A 30-year pastor at Kentwood Community Church in a Grand Rapids, Mich., suburb, he most recently led Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University for six years. Weeks after his election, Wesleyan Life took the opportunity to interview "Wayne," as he prefers to be called, about his journey.
WESLEYAN LIFE: You co-founded Kentwood Church and, over thirty years, grew it to become a multi-ethnic church of 3,000. From your early years, how did God form you into a person and into a pastor that would do that?
Wayne Schmidt:I had godly parents who were lay lead ers at a small Pilgrim Holiness (later, a Wesleyan) church in Michigan. When I was seven, it was during revival services that they encouraged me to give my heart to Jesus at the church altar. I remember being very self-conscious about it at first, because there was a little girl my age that went to the altar at the same time. God also called me to ministry at that same time. My grandmother sensed it, too. In fact, I had to sort out what was God and what was Grandma in my call to ministry. But it really was God.
There were times of resistance, but at age 19, I committed my life fully to God’s purposes. I surrendered everything to him and know that he filled me with his Spirit. While there have been challenges along the way, it has been since then that he really turned my heart toward loving him and loving others.
When I was a senior at Indiana Wesleyan University, Dr. Laurel Buckingham [a distinguished Wesleyan pastor from Canada] said to us: “Pray that God will call you to a community where you can spend a lifetime.” That was a new thought to me: that I would be called to a community and not just to a church, and also that it might be for a lifetime, not just 3-5 years. And God did. The clarity of that call, and the length of that call to Kentwood, provided the setting for all that God would do through me in the next 30 years.
I had to learn the difference between being called and being driven.
WL: Can you tell us what God did in you during your years as a pastor at Kentwood?
WS: There were some things along the way that I now refer to as “offering plate moments,” where I had to offer myself in a fresh way in light of what was happening as God was building Kentwood Church. I’m not proud to admit it, but I had my heart set on being the founding church planter. Imagine, I was a 21-year-old kid. Instead, God placed me on a team under a leader. Looking back, God was asking me, “Wayne, are you passionate about church planting, or do you only care about your position?” After I worked through that, Dick Wynn became an amazing mentor for two of the most formative years of my ministry.
A few years later, in my late twenties, God was blessing the church, people were coming to Christ, and things were happening very fast, but I hit a wall. God, my wife, and my kids were getting the leftovers of my time. My need to please people and to prove that I was an effective pastor were driving me to workaholism. God led me to a book by Gordon MacDonald, Ordering your Private World. I had to learn the difference between being called and being driven. At that same time God brought into my life the accountability partner that he has used for 31 years to ask me the right questions. God has helped me to really surrender that driven quality and achieve balance, wholeness of life, and a great marriage and family.
I’m energized by the opportunity to spiritually intercede for our Church, and to help us go where God leads.
WL:Can you remember any other special “offering plate moments” in your life?
WS: Yes, it’s during these moments that I have experienced God most powerfully and intimately, even though it is sometimes in the midst of personal pain. Twenty years into my time at Kentwood I faced my biggest crisis. Serious conflict had overtaken my staff and board and spilled over into the congregation. The vice-chair came to me and let me know that, while I was not the cause, my unwillingness to address the conflict had become part of the problem. I was unwilling to engage conflict and risk rejection to resolve it.
I literally stained the couch in my office with my tears as I begged God to be released from my call. I know I could have left Kentwood then and it would have been seen as noble. But I knew it would have been running away; it would have been my disobedient “Jonah” moment. God did not relent. I was broken, but I was not willing to be outside of his will. And in a very sacred moment, he promised to be with me every step of the way. He brought me through to a divinely-given peace. Through that, he changed me. He changed the way I view and deal with conflict and rejection. And he also healed his church.
WL:What are the mission-critical things that The Wesleyan Church must focus on, in order to continue to experience God’s blessing?
WS: General Superintendent Emerita Dr. Jo Anne Lyon has been anointed of God to help multiply the opportunities for ministry before the Church. I believe the visibility and credibility of The Wesleyan Church may never have been at the level it is now. But to whom much is given, much is required. I think we are in a season now where we must discern which of all these opportunities we are to make the most of. In Ephesians 5, the Bible says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.” To the world, being cautious and careful means avoiding risk. But in God’s kingdom, being wise and careful means taking kingdom risks, making the most of every opportunity.
Together now we are engaging in focused prayer, and we are listening to God’s Spirit. One topic that has emerged powerfully, even during General Conference, and since, has been discipleship. Probably the best measure of whether we have true discipleship is whether a disciple is making another disciple. So are we all introducing people to Christ; are we encouraging those first steps of discipleship in people? Today’s culture is challenging the Church more than ever, and a shallow, consumeristic faith is not going to stand the storm. So in our discussions about membership, and in the context of making the most of every opportunity, deeper discipleship should be our focus.
Also, North America has become more of a mission field than ever. But we as The Wesleyan Church don’t have to become something that we are not in order to be missionally ready. We don’t have to change our DNA. We are already uniquely wired, theologically and historically. We can rediscover these amazing strengths, reimagine how to reach today’s culture, emphasize deep discipleship, and we will make a difference in North America and beyond.
WL: As General Superintendent, how do you balance spiritual leadership with administration?
WS: I celebrate that in The Wesleyan Church, spiritual leadership is primary. That doesn’t excuse any lack of organizational leadership. Most people know me as a “doer,” an activist. In fact, my life verse is John 17:4, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.”
Less visible, but very real has been my commitment to focused prayer as part of my life and my routine for many years. Every morning, I have a prayer notebook that guides me and it includes all the leaders of our Church and our districts. The longevity of that discipline has built a powerful spiritual connection between me and the Church. That time with God and that focused prayer will continue, and I am sensing God’s renewed anointing and his favor to intercede. Whatever organizational skill I may bring, I am completely energized by the opportunity to spiritually intercede for our Church, and to help us go where God leads us.