Reflections on Our First Sunday

June 4, 2019  |  Luke Simmons

Sunday was a special day, the first in our new building and campus. A bunch of folks have asked how I felt about the day, so I thought it would be helpful for them (and me) to write down some reflections, in no particular order.

#1 – “It’s easy to overestimate what you can accomplish in a day and underestimate what you can accomplish in a decade.”

I first saw this expression on t-shirts commemorating the 10th anniversary of East Valley Bible Church, and I’ve thought of it frequently in recent days.

In 2013 (nearly six years ago), our elders began talking and praying about buying land. Just two years into our eight year lease, they already had the foresight to see that purchasing our own property would be valuable. By early 2014, the land was purchased and we began master planning with debartolo architects.

One of the early exercises Jack Debartolo gave me was to write a narrative imagining somebody experiencing our space (read it here). Looking back at what I wrote over five years ago, it occurs to me that Jack designed exactly the kind of space I imagined.

The vision, planning, foresight, and steady plodding — including many people who have been giving generously and sacrificially for all those years — made this kind of thing possible. Steady plodding pays off.

#2 – The beauty of the church is the people.

I realize that technically, this is redundant. The church literally is the people of God. But in a world that often confuses church with a building or an event, it’s important to highlight that what makes the church truly the church is the people of God.

This shines through to me as I notice how much more beautiful our campus is with people on it. The architecture and design are beautiful in themselves, but they were not intended to be by themselves. These spaces are to be filled with people for ministry. To see them come alive with life and relationship and conversation is spectacular.

#3 – The only time things felt strange was when I was preaching.

I fully expected it to take some time to feel “at home” from the stage, and I was right. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed preaching on Sunday. But it just felt new and different.

Our regulars weren’t sitting in their “typical” places, the room is wider and deeper, and it just took a bit to get my bearings. By the 5pm service, it was already feeling better (sermon video here) and I’m looking forward to settling in up there.

#4 – Our staff and volunteers made the “soft” opening pretty dang amazing.

There were a bunch of little things we learned and saw that can be improved over the coming weeks and months, but I was amazed at how on top of things our staff and volunteers were. Some things even ran smoother than before.

I’m so proud of the hundreds of people who put in thousands of hours of work to plan and prepare. We had over 1,800 people there and it did not feel stressful.

#5 – The prayers of dedication were really special.

To commemorate the beginning of God’s work in this space, I asked a few people to join me in praying to dedicate the building. I was joined at 9:00am by Bonnie Jolly (her and her late husband, Charlie, were the first two people to join Molly and I in planting the church), at 10:45am by Geoffrey and Darcy Wilcoxson, and at 5:00pm by Jimmy and Linda Lau (both the Wilcoxsons and Laus were part of our original launch team and both Geoffrey and Jimmy serve as elders).

I loved the heart they expressed in their prayers. Then I followed with my own prayer of dedication:

You have blessed us far more abundantly beyond all that we’ve asked or thought.
You’ve given us Jesus, our greatest treasure and only hope.
In faith, we’ve trusted you as you’ve provided what we needed to build this building.
Now we ask that you might build us, your church, to be a faithful community of your kingdom.
Please use this campus for your glory in the generations to come.
May these windows be covered in thousands of tiny fingerprints.
May we spill coffee as we lose ourselves in laughter and conversation.
May balloons of celebration get stuck in the rafters.
May the waters of baptism overflow with new life in Jesus.
May many wedding rings be exchanged and many more wedding vows be strengthened.
May the grass be matted down with the joyful feet of youth.
May the carpet catch our tears of gratitude and grief as we mourn those who are entering your presence.
May the bread and the cup enable us to taste and see that Jesus is good.
May these walls hear desperate prayers, and delightful praise.
God, to you be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

#6 – God had a funny way of making Sunday memorable.

All of our previous “first days” had some funny things happen, and this one was no exception. In a day that was largely glitch-free, perhaps the biggest snafu was a “wardrobe malfunction” that, thankfully, almost nobody noticed.

About halfway through the 9:00am sermon, I was bending to the ground as part of an illustration about Watchman Nee when all of a sudden I heard the seam on the groin of my jeans rip open. My legs are big enough that this isn’t all that infrequent (my college nickname was Quadzilla after all), but it was not a welcome moment.

I wasn’t sure if it was small or large and couldn’t stop and do a full examination of the situation, so all I could do was keep talking and try to read the faces of people in the front row to see if they were wide-eyed in horror. Fortunately, nobody reacted, so I figured I was safe. But I still preached the remainder of the sermon standing still behind the table I set my Bible on with the hopes that it might provide me cover.

After I finished preaching, I checked things out and definitely needed a new pair. Thankfully I live close by and my wife was able to run home and save the day. Quite a memory!

#7 – I’m so thankful to be part of Redemption Church

Nearly every week we say something like, “Gateway is one of nine congregations across Arizona that make up Redemption Church.” But many of our people likely don’t know the full extent of blessing that comes through being part of this extended family.

I was especially mindful of it on Sunday. There is absolutely no way that Gateway would have been able to make this move without being part of Redemption Church. Not only have the other leaders provided remarkable amounts of coaching and relational support, but Gateway has been able to build at the scale we have because of the strong balance sheet and financial stewardship of Redemption. I’m excited for more folks from other congregations to stop by and experience the space in the coming months.

I’m so thankful to all who worked hard to make this move happen! May God work in powerful ways in the days and years to come!