I was delighted to talk with my friend Pete Wilson recently for some insight into his recent resignation from Cross Point Church in Nashville where he served as senior pastor. Pete planted Cross Point 14 years ago and it quickly became one of the fastest growing and now one of the largest churches in the country.
Not only was Pete pastoring a great church, he is a sought after speaker at conferences and other events. He has written several books – which have been helpful to me and others. He is a great husband, father, and friend. (Imagine continuing to be great at all of these!)
Pete and Cross Point were great ministry companions when I was a planter in the area. We did some staff retreats together. Some of our staff stayed in touch with some of their staff. They were a few years ahead of us in age, so we learned from them. Cheryl and I frequently attended their Sunday night service, since we didn’t have a service on Sunday night.
I was shocked and surprised as many others when I heard Pete’s announcement. Then I was shocked and surprised again when I heard Pete was starting a new role as president of the A Group – a Nashville based nonprofit/church marketing agency, geared towards partnering with churches, nonprofits, ministries and faith based organizations to increase their impact. You can read about his new role HERE.
I reached out to Pete and asked if he would be willing to answer some questions. I’ll share our conversation then offer some closing comments.
Did you anticipate the growth you experienced at Cross Point?
No one plants a church not to reach people and we planted to reach people. Not in a million years, however, did we think we would grow that fast. Sometimes it just felt like we were along for the ride things were moving so fast.
How did you personally allocate your time? What took most of your time as a pastor of a large church?
Message preparation. Leadership and vision casting – and this was a constant need. And, then, just putting out fires. And, it seems there was always a fire to put out.
Over the years my role changed a lot. I’ve said many times – Biblically speaking there is no number which is the perfect church size. In my mind, though I’ve always thought 700 would be a great number. The church would be large enough to have some great ministries, but small enough where people knew each other.
I remember one of our elders telling me in year two – when we were growing so fast – “If this thing continues to grow at this extent you’re not going to be here in 5 years.” As it turns out, we were here 14 years, and he wasn’t being cruel. Reflecting on that now he was looking into my life and saying I was wired a certain way. I was probably perfectly wired for a 700 person church.
How did you know it was time to make the decision? What was going on at the time?
I’ve been struggling with it for some time. It’s hard and it’s still hard. I was 21 years old when I started my first church. This is the only thing I’ve ever really done. And, I was afraid of making the wrong decision.
I also know this is a season. I’m not going to say at some point I won’t be back in full-time vocational ministry.
I think you just know though when you’re out of season. Things which used to bring me a lot of joy were no longer bringing me joy. If you stay out of season too long the wise thing to do may be to step aside. Church leadership takes a lot of energy. I just got to the place I didn’t have the energy. I didn’t feel I had the energy the church needed. I got to the place I knew decisions needed to be made, but like every decision a pastor makes, you have to weigh the need for the decision against the acceptance of the people. I couldn’t seem to pull the trigger anymore. I just knew eventually that was going to hurt the church.
Who knew first – you or your wife?
I think she knew long before I did. She also has always been the one who wants to be supportive and give me the space to make the decision I think God wants me to make, but she also wasn’t surprised at all when I shared what God was doing.
How have the demands of ministry changed since you first became a pastor?
For me, and this might not be true of everyone, but the demands were coming from lots of different places. I had demands from Cross Point, book publishers, and conferences.
Of course, these were all my choices. I agreed to all of it. I simply got really good at saying yes and horrible at saying no. I found myself asking, “how do I get out of this?”, which obviously isn’t a healthy place to be for long.
I think one of my bigger mistakes was not developing a larger teaching team. I was preaching 6 times a weekend. It was usually Tuesday before I felt normal and then Sunday was coming again.
How will Cross Point be moving forward? Does this concern you?
It doesn’t. Of course, you always have a little bit of fear, but we’ve said from the beginning Cross Point was not about Pete Wilson. People don’t realize the incredible team of staff and volunteers we had in place. I talked to one of the elders today and they think things are going very well. I haven’t seen anything to indicate they aren’t going to continue to do well.
It’s going to be different. And, that’s okay. Senior leader’s DNA settles into the organization, but I think it’s really going to be good in the long run for Cross Point to experience this change.
Will you still attend the church?
I’m not right now. We just made a decision during the transition that it would be best for them if we didn’t. And, that’s hard, because it’s where our friends and our children’s friends are – and we think it’s the best church for them. But, we just really believe the wise and healthy thing is to step aside so they can move forward and heal in whatever ways they need to.
Some might question the timing. You moved pretty quickly into a new role. Can you give me some insight into that? Did you know about this other opportunity?
No, I had no idea. It’s crazy how this happened. I’ve been friends with Maurilio for many years. He was part of the launch team at Cross Point. After I resigned, he asked me what I was going to do. When I told him I had no idea he invited me to lunch to discuss some ideas. It all fell together in about 3 weeks. And, it was great timing, because I knew during this season I needed to heal. I’ve spent 21 years pouring into the local church and I just needed to be poured into for a season. I didn’t want to simply go into the business world. So, the idea I could work behind the scenes and help pastors fired me up! I look forward to being a cheerleader for pastors.
Some people questioned the timing of going back to work so soon, but people don’t understand the pressure and weight of a senior pastor versus what I’m doing now. I’m not trying to say the new job is a cake walk, but the differences in weight of responsibilities are huge when you compare them.
What would your advice be to those who are sensing the need for a change?
It’s hard for pastors who sense a season of change. I think we probably put some unnecessary guilt on ourselves – that if we step away from the pastorate for a while we are disappointing God or disappointing the church. And, I wrestled with that fear a lot, but I’ve preached it for years and now I had to live it. God cares a lot more about who I’m becoming than what I’m doing. My identity in Christ isn’t being a pastor. It’s being who He wants me to be. And, if I kept doing this, who I was becoming was less than He wanted me to be. I would encourage pastors to live the same advice they would preach to their people.
I was humbled by some of Pete’s responses. I think the honesty in the size church he felt best equipped to lead was huge. And, he stung me with his comment about getting “good at saying yes and horrible at saying no”. Wow! I’m in a season I certainly need to hear that. (In fact, he challenged and encouraged me in several places in my current life during the interview.)
I appreciated his response about the timing of this new job. I, too, had wondered about the quickness of the decision. I completely understand his point about the weight of responsibilities. When I consider the amount of decisions I have to make in a day, the number of people looking to me for answers and support – and realize his church was more than twice the size of ours – I totally get it. The A Group appears to be a great place for Pete to heal, yet also continue to make a Kingdom difference, which is what he feels called to do.
I’m pulling for you, Pete – and, for all pastors out there.