Pastor Dave Creek, candidate for Associate Pastor of Family Ministries, has been interviewed and recommended unanimously by both our Executive Elder and Shepherding Elder boards. Next steps in this process are:
- A Q&A hour with the congregation at 6:30 p.m. this Saturday, Aug. 26 at church. If you have questions for Dave, this is the time to ask.
- Dave will preach at both morning services this Sunday, Aug. 27.
- At our Meeting of the Members this Sunday evening at 6 p.m., the congregation will vote whether to affirm Dave. A 75-percent “yes” vote is required to affirm.
Meantime, here is the second in a two-part article to help get you acquainted, or reacquainted, with Dave. He’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and prior to that spent 14 years as a student ministries pastor in Minnesota. Dave grew up at First Free Rockford and has maintained many connections here.
You weren’t actively seeking a church position when this possibility came up, right? How did we get here?
I met Pastor Luke when we first moved back (in 2019) through our mutual friend, Aaron Biby. Aaron would invite me to go and have lunch or coffee with different people—pastors and business people in and around Rockford. So Luke was one of those people. We met at a Starbucks. And that has turned into a really good friendship.
I understand that he was the one who initiated the associate-pastor conversation?
It was in March (after then-Associate Pastor Josh Pardee accepted a senior pastor role with another church). He asked me to lunch and approached this idea. The idea of pursuing a pastoral role in the same way I would pursue any other job has always felt odd to me. Even though it’s what I have done and the Lord has given me opportunities to do those things and I’m gifted in those areas, the idea of me seeking out that role felt weird. I wasn’t going to do that. It was always just, Lord, if you want me to do something like that, I need you to bring that to me. I can’t be the one pursuing something like that.
So what has been your thinking since that lunch?
There have been a couple of other ideas and opportunities that presented themselves a couple of years ago that for different reasons didn’t come to fruition. But when Luke approached me about this idea, it became more of a wrestling process for me. I miss ministry. I miss working with a team. I miss being kingdom-focused and Jesus being the primary focus of what we are doing. My relationship with Christ is definitely a part of everything that I do and it impacts how I do what I do, even in my clinical space. But not everybody I work with is a follower of Christ. That changes the dynamic.
What is something you have learned as a counselor that makes you a better pastor?
Slow down. In ministry, we can really get into rushing things, speeding things up, in a way that isn’t helpful or can even be detrimental. In the therapy world, we have to hold the tension of what’s in our office — understanding that the therapeutic process can take time. I think sometimes in ministry we can be too quick for change or for an answer. It’s not to minimize or excuse behavior or sin or anything like that, it’s to try to understand what’s behind it. To get to the core of it.
It’s like when the Rich Young Ruler approaches Christ and asks, “What do I need to do?” Jesus tells him, sell everything and give your life over. And he can’t do that. … It would be interesting if the story had continued with the Rich Young Ruler saying “It’s really hard for me to do that,” but then to sit with Jesus and to really unpack that. The story doesn’t tell us that. But it makes me wonder, if we had more space for listening and understanding, would that actually bring about healing? For God to do the work in a person’s life … it’s to be able to live in the tension a little bit longer than we often give space for.
A lot of your ministry work has been with students. What do you see as the biggest differences between working with students and working with adults? I know you counsel a whole range of people.
Even in my work with students it always included the families, which included adults. There’s a difference in where people are at, what stage of life, but the core needs of people are consistent. It just looks differently at different stages. Working with adults is not foreign to me. So when I combine my ministry work with my therapy work, that’s where I talk about the integration of the two. In spite of the age ranges, it’s always working with the person or the family. Who am I with right now and what are the needs?
Can you give an example of that?
Let’s talk about loss. Maybe I have a student talking to me about loss of friendship — something happened and they’re feeling alone. Well, the experience of being alone and the loss of relationship … and someone who’s lost a spouse, end of life, we’re still talking about grief. We’re still working with a similar dynamic from different stages of life with different experiences.
What experiences from your youth-ministry days in Minnesota stick with you most today?
