“I am convinced that 90% of pastors should not be pastors. So if you can do anything else other than preaching the Word, do it. Why? Because you won’t stay in it if you can do other things.”
Pastor Lance D. Sparks of Christ Community Church in West Covina, California has stern warnings for those who are considering the pastorate. It’s because he understands that unless one has an all-consuming call to the ministry, they will leave when the call becomes a challenge.
“One of the worst things for a church is for its shepherd to leave. Continuity breeds believability.”
As founder and pastor of Christ Community Church for twenty-eight years now, Sparks knows plenty about longevity. But preaching the Word is not something the one-time baseball coach and college dean thought he would be doing with his life. So how did he become a pastor?
From Baseball Coach to Pastor
After graduating from Washington Bible College in 1980, Sparks served the Bible college in various capacities, including director of recruitment, baseball coach, and dean. This offered him opportunities to interact with many college students and he realized he had a desire to serve them better.
At the same time that Sparks was realizing he wanted a graduate education that would benefit his many roles, Dr. Larry Crabb was creating the Institute of Biblical Counseling at Grace Theological Seminary (GTS). In fact, Sparks signed up the very first year the program was offered
A Biblical Counseling degree in hand, Sparks would return to Washington Bible College and then to King’s College in New York, utilizing all he learned at Grace. What he discovered was surprising. “The more I taught the word of God, the more I wanted to preach the Word of God.”
This would lead to him accepting a position as an associate pastor in California. Counseling was his primary role until he became a senior pastor and then decided to plant Christ Community Church, where he continues to serve as their senior pastor. But what happened at Grace that contributed to all these transitions?
To Grace and Beyond
Though he may have planned on using his graduate degree to better engage with students at Washington Bible College, Sparks did not foresee the desire Grace professors would instill in him to study and share God’s Word.
It was their collective influence on tackling weighty matters of scripture that enamored Sparks with a desire to study the Bible even more intensely. Meanwhile, he also met Grace baseball coach Tom Roy and joined the staff, offering him even more experience working with college students.
The greatest lesson he learned while at Grace was one borne out of suffering. He remembers Dr. Crabb’s teaching that “suffering burns out shallowness and superficiality.” This was something he would personally experience when his wife received a cancer diagnosis shortly thereafter and died just fifteen months later.
Years later, Sparks is still teaching these lessons of suffering to his church, understanding that God draws us to Himself and that it sometimes happens through our suffering. Even as he encourages people to read their Bibles, Sparks knows “there is a divine side to Scripture reading, where God is driving us back to Himself and His Word.”
The Joys (and Challenges) of Preaching the Word
When asked to share the successes of the past decades of ministry, he immediately points out that longevity is key. Staying long enough to see preaching the Word of God do its work, people growing and coming to Christ, holding one another accountable, calling them to repentance, and seeing them offer forgiveness. These are all successes that Sparks is convinced come from preaching the Word of God faithfully.
“People are also the greatest challenge in ministry,” Sparks acknowledges with a chuckle. Not his church specifically, but people in general. Loving people through rejection and disappointment, counseling people to stay through difficult times, then watching them make poor choices. These circumstances can be discouraging for any pastor, but Sparks is convinced that his work of teaching and preaching the Word makes a positive impact.
In fact, this focus has led him to write a series of books, even though he will quickly admit that he is a preacher and not a writer.
What happens when we preach the Word?
Sparks’ books and his Living Word radio broadcast stem from his sermons. His most recent book, “Contemplating the Christ: A Collection of Christmas and Resurrection Messages” was inspired by “A passion for all to know the Christ.” According to Sparks, “This book is for men and women of all ages, who want to read about the Christ.”
“Contemplating the Christ” is the latest of Pastor Sparks’ three books focusing on the incarnation of Christ. He is quick to remind us that how we celebrate the first coming will determine how we anticipate the second coming.
In fact, his books were developed out of the needs he saw in his own congregation. The first book in this series, “Commemorating the Christ”, was used for evangelism, while this most recent book has helped church guests understand the importance of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. He intends for his congregation to use these books as tools while he continues to do the very things he feels passionately called to do – preach and teach.
If Sparks could do anything other than preach the Word, he would. But he knows that this is precisely what he is called to do. He is also very quick to give credit to his wife of thirty-six years, Laurie, whose support behind the scenes has made his ministry tenure possible. She was part of the reason he wrote his very first book, “God’s Hope for Your Home”, a book he uses to counsel families. Sparks points out the integral nature of ministry at home, noting that without a successful marriage, his ministry to his eight children and 17 grandchildren would not be possible.
“Everyone coming from seminary assumes they should become pastors, as if this is the only option. But I see it differently,” said Sparks. “The Church is an all-or-nothing commitment and demands 100% from its pastors. It comes with a call to study the Word of God and to teach it faithfully.”
To know Christ and to make Him known. That’s also been the mission of Grace Theological Seminary since the very beginning. This same mission is impressed upon every pastor and ministry leader who graduates from our school. Learn more about a Biblical Counseling degree from GTS and discover the joy of a lifetime of ministry.