Community and Change: A Conversation with Chris Ver Steeg (Pt. 1)

by William Bortz

Earlier last month I had the pleasure of sitting down with a great man by the name of Chris Ver Steeg. Chris lives in Sioux City, IA, and is the College Ministry Director at Sunnybrook Church. He is also the head of a family which includes his wife, four daughters, and two-and-a-half dogs.

(From left to right)  Kaylee, Chris, Chelsie, Kiana, Kristi, Carissa
(From left to right)
Kaylee, Chris, Chelsie, Kiana, Kristi, Carissa

The conversation we had focused on community and the many different elements that go along with it. I decided to split up the post, because I felt that shortening the post down to an easily readable size would take away from the magnitude of greatness that was pulled from this conversation.

A little back story given by Chris to better explain his first run-ins with what he described as authentic biblical community:

When Chris was 24 he worked at Nebraska Christian College in Norfolk, Nebraska. During his time there he ended up taking the spot as guard on a team that was being sent to Taiwan through Sports Ambassadors to play basketball and share the Gospel. Years later, Chris ended up working at Briar Cliff in Sioux City, IA as the athletic trainer. He shared his experience in Taiwan with his team and a few of the guys expressed their interest in it, and through some connection Chris learned that Sports Ambassadors was looking for a team to go to Argentina that summer. The team had a 12 game schedule that would span over a course of 3 weeks, and the focus was to play sports, and to use them as a vehicle to present the Gospel.

“God did a lot of great things in Argentina, but He also did a lot of great things on the team.”

Chris and his team held a bible study every night during those 3 weeks. At those bible studies the guys opened up about real and genuine issues and struggles that they suffered from, and would look for healing in God’s Word. Topics of discussion ranged from battling against impurity from one teammate trying to make sense of his father taking his mother’s life and where forgiveness was in that situation. On the plane ride back to the states, Chris and a friend made a pact to not let what happened in Argentine stay in Argentina. Back at Briar Cliff they started a bible study made up of 4 guys, than a year later would grow to over 70 athletes meeting every week.

“When you provide an environment of love and grace and acceptance -that is a safe place for people to be authentic and genuine about what’s going on in their lives- and you begin to dive into God’s word and, man, I saw first hand how God changes lives in the midst of that authentic community.”

During this time Chris and his family was attending Sunnybrook Church, and word began to spread about what was going on over at Briar Cliff. There was an opening at the church for the position of Director of Small Groups, to which someone suggested Chris apply for the position. “To be honest I turned in the resumé as a joke almost. I didn’t think I would have a shot at the job.” Six months later and Chris was getting called back for the position. On the outside looking in it was a dream job, but at the heart of it was an identity crisis. “An athletic trainer had become a part of who I was. It is always what I wanted to do, it’s what I went to school for, this is what people knew me as, and this is what I built a reputation around. This is who I was, I was an athletic trainer. Why would I do anything different? This is who I am.” 

It is very easy to get caught up in our plans, and to believe that this life we have is a product of what we have done. Proverbs says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” 

Chris’ response to this crisis was prayer, counsel, diving into God’s word, and getting to the root of his purpose. “You know what Chris, an athletic trainer is not who you are. First, you’re a son of God. Second of all you’re a husband, you’re a father, you’re a friend. You are so many other things than what you do.” Five years into being Director of Small Groups Chris started doing college ministry on the side. It started with a small group of 10 college students and turned into ‘Elevate’, which is the college ministry at Sunnybrook. College students meet weekly at the church and in homes around Sioux City for small group. Each year Elevate holds a conference at the church focusing on facilitating authentic growth in Christ among college students in the Sioux City area.

In talking with Chris it is easy to feel his passion for what he does, and impossible to not get absolutely pumped up when you hear him talk about community. I asked him a question about his thoughts on community:

What would you say to someone who would argue that they have a relationship with Christ and don’t need community in our outside of the church?

“God is a relational God. God is love, and love cannot exist outside of community.”

In the language of Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let ‘US’ make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. God has existed in community as the trinity since the beginning of time. God himself is a god of community, and you are created in His image. We are hardwired; it is in our DNA to be in relationship -to be in community. The first time that God says something is ‘not good’ is in Genesis 2:18 when the Lord said, “It is not good for [the] man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.” (emphasis added) How do we punish people? We put them in prison, away from society. How do we punish people inside prisons? Put them in solitary confinement. What happens is people go crazy or end their lives. We are not designed to live our lives in the context of isolation and loneliness.

*Chris uses a quote from Randy Frazee’s ‘The Connecting Church’ “Loneliness and isolation has caused as much illness and disease as smoking. So if you’re going to smoke, for God’s Sake, don’t do it alone.”

The culmination of the creation story is the creation of Eve.
The first time God says when he created eve he said it was very good. Now he might of said that because he created woman, which I agree with, but there’s also a sense that what did God create? Community. It was the recreation of the 3 in 1: man, woman, and God. That evidence just says that we are meant to live our lives in the context of community. Or look at the life of Jesus – first thing he did was recruit 12 disciples. He lives the majority of his life in the context of a small group, of community. Look at His prayer in John 17. You always know what’s on someone’s heart; what’s really important to them, by what they’re going to say on their deathbed, and He prays for 3 things: oneness between Him and His Father, oneness of His disciples, and He prays for the oneness of all coming believers. Jesus Christ knew that their sense of unity -of oneness- would be the number one testimony for the rest of the world that Jesus Christ’s love for them is real.

 ‘You can go out and share the gospel with someone, 1 on 1, and while your words may be powerful, you can’t tell me that words are going to be as powerful as inviting somebody into your home and giving them a safe place to ask questions. You give them an opportunity to witness people loving one another, caring for one another, forgiving one another, serving one another, and providing for each other’s needs. Not only do they get to witness that and experience all that community for themselves, that will be very compelling evidence for them that Jesus Christ’s love for them is real. You can tell them that, but until they see it in action they might not ever believe it. So community becomes a powerful testimony.”

In Part 2 of my conversation with Chris Ver Steeg you will hear his thoughts on humor, the role of reproach, the importance of all things manly, and dinner. 

Remember your brother, show them affection, love, and honor, and most of all as Bonhoeffer said, “In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.

*Resources:

Boundaries by John Townsend
The Connecting Church by Randy Frazee
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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