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December 23, 2012 / Matt Larson

Stuff my dad taught me (couldn’t think of a better title…)

I’m sure that many of you are aware by now that my parents, Steve and Connie Larson, are stepping down from his role as Senior Pastor at the Bridge (formerly EvFree Conejo Valley). They’ve been there for 34 years as its original church planters, lead pastor/elder and teaching pastor. In that time, my dad has been my pastor, mentor, teacher, elder, boss and friend. I have learned more from watching him teach and lead than I could ever get from $150,000 worth of Bible school, leadership books, seminars and conferences combined. I’ve watched him lead through two major crises in the church’s history, building projects, a church plant, cultural issues, elder challenges, staff changes, vision refinement, transition to multi-site and 34 years of teaching God’s Word.

I’m spending a bit of time reflecting on the impact of the church and my dad in my own spiritual growth, so I thought I’d share some of the learnings. Here you go, I hope they’re interesting enough to read:

When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my dad and I went out to eat at Denny’s in Thousand Oaks. We were getting ready to order and he asked me if I knew what I wanted. I told him that I wanted pancakes and eggs. He said, “Ok, I want you to tell the waitress your order.” When the waitress came over, I buried my face in my menu and mumbled my order to her. My dad told me to look her in the eyes and clearly say my order again. So I did. When she left, he took time to teach me about communicating with people. Looking them in the eyes and speaking clearly to people is a way to communicate respect and to make sure they hear what you’re trying to say. It was a simple lesson, but it stuck with me.

In 5th grade, I went through my dad’s “Foundations of The Faith” class (a class for 5th and 6th graders that he has taught every year for the last 26 or so years). At that early age, my dad taught me about his passion for memorizing Scripture. He talked about John 15 and Philippians 2 like they were a part of his own life and his own story. It was amazing to see Scripture pop off the pages like that, because honestly, up until that point they were just words. I didn’t know what to do with the Bible, but I got a glimpse of what it meant. David talks about how much he loves the Law of the Lord in the book of Psalms. I saw that same love in my dad. At the end of the FOF class, my dad gave us a choice between our own NIV Bible and Haley’s Bible Commentary and he would order it for us. I chose the brown, genuinely fake leather NIV Bible. I still have it on my shelf. I loved that class and I love seeing that Bible. It has the first passages of Scripture that I ever underlined in it!

When I was 15, my dad taught through the book of Acts at EvFree. Up until that point, I hadn’t been too interested in sitting in “Big Church”. Chuckk Gerwig (our youth pastor) was encouraging us to meet up together at one of the three Sunday morning services, then we’d all go to the grassy knoll (a glorified name for the grass patch in front of Judy’s Donuts) and eat lunch together. So I sat through every sermon in the book of Acts. There were times where I joked with my dad about preaching past his 40 minute limit (waaayyyyy past it), but to this day that is the first sermon series where I can remember the teaching. I learned so much about how the story of the Church came together. I learned more about falling in love with the Bible from that series and I really enjoyed being a part of the church.

When I was 19, I had left for college, and I was asked by the EvFree Men’s Ministry to come back to sit on a panel with my dad and my grandpa, Harry Larson. We were asked to talk about faith and generations. Pa’s dad was a pastor. Pa was a faithful follower of Jesus who had eldered and deaconed at churches, served in business and led a missions organization. My dad was a pastor and lifelong follower of Jesus. I was walking with Christ and had just gotten my first ministry position as a youth director. The men of the church asked us questions about disciplining kids, living an example of Christ vs. teaching/telling about him, how faith changed through each generation, and a bunch of other questions. I remember sitting next to my dad and grandpa, and for the first time realizing what a privilege it was to be in a family with deeply rooted faith. For the first time I appreciated that the generations before me had loved Jesus and served his church. That morning shaped a value system for my life and the marriage that I was looking forward to (Kristen and I were dating at the time). It shaped a desire to lead my kids to Christ and to pray through and plan out what that would mean. That was a big day in shaping who I am and how I father my kids.

When I started working as the youth pastor at EvFree, there was an interesting situation at the church. There were essentially two fully functioning youth ministries. There was the “youth group” made up of largely public school kids and the “Awana group” made up of largely homeschool kids. One of the tasks that was assigned to me was to create a single place for these kids to connect with each other and to Christ. Being young and impatient, I wanted my dad (or at that point, my boss) to bring the hammer. I wanted him to use his authority and role to declare that there would only be one student ministry and everyone who didn’t like it could deal with it. My dad sat me down and encouraged me to actually lead people. He talked to me about how with time, investment, shepherding and care we can cast vision and lead and people will unify. That began some of the most challenging 2 1/2 years of my life and ministry, but he was right. By listening to people, responding with love, shepherding students and parents and casting vision for unity, we were able to see amazing things happen. When all was said and done, it wasn’t for everyone, but using authority to force an outcome wasn’t an option for my dad. He taught me how to lead people rather than to simply use our position to make things happen.