One of the things I loved doing was taking our students to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, to work with the Lakota people. Specifically with one pastor and his wife and their family. The fondness comes from watching the students and even ourselves learn. It wasn’t just going and doing something, but really trying to create and establish a relationship with this family. Just sitting with them and being willing to learn. Which created a tension. Sometimes we would go and not really know what we were going to be doing.
I loved taking students to do something that would stretch them, to be better human beings in the way that we follow Jesus.
One of the first ways our church would describe itself is multi-generational. There are challenges connected to that. As you look ahead to this role, how would you approach those?
I would love to see integration. I think the church needs to be a whole church—not just silos of ages that stay among themselves. What I saw working with the Lakota in the Native American community was the importance to sit with the elders for their wisdom of life and experience. I thought, Man, we need to adopt that.
We live in a culture that in almost every way will say “Just get rid of it and get something new. We do that with everything. I just got a new iPhone. The other one was still working. It’s an annoying thing. And I think we do that with people, too.
A church will only benefit if the community is a whole. How is the older generation not just speaking at, but building relationships with the younger community? How is the younger generation interacting with and impacting the older generations? There’s a real need for that.
If you never have that, you just have a building with different groups in it.
What’s a way you saw this happen when you worked in youth ministry?
There was an older couple in their 70s, and I asked them if they would be willing to be the volunteer grandparents for youth group. They asked, “What does that entail?”
And I said, “You come to youth group on Wednesday nights as often as you are able. And the only role you have is to be a grandparent in the room. That’s it. You’re not responsible for anything other than treating them all as if they were your grandkids. If you’re just sitting on the couch or a chair and just talking, wonderful.”
Some of these students didn’t have grandparents. It was a foreign concept. But now they did.
The couple would usually only stay for 45 minutes. It’s not like they were doing the group games and staying late into the night. But if they were just hanging out with some students who just wanted to sit and chat, beautiful.
Our church would have immense resources to do things like that. I know you wouldn’t just be coming in the door and dictating, “Here are the things we’re going to do.” How would you navigate that?
I would first want a better understanding of all that’s going on at the church. Just to see it and then ask some questions. What are different ways of trying to build connections and relationships? I do not like the idea of just coming in and making changes. I don’t think that’s necessarily a healthy idea. I would want to come in and have a better understanding to make sense of things. And then what are the goals? If the goal is to have a community at First Free, then we ask the questions of how do we make that happen? It could be specific events or it could be just starting to create opportunities for those things to take place in what is already a natural setting.
You mentioned in your interview with the First Free elders that we also have huge resources that could impact this community. I’m not asking for specifics here, but is there a focus we might bring to that topic?
The only way I can answer this is with a good deal of not knowing. I know that First Free has always been an evangelically minded and outreach-minded church. What are the needs and connections that First Free is already attending to? How are we doing? How are we meeting those? What are other needs? And it’s always prayerful, asking the Holy Spirit to lead and guide.
God has blessed First Free with this big, beautiful building. It’s got fantastic grounds with an amphitheater. You look at it and go, Wow. Lord, what could we do with this that would bless and minister to people? To build relationships with other churches? I think of Rockford and the number of churches that it has. What are those congregational relationships like?
How is First Free engaging with the community of Rockford as a whole? I think about partnerships. The different organizations that are doing specific work. How is the church helping them?
There are a lot of things I want to understand better, and constantly be asking the question, Lord, is there anything we can do to be part of what you’re doing already?
How can we as a church pray for you and your family?
Wisdom for our family. One of the first things that comes to mind is my practice. Anybody who I see in my therapeutic office — that’s a change and it means they probably won’t be meeting with me anymore. Once you establish a relationship, that can be hard. The intimate conversations that I have had with people … I’m not going to just say, “All right. See ya.” I walk with them to help them transition to somebody else.
Pray for our family as we navigate all the changes. We’ve been going to a different church, and we still have to have conversations with those friends. That’s another change, another loss in a way. We won’t lose those friends, but changes can make that a little harder. So praying for us through all of the changes. Wisdom to navigate it well.