Nick Von Stein of Grace Covenant Church in Lakewood refers to himself as an “average pastor.” I’m not kidding—it’s on his business card! I asked Nick why the term “average,” and he responded, “It’s hard to find many famous pastors who get out unscathed. I just want to be average and God be great.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time chatting with Nick about his time walking alongside vulnerable kids and families at risk and how Grace Covenant will continue to call the church to stand for vulnerable youth this “Stand Sunday” (November 12). I will allow Nick to share his compassion and calling in his own words.
Rhonda: How did you start to come alongside youth in foster care?
Nick: I was a youth pastor at a church in California. The area was pretty low-income, and many of the kids in the youth group didn’t attend church. We loved these students and always positioned ourselves to reach out to the most vulnerable students. My wife, who is a much better person than me, said we should become foster parents. We couldn’t think of a way to serve that had a bigger, longer-lasting kingdom impact than stepping into foster care. We rented a house we couldn’t afford in the middle of all these kids we were already serving. The first kids who came to us were 14 and 17-year-old sisters, who are now our daughters.
Rhonda: How was it stepping into foster care?
Nick: When you live and surround yourself with people, you love them. I think that’s true in all spheres of life. We’re so quick to make opinions of all different kinds of people and throw theologies and political ideas at people without first engaging and knowing them! When you know people and love them, you learn to have compassion through proximity. Every time we hear compassion, there is always an action associated with it. You do something when you feel compassion. And compassion happens in proximity.
Rhonda: That’s so good. I love the idea of there always being an action associated with compassion. I know some of that action has been walking alongside Project 127. Could you tell me more about that?
Nick: When we came to the church, we wanted to see what opportunities were organic to the community. Why are we here? What does our neighborhood need? I realized we had a strong organic foster and adoptive narrative at our church. Last year, our church recognized thirteen foster, adoptive, and kinship families on Stand Sunday. We just wanted to honor the people in our family who were stepping into this. Let’s develop our program. We realized we could use more intentional training in how to serve this community, so we hosted trauma-informed training. We had an incredible trainer, Rhonda, from Project 127, who did a really great job and provided awesome content. Through a series of connections, I was able to learn about FamiliesCare (Project 127’s family preservation program). I love that Project 127 is a local organization with great resources and clear direction.
Rhonda: How are you standing for kids in Foster Care and for at-risk families this year on Stand Sunday?
Nick: My heart is to be proactive, positive, and forward-thinking. I want the church to be known by what we are FOR. Let’s be FOR the life of a child. If we have a teen mom who needs support, how will we proactively support this teen mom and her child’s life? If there are children who need to be fostered and/or adopted? Are we going to adopt? The Gospel is good news! It’s good news for the church to be FOR kids… FOR teen moms…FOR wrapping around families of origin. This Stand Sunday, we are looking at standing FOR these individuals by having the crisis pregnancy center speak, having a testimony from a former youth in foster care, and having someone from Project 127 come and highlight ways the church can walk alongside kids in foster care or kids who are at risk of being placed in foster care.
Rhonda: Nick, your church was such a fun group to train. I think almost the entire church came to the training, asked amazing questions, and was so engaged! When you saw this area of ministry where your church could engage, you took action. How would you encourage or call other churches to action?
Nick: Sometimes God stirs up the soil, breaks up the ground, and excavates the terrain of our hearts and lives. We could ignore it, cover it up, or pack that dirt back in. If we move on, that soil will become hardened again. Or we could listen, learn, and obey. If we do, we will realize that God has stirred the soil of our hearts and lives for a reason—for something to be planted, for something to take root in our lives, for something to have a chance to receive life and to grow. God may be stirring the soil of your heart and exposing judgments, doubts, and fears. He may be breaking the ground of your heart with compassion, empathy, and love. He may be excavating criticisms and excuses that you have made for far too long. Maybe your heart is being stirred, broken, and excavated. Will you let the life of one of his precious children be planted there, in your heart, in your life, and in your home? If you do, you will realize that the soil that you once guarded, protected, and packed in has become soft, fertile ground, full of life and love for the other. That the soil of your heart has taken on a new shape, a new rhythm, a new life. You will realize that your heart has begun to beat with the heartbeat of God, and there is a new sense of life coursing through your veins. And you will see new life grow in and through you, in the God-prepared ground of your heart. God has stirred your heart for a reason and purpose. Let Him plant there.
Rhonda: Thank you, Nick, for sharing—truly, this is a gift to hear all that God is doing in you and in the life of your church.
This November, on Stand Sunday, will you consider Nick’s call to be average to make God great? Reach out to me at Rdenison@project127.org for more information. And remember, as Nick says, ‘the Gospel is good news for kids and families!’
Stand Sunday has a new name this year- Pure Religion. To hear more about the new name, click here.
By Rhonda Denison, Metro Relations and Support Manager