When Mike Patz Says Your Name.

Mike Patz said my name this morning. Better yet, somehow, Mike Patz knew my name. 

Mike Patz is the head pastor of Greenhouse Church, the church I attend and serve at here in Gainesville, Fla. With several campus locations, service times, and ministries that expand over every imaginable need, Greenhouse literally impacts thousands of Gainesville residents every week.

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Part of what hooked me about Greenhouse, formerly known as First Assembly, was the apparent spiritual leadership in the leaders of the church. From micro-church leaders to ministry directors and from parking lot volunteers to administrators and logistics guys, it is clear that the Lord guides the steps of every invested leader in the church. The mission of the church is simple yet radical: to help make ordinary people become passionate followers of Jesus Christ.  The vision of the church crowns three areas of focus  for its members: worship, community, and commission. Check them out to see what I mean here.

To see and understand the width and depth of Greenhouse’s ministries would be like measuring the power behind a freight train going full speed. And Pastor Mike Patz, well, he’s the one leading the Greenhouse freight train straight to Jesus.

Anyways, back to this morning.

Today was my first morning serving at Greenhouse in the children’s ministry, also known as “Sprouts.” (cute, right?)

I was paired with a young woman who shall remain nameless to protect the Body of Christ. We were assigned the 2 year olds for the 9 am service. Three toddlers were brought to us, making odd dynamics for two adults working together in a nursery setting. Once again, to protect the Body, all I will share about our experience together was that it was less than pleasant and made me doubt my commitment to serve at Giant GreenHouse Church. 

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We took the children outside on the church’s playground at the beginning of the service. About the time I was pushing a boy down a “roller coaster” ramp made for a ridable truck (Hasbro is blowing my mind these days),  I saw out of the corner of my eye Pastor Mike walking out of Auditorium B and making his way towards Auditorium A. 

“Hey, Valerie,” he said, waving as he strutted down the sidewalk beside the playground fence.

I replied to him with a hollow “Hi,” not because I realized who he was or even that we had never actually met, but because I had resorted to my “meek and weak” persona for the morning as a result of my poor interactions with my partner. 

“How’s it going?” he asked, seemingly eagerly interested in our woman-powered roller coaster system. 

My partner, thankfully, responded with some kind of normal affirmative answer. I certainly could not have strung actual  words together in the moment and have still sounded like I was safe to be around small children.

Mike Patz laughed, genuinely, at her response and said something about wanting to ride the roller coaster also.

Let me go back to our first interaction. Mike Patz, pastor of Greenhouse Church, author and preacher of sermons that rock so many people on a given Sunday, said my name. The significance doesn’t lie so much in the fact that he said it. There’s deeper significance than that. Upon reflection of what happened, the significance hit hard and deep. Why would I care at all that Mike Patz said my name? Because he knew it, and we have never met. I repeat: Never. Met.

Cutting to the chase, I grew up in a town where everyone has a legitimate reason to know my name, my background and family. In my hometown church, everyone knows me as the daughter of Pastor Cary McKee and Fran McKee. Even still, I’m pretty confident that even if I wasn’t the head pastor’s daughter, Cary McKee would somehow learn of me in our church where I served in several different places.

But at Greenhouse? Seriously, there have been several Sundays when I came and left Greenhouse Church without ever having talked to more than one or two people, usually members of my micro-church who probably felt obligated to speak to me. When  ever hospitality workers have attempted to connect with me, the shallowness of their approaches always left me feeling lonelier than ever, but I would often assume the blame anyways because of my own personal awkwardness.

A college student attending Greenhouse during the most populated service time and at the most populated campus. A participant of a college micro-church who goes every week and serves in whatever big or small ways needed. A member of the newest cohort of Leadership Pipeline. And now, a volunteer in Sprouts and behind the welcome desk. That’s all that I could possibly be from the perspective of a leader at Greenhouse. And yet, the leader of leaders, Pastor Mike, knew my name.

At Greenhouse, I’ve heard people speak about Mike Patz the way others might talk about a politician or president of a major university. Important. Famous. Fearfully respected. Known well but not known beyond the stories told behind the pulpit.

So, the question remains: how did Pastor Mike know my name?

After a long afternoon of pondering and surmising, here’s my best guesses:

1. God revealed my name to him on the spot for a specific reason. As far fetched as this may sound–for God to reveal three syllables to Pastor Mike Patz just so he could greet me–if this is true, I think I know why God did. And I’ll share that towards the end of this post.

2. Pastor Mike may have had to sign off on some kind of paperwork for me to serve in the children’s ministry and somehow figured out that I was who my paperwork said I was. However, this seems less realistic than #1 as there were several new volunteers in Sprouts today and I can’t imagine him memorizing each name and profile.  I digress.

