If church is a car, many pastors probably see themselves as the steering wheel, but not Bernie Federmann—he views himself more like the ignition switch. “I speak to the spark in people,” he says.
“That spark is that which the Holy Spirit puts inside of people, and when we have the right atmosphere, the right fuel and the right containment, there can be this catalytic result when we multiply,” he adds. “We discern what God is already doing inside a person, what He has placed in their heart, and we listen well to the dreams and passions they possess. It’s about the kingdom moving forward, and how we can mobilize people into meaningful places of service both inside and outside the walls of the church.”
Bernie’s approach has seen Lompoc Foursquare Church in Lompoc, Calif.—where he marks 30 years as senior pastor this fall—become renowned for its involvement in the community, from hosting its own block parties to serving meals to the needy and helping out at countless other groups’ events.
“It doesn’t have to be faith-based,” he explains. “If a group has the right heart to serve and add value to our town, then we will come alongside and help them. We let our lives and our love do the preaching,” he says.
The hope is that “we will love people so well that eventually they will ask us why, and then we will tell them about our Savior, who gave His life for us.” This, coupled with a heart to allow people to find their place to serve, has seen the church grow to around 800, with three Sunday services.
Leading by example has been key. “I never ask anyone to do anything I haven’t done first, whether that’s cleaning up alleyways or working on parks,” says Bernie, who is chaplain to the city police and fire departments and an honorary commander at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The emphasis on practical service draws more members into ministry. “Some people say they have nothing to contribute when they think of ministry and leadership, so we ask them, ‘How would you like to hand out cotton candy and watch kids smile?’ It raises up a culture of servanthood.”
To create an explosion, a spark needs fuel and containment, which Bernie identifies as clear vision and systems, respectively.
The church works hard to communicate opportunities for involvement and vision for community ministry efforts well in advance of events and then, using video, reports back enthusiastically on how things went. Additionally, there is a discipleship program to develop people in their gifts, and a team emphasis that encourages members to connect through affinity groups.
At the same time, Bernie doesn’t believe in being controlling. “Of course we have to have systems, and we organize well, but if you micromanage, people will feel that sense of the heavy hand,” he observes. “If we believe in people and release them, and then affirm them, we can witness a catalytic culture growing in our midst, and it is amazing.” Bernie believes it is important to “keep [my] hands on the culture, and guard the vision and mission we have.”
Bernie focuses on pegs rather than holes—the people and their gifts, not the programs. “We don’t try to fill spots,” he says. “We are real big on finding where God is working and developing a life, and we come alongside and invest in them.
“We try to listen to the Holy Spirit and speak to the spark in their heart,” he continues. “If we can find out what the spark is, as Paul says in 2 Timothy we fan into flames the gifts that He has given. That is our assignment as leaders. If I am looking for someone to fill something for children but their real passion is technology, I would be a foolish leader to place them in that hole.”