Compendent is doing a series of interviews with the staff of Sunridge Community Church in Temecula, California. The purpose of this series is to get a sense of how a growing Christian church has put together a group of uniquely gifted individuals to help the church make an impact in its community, and who can also help their operations run more smoothly. For this interview talked with Britt Sipe, the church’s Lead Pastor.
You’ve been at Sunridge for many years, but only became the Lead Pastor a few years ago. How did that come about?
My wife and I moved to Temecula in 1989 and it wasn’t long after that we joined Sunridge. We were really attracted to the children and student ministries at the time, and the casual, “real-people” vibe it had. As a former associate minister in Huntington Beach, but at that time a firefighter, we jumped into serving wherever there were needs: junior high leader, small-groups director, occasional teacher, executive pastor, even interim pastor for a year. I wore a lot of hats over the years but never really saw myself as the “lead.”
That changed in 2014 after Sunridge experienced a particularly painful and devastating leadership transition. It was then that I first felt a “nudge” from God. It was more of a prayerful consideration at first. I just started wondering if my history at Sunridge, along with my wiring, spiritual gifts, and experiences could be utilized in a way to serve Sunridge through this season. Once I settled that question, I applied, went through the process with other pastoral candidates – and the rest is history. This December marks year five of my serving in the role of Lead Pastor.
How would you describe yourself as a pastor?
I hope I’m a good shepherd first; someone who cares deeply about the spiritual welfare of people. But after that, I think I’m a pastor who’s lived a real-world life. By that I mean, because of some of my experiences in the fire department, I have an atypical perspective as a pastor. I know what it’s like to struggle in living out my faith in the work-world. I understand the kind of pressures people who aren’t in “full-time ministry” experience. My own struggles to be ambitious and advance, while being a good dad and husband, are still fresh in my mind. I hope all of that adds up to make me a pastor who’s relatable.
As a former firefighter, what skills did you develop that have translated well into church leadership?
Being a firefighter taught me that there are things that happen that I have no control over, and all I can do is my very best to help as many people as I possibly can. I also learned a lot at the end of my career about executive leadership. We can’t be everywhere all the time, so we have to trust our people to lead and make decisions.
Translated, that means the people with the most information about a ministry or department should be the ones who make the decisions for that area. People are sometimes a little flabbergasted when they realize that I don’t make all the decisions at the church. We use the phrase, “humble-confidence” around the office. It means we have to be humble enough to realize that we’re not perfect or all-knowing, but we are the people God has placed in the position to make the call, so we need to make the decision! We have such a capable team right now, so honestly, allowing them to take ownership of their areas is easy. The best thing I can do is to make sure they have what they need to get things done!
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
I’m the happiest when a staffer or volunteer leader accomplishes something that really stretched them. Seeing them succeed is super rewarding. I love stories of transformation too—when someone responds to the gospel, or takes on a big challenge because of the gospel. We call those “bell-ringers.”
I had a bell installed in the office soon after taking on the lead pastor role. (I wonder where that idea came from?) That bell is to be rung by anyone with a story of transformation or one that is especially inspiring. Once the bell is rung, staff has one minute to congregate by the bell, and the “ringer” has two minutes to tell us the story. It’s just one way to celebrate the rewarding things we all get to be a part of. (Of late I’ve been thinking of installing the Sunridge logo over the exit doors so we can jump up and slap it on the way out, but I’m told that may be taking it a little too far!)
How has this position challenged you?
You’d think a “salty old ex-firefighter” would have seen-it-all-done-it-all, but I’m challenged by this job every day. I’m most challenged by the need to “lead relationally.” In the fire department, authority comes from rank, but in ministry it’s really all about relationships. It’s a volunteer organization for one, but it’s also a passion-driven organization. Leading in a church is all about people.
I’m also challenged by the level of excellence our staff brings every day. It’s a challenge to keep up with the level of professionalism, excellence, and passion they have for the mission God has given us.
There are a lot of churches in the Temecula Valley. What would you say makes Sunridge special?
There are some truly wonderful churches in this valley; I hope we’re one of them. I hope we still have that same casual and accepting vibe that we first had. I hope we’re a church that is safe for people to explore faith in, and also grow in Christlikeness. But, the thing that makes Sunridge special to me is the personal bond I feel for the people here. They are family. They are the reason I left the fire department to lead here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.