3. I was introduced to Pastor Mike without my knowledge by someone like my amazing micro-church pastor, Eric, or someone else who would have access to “the king’s ear.” Once again, this still seems difficult to imagine.

4. I hallucinated the whole thing, and if I were to go to Pastor Mike right now, he wouldn’t know me from Adam. Literally, I could be an “Adam” to him.  This speculation could be true. While our little class was still on the playground, Pastor Mike returned to Building B with a couple in tow. I took the liberty to double check the face, voice and wardrobe of this “Mike” compared to the one who said my name minutes before. Same Mike Patz.

Once again, I truly could have hallucinated his voice or even misheard him, but for some reason I doubt that I would have confused my name with the names of the other individuals there or even with terms that would have described our little group.

I’m all out of guesses. And frankly, after I exhausted myself of ideas to explain the unexplainable, I finally heard the real question that had been tugging on my heart since the incident.

Although I am curious how Mike Patz learned my name, I think I really want to know what made Mike Patz knowing my name more significant in my mind than the fact that Holy God, Yahweh, Creator and Redeemer of my life, knows my name. And, furthermore, why am I so inclined to seek my own significance in a large church that I have “bought into” rather than serve in my part of the whole Body of Christ through the local church where God places me?

Someone probably told Mike Patz my name. But he probably doesn’t know much more than that. No one has to tell God my name or anything else about me. The angels don’t update God on my heartaches or frustrations, nor do they remind him what three syllables match up with my face. God knows me, by name, as His child, and that is where my true significance lies. 

Yet, here I am, currently struggling to compete in the “Super Christian Olympics,” where the most spiritual gifts, hours of devoted service, memorized scripture and accomplishment of other spiritual sacraments wins the gold medal. In the small circle of Christians I know from Greenhouse, I find myself losing in the unspoken competitions of spirituality. Perhaps I feel this way because I am in the midst of an unsettling season where I am not hearing direction from the Lord about my future in Gainesville. Perhaps I am super-sensitive to other Christians’ remarks about their walks with the Lord, leaving me unable to hear the humility in their words. Regardless, as I find myself becoming more and more persuaded to give more, do more, and be seen more in the church to keep up with my counterparts, I am overwhelmed with how easy it is to lose yourself in the name of a church.

In my Facebook feed today, I saw a post made by a woman from back home asking if there is “any church out there that is truly kind, not judgemental and will take you as you are?” Immediately, several women I did not even know commented on her post and promised love and acceptance from my father’s church. As moved as I was to read this kind of assurance from strangers about my home church, I was equally as disturbed to read the poster’s responding comment, which explained that she had a bad experience with my church’s nursery. Since I’ve read this, over 20 different comments have been made promoting multiple churches in my hometown with promises of great preaching, good ministries, welcoming attitudes and other church selling points.   Without making a comment to defend my church or anyone else’s, I am pressed with the notion that perhaps many Christians are guilty of “us versus them” attitudes tied to church names and pledges of our allegiance.

This brings me back to the question of my significance  at Greenhouse Church of Gainesville, Fla.

I graduate with my bachelor’s degree in May 2014. I don’t know where I will be a year from now. I might be in graduate school here at UF, or I might not be. I’m still praying about it all, and as I alluded to before, the not-knowing is yet a spiritual fog in my walk with the Lord. Still, for this season, I attend Greenhouse Church. I am a part of a micro-church and I am starting to serve the church in a couple of ways.

I even drag a couple of my friends to church and micro-church. Their lack of enthusiasm about Greenhouse discourages me, but perhaps my discouragement proves my guilt as another Christian seeking significance and satisfaction from a church and not from the God we worship.  So, for now, I will continue to attend, give and serve the Lord at Greenhouse Church, which happens to be a very large, very popular church. I will continue to fight against the urge to compare my spirituality, or lack thereof, with my fellow Christians. I might be recognized by Pastor Mike Patz again, or I may not. All of this however will be secondary, and by secondary meaning nearly last, in value compared to knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Philippians 3:8

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ

All of these questions of significance and value of church names, both of leaders and actual churches, don’t hold any weight in comparison to the weight of knowing my Lord and Savior.  And even heavier than that, my Lord and Savior knows ME by name.

Maybe God just wanted to remind me of that today. Maybe that’s why Pastor Mike Patz said my name this morning. Maybe I just needed a heavy reminder that even better than Mike Patz of Greenhouse Church knowing my name is the fact that I AM knows my name. Maybe the Lord knew I needed some encouragement and perspective from beyond my church because of the discouragement I was feeling regarding my relationships at church.

Whatever His purposes, I wouldn’t put it past God.

Read Pastor Mike’s blog if you want to “meet” this guy I’ve been chatting about.  Read the Bible if you want to learn more about the God who already knows you. Read my blog posts if you want to kill 5 hours of your time. Peace out.

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