Naperville pastors write book to help people find their way back to God
Naperville pastors, brothers write book to help people find their way back to God
"You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." -- St. Augustine
Dave Kratowicz had tried reading the Bible and going to church, but it just didn't seem to have any effect on his life. He had grown up in a Christian home but rebelled after his parents divorced.
Kratowicz started college three times and never finished. He spent the next 15 years partying and job hopping.
"I knew there was something else," he said. "I definitely felt there was a longing to be loved."
Then last summer, Kratowicz and his girlfriend of several years visited Community Christian Church in Naperville. Kratowicz said they knew right away that something was different from their past church experiences.
"It just felt like the place we needed to be," he said. "The difference is they're welcoming and they're friendly."
Kratowicz and his girlfriend, Cathryn Boone, took the church's Alpha course for people who have questions about God as well as a Life Map class. They kept attending the weekend services.
"Things started falling into place," Kratowicz said.
Kratowicz and Boone asked Jesus into their lives and were baptized Thanksgiving weekend. They now invite their friends to church, greet others as part of the church's First Impressions ministry, sponsor a child through Compassion International, and are part of the church's small group fellowships.
"We said we would never be in a small group. Now we're in two and leading one," Kratowicz said. "I was such a partyer and crazy person. Now I just want to love people, help them and bring them to church."
It's a spiritual journey that Dave and Jon Ferguson have seen thousands take since they founded Community Christian Church 25 years ago.
The two brothers started meeting with a few college friends in the cafeteria of Naperville Central High School. Community Christian now has 13 campuses in Chicago and the suburbs, including Naperville's Yellow Box campus, Ogden Avenue at Rickert Drive, and Wentz Concert Hall in downtown Naperville, and 10,000 people who identify Community Christian as their church home.
Dave Ferguson, Community Christian's lead pastor, said the brothers founded the church with a vision for growth.
"We wanted to impact the community in a positive way," he said. "We also wanted to help start other churches."
As more people came to God through the church's ministry, Dave and Jon Ferguson said they noticed a pattern -- a journey that everyone seemed to take with distinct steps along the way. That journey is the subject of their new book, "Finding Your Way Back to God: 5 Awakenings to Your New Life."
"The phrase 'finding your way back to God' always seemed to resonate with people," Jon Ferguson said.
In preparing to write the book, they videotaped 25 people's stories to study them more closely. Drawing on the videotaped stories as well as the stories of other people they know, they have sprinkled the book with accounts of real people's journeys to trust and faith in God.
That journey, which they say is also illustrated by Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), is marked by five awakenings.
The first awakening is to unfulfilled longings -- a longing for love, for purpose, for answers to the troublesome questions of life such as why God would permit suffering. There's nothing wrong with the longings, but people often try to fulfill them in ways that lead them away from God, they say.
"God gave us these longings," Jon Ferguson said. "What's wrong is how we try to pursue these longings."
The second awakening is to regret. People finding their way back to God know they've messed up and have things they would like to do over. It's a cycle some people have a hard time getting past, Dave Ferguson said.
The third awakening is to the need for help. Like an alcoholic going through a 12-step program, the spiritual traveler recognizes the need for a higher power.
The fourth awakening is the realization that God deeply loves the person he is drawing to himself despite anything in the person's past.
"Finding your way back to God is not about getting your act together or getting more religious," the Fergusons say in their book. "Finding your way back to God is for you if you want to discover an unconditional love so powerful it can transform how you think and feel every day."
Finally, the fifth awakening is to life as it's meant to be lived, to an identity as a child of God.
The Fergusons say the journey they've observed crosses all socioeconomic, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Pointing to a Gallup poll that says 92 percent of Americans believe in God, although increasing numbers check "none" on forms that ask for their religious affiliation, Dave Ferguson said many are drawn to an investigative faith rather than an inherited faith.
Even those who already have made commitments of faith repeat the steps of the journey as they continue to find and stay close to God, Dave Ferguson said.
"I think people are pretty much all the same," he said.
Brothers in ministry
The Fergusons count themselves among the prodigals of the world, although their journey to God has not been marked by long detours. The sons of a pastor, they grew up within the church and found it a positive experience. Their father now serves as a campus pastor with Community Christian.
The Ferguson brothers graduated from Lincoln Christian College and Wheaton Graduate School, which they still were attending when they founded Community Christian as an independent church not affiliated with a denomination.
Dave and Jon Ferguson can josh one another like brothers, but they say they have always been close and even spent a year as roommates in college. Dave, who is two years older, defines himself as the visionary. In addition to Community Church, he is founder of a church planting movement called NewThing and president of Exponential Conference, a community of leaders dedicated to accelerating church multiplication.
Jon Ferguson, a teaching pastor in Community Christian's Chicago network, says he is more of the strategist -- figuring out how to get things done -- and the architect for the NewThing church planting movement.
Prior to "Finding Your Way Back to God," the brothers co-authored three books on church leadership.
Asked why Community Christian is growing while so many churches are losing members, the brothers say people need to see faith lived out in real life.
"Our hope is they're seeing, hearing and experiencing authentic faith," Jon Ferguson said. "We recognize we don't all have our act together. We're all in this together."
Dave Ferguson said 75 percent of those who call Community Church home belong to small group fellowships, where they develop real friendships. The married father of three children, he said in his own small group fellowship he can share with other parents of teens the difficulties as well as the good times in raising adolescents.
"When you encounter a real relationship with God, not just a religion, (it's) a very, very compelling thing," he said. "You've got to be real. You've got to be accessible. You've go to be authentic about your own stuff."
Community Christian also makes use of social and electronic media. One hundred percent of newcomers to the church have checked out its website first, Dave Ferguson said.
Some are attracted to the church's commitment to make a positive impact on the community. On one weekend in October at the beginning of the church's fiscal year, Community Christian dedicates the entire weekend's offerings to selected charitable causes. Some people come that weekend just to be part of the offering, Dave Ferguson said.
"Every year, it's a record offering. It's four or five times our regular offering," he said.
Church services on all 13 campuses focus each week on one "Big Idea" or theme that also is discussed in small groups. For instance during March, each Sunday's message is devoted to one of the five awakenings. Too often churchgoers are presented with so many "little ideas" that none of them stick, Dave Ferguson said.
Lyn Harvie-Filbey, who describes herself as still being on the journey toward faith, said she appreciates the teaching she receives while attending one of Community Christian's Chicago campuses. She grew up in Scotland in a nonreligious family, but she and her former husband started attending another Chicago church in an effort to help their floundering marriage. After her divorce, she left the other church and a friend invited her to Community Christian. She is now involved in a small group.
"I learn something," she said. "I'm getting a better understanding."
Community Christian's services also include plenty of music and use of the arts, Jon Ferguson said. But what seems to be most compelling to many newcomers is the welcome they receive. Although still on her own faith journey, Harvie-Filbey said she plans to get involved with the church's hospitality ministry.
"They're so good to you, you want to help," she said.
Harvie-Filbey said she is in the process of reading "Finding Your Way Back to God" and can relate to the journey it describes. "I definitely had some moments in the book that were eye-opening," she said. "Hearing other people's stories, it's very easy to see yourself in their shoes."
The book urges its readers to take a "30-day wager," by praying daily during that time, "God if you are real, then make yourself real to me." Dave Ferguson said he hopes the book encourages many readers to take that step. "Our hope is for a whole lot of people, this book will be a help to them on their journey," he said.
"Finding Your Way Back to God" is available at Anderson's, amazon.com, Christian Book Distributors, Barnes and Noble, and other retail outlets.