About 6 years ago, my friend Tim had decided to step down as the lead pastor of EvFree Moorpark. Tim called me up and encouraged me to put my hat in the ring to be considered as the new lead pastor there. I was still serving in student ministries at EvFree Conejo and was enjoying that, but I was very intrigued by the opportunity. The pastors and elders of EvFree had gotten away for a 2-day retreat and my dad and I were up late talking. I told him about the phone call from Tim and what I was thinking about it. That night, my dad looked at me and said “you’re ready”. I still remember that conversation and how I felt. I didn’t feel like I needed my dad’s permission to make a big decision in life, but this wasn’t about permission, it was more of a blessing. In a sense, it felt like my dad was commissioning me to step out and lead a church. Over the next 12 months 2 things happened. I didn’t end up being called to serve at Moorpark, but Kristen and I did feel the call to church planting. We ended our time at EvFree and we packed up and moved to Chicago to get ready to start Anthem Church. Hearing my dad’s blessing and affirmation of my own readiness was such an empowering word. He had been working with me as a teacher and leader for 6 years (really for 28 years…), he had seen everything that I had to offer, my gifts and my shortcomings, and he believed that I was ready for what God had next. That was a huge moment in my life.

3 years ago when we were getting ready to start Anthem Church, my dad and I went to Starbucks for some coffee (Imagine that…). He started asking me questions about what I had learned in my residency with NewThing and how we were implementing those things in the still-forming church that we were building. He had pulled out a notepad and was taking notes during our conversation. My dad was 59 years old and had been leading a church for 30 years at that point and he was still taking notes and learning things from his 29 year-old rookie church planting son. There’s a quote from some leadership book somewhere that says “leaders are learners”. I got a chance to see this first hand in my dad. Still learning after all of those years, all of that experience, all that time teaching other people, he still wanted to learn. That was a shaping moment for me to think about my own future and how I would pursue knowledge and growth in the years to come.

At the end of the book of John, John says that if all the things Jesus said and did were written down, the world wouldn’t be big enough to contain all the books. I’m not going to go so far as to compare my dad to Jesus in that way, but there are about a thousand stories like these that have shaped who I am, and I haven’t even started on my mom yet. Steve and Connie Larson have invested their lives into shaping me into the man that I am, the leader that I am, the pastor that I am, the father that I am and the husband that I am. I know that they have ministered to thousands of people over the years and I am truly honored to be one of them.

It is very strange to think about the next era of life. I’ve never known the Conejo Valley without Steve Larson pastoring a church here. It has literally been my entire life. I knew that this day would come eventually, but it is crazy that it’s actually here. I’m praying for them and for what’s next. Dad will be preaching at the Bridge through the end of January. If you’ve been a part of the 34-year history of EvFree Conejo Valley, I’d encourage you to make your way there at some point in the next month to say hi. It is amazing to see my parents’ confidence in Christ and his plan for their lives. I love seeing how much they love the church and want it to grow beyond anything they were ever able to do at the Bridge. They are already praying for its next leadership and for what God will do in the years to come. I love my parents and needed a place to share about their impact on my life. If you’re still reading, I hope you learned something from it!

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5 Comments

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  1. Annika Budd / Dec 23 2012 3:24 pm

    Thank you so much Pastor Matt!
    Truly wonderful reading and also educational. Your dad has taught you well and apparently you’ve been a good student. Speaking for myself, as a new believer, I have learnt so, so much from listening to your teachings. And I want to listen and learn more. Thank you for being inspiring, and lots of thanks to your dad for showing you the way to lead others.
    Prayers and thanks to your parents for being a sourse of inspiration for many people over many years.

  2. Cara / Dec 23 2012 4:06 pm

    Matt, it is amazing to see the impact your parents have made. They will be missed. I too remember the Foundations of Faith classes, and running thru the halls at EV Free. Your dad and EV Free were my first real introduction to Christ. Thank you for sharing your story, and I will bepraying dor tge next amazing journey God is ging to send your parents on!!!

  3. sarah / Dec 23 2012 8:50 pm

    Love this, Matt. It’s funny to hear your experiences in light of my own. I was sure that Chuckk had us take notes when Dad was preaching through Daniel, and I thought that the prize was that we’d ditch church and go to Denny’s. Maybe Chuckk did that more than once! I remember that we didn’t end up ditching church to go to Denny’s because we were all caught up in the sermon series 🙂

  4. pastorstevelarson / Dec 24 2012 3:39 am

    I love this too Matt. Now I have to write a blog on stuff my son taught (and is teaching me) Seeing you honor God and love people is one of the greatest rewards of my life!

  5. Ron regenstreif / Jan 2 2013 6:05 am

    Matt, only have spent a brief time with your dad, but it’s easy to see how you have become the man that you are. Thank you for honoring your Dad, wish more young people had models like you did. See you soon

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