next two years, recognizing the city’s need for God’s saving grace.

As he pursues these goals, Pastor Monty does so with confidence and peace, knowing his church’s financial future will be able to sustain the congregation’s spiritual growth. “I could not more highly recommend CEP,” he says. “They did not just look at my numbers, they looked at my names. They based their decision to refinance our loan not only on our financial methods, but on the names of the people getting saved. And that means a lot to me to know that I am not just a number, that I am respected as a pastor.” By partnering in ministry, Pastor Monty has the freedom to continue pastoring his community.