Three Pastors, One Church

It’s a rarity in church life to see one pastor serving the same church for more than 20 years. Rarer still is when two pastors can serve together that long. But it’s almost unheard of for three pastors to serve alongside one another at the same church for two decades. Yet that’s exactly what we recently celebrated at Valley Church (EFCA) in West Des Moines, Iowa.

This past summer, pastors Linton Lundeen, John Glad and I marked 20 years of brotherhood and ministry together. Valley Church started in 1990, and I became the church-planting pastor in that first year. As the church grew to about 250 attenders in 1992, Linton joined as an associate pastor. Then, the following year, John came on board as youth pastor.

To mark our 20th “anniversary,” we delivered a message at Valley Church on “Perfectly Imperfect Friendship.” In it, we shared nuggets on how to form and forge lasting friendships.

“This wasn’t about some illusion of an easy and perfectly smooth experience,” John says. “We’ve had our share of disagreements and storms. But somehow, God enabled us to share life together through all the ups and downs of ministry here.”

Photo: Courtesy Valley ChurchValley Church’s three pastors (from left: John Glad, Quintin Stieff and Linton Lundeen) speak with their congregation about their shared journey of ministry and friendship

We’ve each had to change and transition as the church grew from a few couples to nearly 2,000 weekly attenders on the main campus and one satellite campus. There’s no way we could have stayed the same even if we wanted to.

Along the way, Linton moved from being a generalist associate pastor to overseeing all the care and counseling ministries. John transitioned from youth pastor to serving as the senior associate pastor—someone who oversees the pastoral and ministry staff. My role transitioned from solo pastor at the beginning to lead pastor of a large staff today.

Basically, the church has encouraged us to move toward our areas of greatest strength—a flexibility that has allowed each of us to remain at Valley, instead of pursuing growth and development elsewhere.

Keep in mind, we have been more than colleagues in the workplace: We’ve been on missions trips together, golfed and played basketball together, visited one another in the hospital, and shared hundreds of meals together. We’ve supported each other as our parents have grown older (and some have passed away).

The eight children between us range from 12 to 26. So they’ve seen my kids walking around in the nursery and now walking down the wedding aisle. And we are approaching our 1,000th weekly elder board meeting together. A thousand elder meetings!

Needless to say, we understand each other pretty well. So, when we drive each other crazy (not an uncommon occurrence), we can cut slack, extend grace, occasionally confront and frequently forgive.

Friendship and ministry lessons

When we delivered the message in June, I jokingly subtitled it, “How We Kept From Killing Each Other for Twenty Years.” Let me share a few nuggets:

Linton: “We’ve been each other’s cheerleaders in word and deed. We make it our daily prayer, ‘Lord, help me to be encouraged by someone today and to be an encourager to someone today.’”

Quintin: “Friendship means being loyal to someone when they are imperfect. Not a blind loyalty that just agrees all the time, but a patient loyalty that gives room for imperfection.”

John: “It’s important to have robust dialogue, but without letting it degenerate into a personal attack.”

Linton: “You’d be a fool to think that we’ve never had issues. We’ve hurt each other, gotten angry and irritated each other. But we’ve kept short accounts. We’ve been quick to apologize and resolve our conflicts. We’ve given each other the benefit of the doubt as well.”

Quintin: “It also helps to have a sense of humor, to grow a thicker skin and to stay far away from drama. Proverbs says, ‘It’s to a man’s glory to overlook an offense.’”

We are three very different men with unique skills and personalities, but I trust that as we’ve worked at our relationship, that same endurance, candor and consistency has become a core strength of the entire church in all its diversity. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Life is hard. Ministry is challenging, sometimes brutally so. There’s nothing like a couple of friends to help you through the battle. Especially when Christ is at the center.

Quintin Stieff is lead pastor of Valley Church (EFCA) in West Des Moines, Iowa, and would gladly serve alongside his brothers Linton and John for another 20 years . . . if they could stand him that long!

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