Seeing God at work through church merger

John BarberVideo specialist John Barber is among the 1.1 million people in Florida who call themselves Southern Baptist. As part of our ongoing “Closer Look” series, Reporter Nicole Kalil talks with him about the church planting process, his church’s recent merger and rebranding, his passion for men’s ministry and the different seasons of his own spiritual life. A portion of this interview appears in our Aug. 25-Sept. 14 print edition. The full transcript of our edited conversation appears below.

Tell me about your job.

I work for Elemental Technologies as a solution architect. I work with the sales team and with customers to design video solutions. The solutions we design are for people who have video and want to distribute them to iPhone, TV, iPad, etc. Ten years ago you only watched video on TV and now you can watch it on pretty much anything. We help companies push that content out to wherever they want it to go. I’ve been with Elemental Technologies five years this month.

What’s the next big thing in video streaming?

The next really big thing is 4K. If you have HD resolution and it’s 1,000 pixels—this is four times as dense. It actually hurts your head if you stand too close to it. That’s the next big thing, and then the thing that’s continuing to grow is the ability to watch videos whenever and wherever you want to. Those are the two things we are driving toward. More people are watching TV on the internet than through a broadcaster. We’re trying to help the broadcasters get their people back and at the same time help the others stream better. It’s like selling guns to both sides.

You are one of the founding members of Covenant Community Church, which last year became The Church @ 434. What were some of the reasons behind the creation of Covenant Community?

We started in a living room, like a lot of things like that do. We were a small group of roughly 25 people. Those are the facts. As far as the motivations, I’m a big supporter of belonging to the church, but it just didn’t seem like the church was getting the job done. It was more about committees than community. It seemed like it would be better to try something different and fail than to go on the way we were going. Most people didn’t even give us six months. We wanted to get away from an emphasis on infrastructure. We just felt called to do something different. There was no need to create another of something that was already out there. That was basically the motivation. Part of it, too, was the people who started the church were already a tight-knit community of families intertwined with each other. We thought, we’ll see how far we get—we’ll give it a shot and see what happens.

How have things been going since you became The Church @ 434? Have you been surprised by your progress this year?

It’s been a year this month. The biggest problem we have is running out of space. The thing that I thought was most interesting was how the two organizations have come together. I didn’t have intimate knowledge of the other organization; I only knew ours. Together we have evolved into something completely new. When we came up with the idea of a “surge”—we didn’t want to use the word “merge”—part of what happened was we became something different than what we were before. The DNA changed. It was interesting and for the good. We thought we had it good to begin with, and it was really neat to watch that happen. Our history as Covenant Community was meeting in storefronts, houses, tents—it didn’t really matter. It was about the body of Christ and not the building. What we found was that we picked up a lot more people with a building. We didn’t change styles or ministries, but we have a lot more people coming in the door. That seemed interesting because we didn’t think location had a lot to do with it; we thought it was relationships. People still came the same way—they were invited. We didn’t do something new to get them in the door. People are still looking for something—a building with a steeple on it. The other thing is the DNA changed. The people we merged with are precious gifts God gave us and it just worked—the timing was perfect. It was interesting to see God create something new out of two different things. Covenant Community was founded the same year FBC Winter Springs was founded. They had a lot of strengths, and we had a lot of strengths—even as homeless as we were. We had a lot of ministries, and they were ministry challenged. All our weaknesses became their strengths, and all our strengths were their weaknesses. It was weird to see it all on paper. God put it together, and it was interesting how it came together. We’ve spent a lot of time looking at this, and we can’t explain it. We gave them our worst-case scenario, and they were like, “Sounds good.” God paved the entire way.

What does your role at church look like these days?

I have an official role on the board of directors. If you pull the church’s paperwork, you see me on there. We’re set up differently than most churches. Our goal isn’t to go in and tell [the pastor] he needs to do this or that. Our role is to give [the staff] the tools they need to be successful. Our goal is to make their jobs easier and to help them succeed and give them what they need and encourage them. As for my personal ministry, it would be ministering to men. We do projects and men’s stuff in the church. We’re eagerly trying to get the guys engaged in doing things. That ministry goes outside of [The Church @434], too—that’s what my personal ministry is. Most men are eager to grow and look for opportunities to grow, so I just provide them with those opportunities. It’s an easy job.

Your church is known in your community—and beyond—for some of the amazing events you all put on. What do you like most about the events and what event would you say is your favorite?

They all hit totally different areas of the community in different ways. The Christmas store is for people who are financially challenged. The Easter egg hunt is just a big party. I’m Mr. Easter! Every time I read the Easter story I get goose bumps—that’s a heck of a story! My personal favorite is [the Halloween] Face the Fear House. We get to interact with people who would never in a million years interact with the church, so that’s my favorite. It lets us interact with people who don’t have a good impression of church. The reaction we get when they find out [Face the Fear] is put on by a church is awesome. They say, “You guys are crazy.” Yeah, a little bit.

You mentioned that your involvement in men’s ministry goes beyond what you do at church—tell me about that.

I’ve worked with Man in the Mirror for 25 years—that’s really where my passion is. Man in the Mirror is a nondenominational, Christian nonprofit organization trying to build disciple-makers within the construct of churches throughout the U.S. It started as a Bible study 30 years ago in Orlando and then grew into an organization. The little piece I work with is the Bible study here. I’m working with people who want to be discipled or want to disciple. It’s just 2 Timothy 2:2—invest in the men who invest in others. That’s where my fire is. A lot of that is outside The Church @ 434, but some overlap exists.

With a demanding job, ministry in and out of church and a family, how do you keep up with everything?

My wife—that’s what it comes down to. All my daughters are grown up and off the payroll, and with them being gone I travel 50-80 percent of the time. You’re constantly out of balance, and you focus on where you’re out of balance. It’s just a constant staying with it. You’re always aware where you’re out of balance. Part of balancing is pre-planning—you are where you put yourself spiritually, financially, anything. The relationships I’ve built over the years really help, too. Most guys don’t build relationships after they get out of college. Their relationships revolve around their kids or their job. But then the kids grow up and move away and relationships change. The job changes and relationships change. I find it’s hard to have strong relationships with the Lord without accountability in these other relationships.

Do you have a go-to Bible verse or life precept?

My life philosophy is that life is full of chapters. It’s not about being successful in any one chapter but navigating between them. Whatever the challenge is for the season, I’ve found a verse to guide me. When my kids were growing up it was in Joshua [24:15]—“As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” Someday I want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The one I don’t want is like in Job when God and Satan have a conversation about you. That’s just no good. I don’t ever want to be the topic of conversation there. For now it’s 2 Timothy 2:2– invest in reliable men who invest in others. In the last five years that’s where I center, I’d say. But it changes. I travel a lot, and God always throws in a circumstance to show me something new. I’m a big Genesis guy—it’s a guy thing. We like to see how things are built and where it all went wrong. It’s weird how God picks the right verse at the right moment. Life is very challenging. I couldn’t do it without [my pastor] and the church. [My pastor] really equips us for the real world. Not just him but the philosophy that we can do this, it works and when you mess up, let’s come back and re-launch again.

Florida Baptist Witness Reporter Nicole Kalil can be reached at 904-596-3169, nkalil@goFBW.com and on Twitter @FBWNicole.

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