Ryan Haack, associate pastor at The Journey (Madison Metro Foursquare Church) in Madison, Wis., knows what it’s like to overcome limitations in life. The 33-year-old pastor and father of three with his wife, Julie, was born missing part of his left arm, just below the elbow. That made him more determined in a lot of ways, he says, and also more reliant on God.
And though there are some things he can’t do, such as play the guitar, he has never wallowed in self-pity. There are plenty of other things he can do, like play the piano. In fact, he says, he has never really thought much about his arm and how different it made him.
Ryan’s resilient disposition is carried into his ministry, as he strives to bring healing to those who are hurting. This focus, he notes, and his call to ministry, go back to high school, when he went on an inner-city missions trip and came face to face with people in desperate need.
“My heart is to bring healing and wholeness to people,” Ryan tells Foursquare.org. “I consider myself a broken person who has as many insecurities and struggles as the next person, but I believe Jesus can pierce through our circumstances and fill us with grace, joy and purpose. There are a lot of people in our community who have struggled, or are currently struggling, through many different types of issues. It’s my honor to care for them and help them through their hurt, to bring them to Jesus, and watch them grow.”
A man named Tom is just one of many examples. A few years ago, when the church ran a coffee/pizza shop, Tom volunteered to help out. Formerly very successful, he had become addicted to drugs and lost everything, and was homeless. Ryan says the church was happy to give him a chance—many chances, actually.
“We caught Tom stealing from the register on a number of occasions, and even found him smoking crack in the office at one point,” Ryan recalls. “He was always dumbfounded when we forgave him and asked him to stay. He points to that forgiveness and persistence as to why he believes in Jesus.”
Eventually Tom turned himself in to the police, and has been in jail since. Ryan says that a number of people keep in touch with him, and that his faith is still strong. They look forward to when he will be released and able to join the church community again.
Ryan and Julie helped plant The Journey in 2004, along with Senior Pastor Steve Cecil and his wife, Kim. Outreaches to the community have included going door-to-door, asking what needs could be met; hosting pancake breakfasts for hundreds of college students; handing out free coffee at football games; holding “Kidz in the Park” events in the summer; and serving food to the homeless in a park downtown.
“We don’t desire to see theoretical life change,” Ryan affirms. “We want to see actual life change that manifests itself in action. Whether that means sharing Jesus with your co-workers or family members, hosting a BBQ at your home or apartment complex, or going to help at the orphanage we partner with in Haiti, our faith should be action-oriented, and we are seeing that in our community. We are seeing people who are changed by Christ sharing that change in their lives with others.”
Ryan is quick to point out how crucial the Word of God is to effect change. That is one reason why—in addition to his personal ministry emphases of pastoral care and writing—he enjoys teaching so much.
“I love the Bible and believe in its power to change us,” Ryan explains. “One of my joys in ministry is helping our community see things in Scripture that they haven’t seen before. Or perhaps they’ve seen it, but not from the perspective I’m presenting it. If I’m able to get people to think critically and personally about what Scripture says to them, I’m a happy man.”
Ryan offers some good advice to fellow associate pastors who want to stay happy in ministry: (1) cultivate your relationship with God; (2) stay connected to your senior pastor; and (3) invest in your people, those to whom you are ministering as well as those whom you lead.
“It’s vitally important that those who volunteer their time and abilities know how appreciated they are,” Ryan advises. “They could be doing anything with their time. They are choosing to assist you in helping people grow in their faith instead of any number of other endeavors. That fact still amazes and humbles me. See how amazing people are and tell them that. Thank them for being so awesome.”
It’s just as crucial, Ryan notes, to avoid potential ministry pitfalls by keeping several things in mind: (1) remember your family is your ministry; (2) watch your ego; and (3) realize you can’t do everything.
“Just as it is an incredible feeling to affect people in a positive way, we have to remember it won’t always go well,” Ryan notes. “People are people, and oftentimes they don’t respond how we’d like them to.
“It can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening to witness a person not heeding your advice and continuing in a destructive pattern in his or her life,” he continues. “But just as I give Jesus the praise and thanks for being able to help, I need to come to Him with the frustration and sadness of not being able to help.”
Again, Ryan’s resiliency is evident here. He illustrates well the fact that you can always bounce back, if you keep your eyes on the ultimate goal.
“My greatest joy is helping people, period,” he asserts. “It still amazes and humbles me to know that people trust me enough to share their struggles and ask for my advice. I love telling people over and over and over: ‘Go to Jesus. We can do a thousand different things to fix whatever problem is at hand, but first, go to Jesus.’ I love being able to reassert Christ’s centrality in our lives and see the results of that simple truth.”
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles