On Joining the Story

Looking Back on Our Past & Carrying Our Future Forward Together

by Dale Gustafson, RSF Executive Director

My wife Lisa and I first made the right-hand turn off of 17th into the Everett Middle School blacktop in February of 2018. We were welcomed by a super-friendly group of men and women in orange vests directing us where to park our car. We felt really encouraged as we left our car and walked toward the doors of Everett. Though it looked different than the place we had been attending for years back home in Los Gatos, it felt familiar as the Church has a way of feeling like home.

That Sunday was our first step into the story of Reality SF. On the surface, it had the look of a place that loved to worship God (sing a lot) and engage with teaching. People hugged each other during the four-minute greeting, and a loud cheer went up from a group of people hosting the post-gathering lunch. There was joy all around us, and it was very moving. But experiencing a gathering with others did not mean I understood the story.

A few months later, I was hired as the Executive Director of Reality SF, and as is often the case, the stories that were told to me by staff members were mostly event or location based. I would hear stories of how the church began with “prayer tours” and prayer meetings, I heard about the “Swedish Hall days,” and the rapid growth and instant community the church had in those first years. And then the timeline would jump right to the staff conflict the church experienced in 2016.

But as I met and talked with people in the church, they didn’t mention these events as much as they talked to me about deep appreciation and love for this church, and what this community has done for their faith.

The way I see it, this has been the thread through the events, memories, and images. Good or bad. The stories I heard from the members here of life change and transformation were the real story of Reality. And with those stories as thread of what the church could continue to be for people, this past year we dug into the process of “Objective Number One” as to why I was hired:

The Establishing of Reality SF and Its Mission

To do this, we made a significant investment into our online presence to reflect, communicate, and minister outside of our walls. We restructured our Children’s Ministry and hired a youth minister in order to proactively reach and disciple the next generation. We’re updating our internal reporting and engagement systems to help us effectively shepherd and guide our church, hopefully eliminating anyone falling through the cracks. All of these endeavors are pushing us to do things differently. And though it’s a lot of work, it is worth it.

We’ve also seen the incredible need to have called and equipped ministers who are pastoring and equipping people in our church. We have developed a new “Becoming a Minister at RSF” track. We started with seven people on our staff, mentoring them through theology, doctrine, and ministry training so you know that when we call someone on our staff a “minister,” they have been equipped to minister. Our desire is that it is not a title but a recognition of people who have been called, trained, and equipped to lead our church well.

As I look back at our 2019 Year of Authentic Community, I see a pivot in our story. It was a year of declaring what we mean when we say “authentic community,” and following Jesus within that. As a result, we have seen a sifting of people, their thoughts, and assumptions. One of the things that Dave said recently sticks with me: “When we talked about race, many thought we were liberal; when we talked about sexuality, many thought we were fundamentalist. At the end of the day, we are striving to follow Jesus.”

Because of 2019, and all that we experienced, I believe that 2020 will be a significant marker in the story of Reality SF. Not the plans themselves, but the potential results of those plans.

Starting in 2020, we will be having two Sunday morning gatherings so that we can focus our energy to gather, serve, and be discipled. There will be increased opportunities for you to serve with each other, as well to be discipled through courses focusing on Biblical literacy, theological understanding, spiritual practices, and discovering God’s call on your life. We will also bring a fresh focus on how we are bringing renewal to our city and our world. It will not just be about who we financially support but how we mobilize ourselves to love, encounter, and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us.

One of the things that is very important to me is that we share the same story. This is what I prioritized the first year I was here: understanding the story of RSF so I can carry it forward myself.

In order for all of us to do that well as a church, we will have “Welcome to Reality” gatherings to help people understand who we are and what we’re about. It also gives us a chance to walk alongside them, share what we believe, and give clear next steps on how they can join us in community and discover how to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did.

2020 is a big strategy shift for us, and we have an opportunity to do this well together. With the staff, I often talk about the importance of “owning the whole story of Reality SF.” This moves us away from siloed thinking and working into a comprehensive view of the whole. For all of us to own our story, we need to be committed to creating the same story, intentionally moving forward together and accepting that though we may feel unsure of the destination, we can be confident that we are on the road that will get us there.

In any story where there is change and people are affected, it can be disorienting. Questions come up and we wonder how it will go. We hear excitement in the voices of some, and we hear apprehension or sorrow in the voices of others. This is all part of the story.

The important part is that we keep moving forward into all those challenges that are ahead of us, because people matter. Their lives, relationships, hopes, fears and dreams all matter.

Most of all, there are more people in San Francisco who need Jesus. Let’s commit to carry His name well to them, because their transformational stories connect our past to our future.