Matt King’s road to accepting the grace of Christ was a long and rocky one, but today God is using Matt in a powerful way as senior pastor of Valley Real Life, a Christian church serving the Spokane Valley in Eastern Washington. Before entering vocational ministry, Matt was a sales manager for a machine tool company in Spokane, traveling extensively across North America carrying out multimillion dollar transactions. In his personal life, Matt and his wife, Nona, experienced the sorrow of infertility and miscarriage, and then were joyously surprised with the birth of Ethan just five months after the adoption of Grace. Ethan and Grace are both 4.
How did you come to know Christ?
I grew up in a Christian home. Always loved God. At age 16 I started to really question whether or not what I believed was actually biblical. I started getting into a lot of trouble asking questions.
You weren’t finding the answers you were looking for?
I guess a lot of people wanted blind faith, but that wasn’t for me. Eventually I got into an argument with a pastor over an insignificant, trivial interpretation of Scripture. I probably should have backed down from the fight, but I didn’t. So here was a kid with a high school diploma fighting with a guy who had a doctorate.
What was the “insignificant issue?”
In Acts 8 the word herpadzo is used about Philip, indicating he was literally sucked up, or taken by force. My interpretation was he was supernaturally removed from a roadside pool along the Gaza way and he appeared in Azotus. The pastor’s interpretation? No, he (Philip) walked. I argued it passionately and got kicked out of the church.
Where did you go from there?
I started visiting other churches, but no one ever went out of his way to make a new person welcome. Maybe if I was wealthy looking with a family they would have [welcomed me], but a 19-year-old kid? No. So I started disliking church. A lot.
You weren’t on a path to becoming a pastor.
When I was a kid I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a husband and a father. Not a fireman, policeman, baseball player; certainly not a pastor. At age 8 I brought a hair ribbon for my daughter—planning ahead. When Nona and I got married, the plan was to immediately have kids, and that didn’t work out. She had difficulty getting pregnant and when she did, it always ended in a miscarriage. We had four miscarriages and lost five children; one was a set of twins. After we lost the twins I said to God, “How dare you put this desire in my heart. Every time you dangle it, then jerk it away.” I already hated the church, and now I hated God, too.
How was that hatred for God manifested?
I was on a wild rampage against God and against anybody who represented him, including my wife. I was never physically abusive to her, but I certainly was verbally abusive. Yelling, screaming, threatening. I got very involved in drug use. That went on for quite a few years.
How did Nona react?
She would always give me these books or Christian calendars or note cards or bookmarks, and I’d fly into a rage and throw them away and yell at her. My sales job took me all over the place and I was on a plane all the time, reading all the time. One book Nona gave me seemed to be an intriguing read, and that was Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. It was interesting. Put Christ on trial. I’ll be the judge, jury, and executioner.
What about that book changed your life?
When I read that book, the bulk, 90 percent or more of it, was stuff I already knew and it made no impact on me to hear it again. But there was a point he made that Peter had denied Christ, then Christ rose from the dead and something happened to Peter that changed him from the kind of coward who would deny Christ to the kind of person who would stand before a council and say, “I don’t care what you do to me. I saw him. He was risen. I will preach the gospel!” He was willing to die for his faith. The only thing that can change a person like that is (1) seeing Jesus alive (and when he saw Jesus alive it had to just bake his mind), and (2) Christ’s forgiveness. So I figured if Christ could forgive Peter for denying him and turn him into someone useful for the kingdom, then he could forgive me for denying him and make me useful for the kingdom.
Was there a specific point in time where you experienced a change of heart?
When God finally broke through, I had cracked. I was on a first-class seat on an airplane weeping. There was nothing about me that was under control. I was an angry man. When the flight attendant asked if I was OK, I yelled at her, “Just leave me alone!” It was then I made peace with God and committed to him that I would do anything for him. When I got home, there was such a radical difference: the guy who walked out a week before was looking forward to bar fights. The guy who walked in was supernaturally changed.
Your wife must have been astonished.
I told Nona I had surrendered my life to Christ, that I was a horrible spiritual leader but I needed her grace and forgiveness and I needed her support to let me be that spiritual leader—at least let me try. So she let me try.
Your friends and family must have been really surprised, too.
Friends were blown away. Family was skeptical. Everyone who knew me was skeptical, and they had every reason to be. It’s really difficult for anybody who wasn’t there to see the change, from rampant drug abuse, violent displays, cuts and bruises; from thick and hard and angry to being a person who was a weeper—and I have been ever since. Some people still see me as an aggressive, controlling, “bull-you-over,” highly opinionated, obnoxious jerk at times. But compared to what I was? There’s no comparison. My boss at the time said something funny: “I’ve seen this job drive people to drinking but I’ve never seen it drive people to the ministry!”
Did you get involved in a local church right away?
Nona had been attending Real Life Ministries (Post Falls, Idaho), so I started going with her, and within a few months we were leading a home group. Soon after that we were helping to organize greeting teams for all five services. As the church grew we started meeting in a high school again, so we were helping with the setup and teardown every weekend. We were just very involved. It was good to be a part of something.
How did you make the leap to becoming a minister? That’s a long way from “angry nonbeliever.”
Charlie Couch, a community pastor at Real Life Ministries, came to me and said there was something heavy he wanted to lay on my heart. I thought it had something to do with someone in my care group. It turns out he wanted to talk to me about resigning from my job to become a pastor for a Christian church in Montana. There couldn’t have been anything further from my mind. I told him I would pray about it. So from Sunday to Thursday I prayed, and by Thursday I was confident there was no way this church would hire me as a pastor. So I said, ”Sure,” and I was right, they didn’t want me.
Our senior pastor, Jim Putman, found out I was at least willing to interview for a pastoral role so he approached me and said, ”Don’t do it. You need to plant a church for us in the Spokane Valley.” My response was, ”I don’t want to be a pastor. I don’t want to quit my job. I like my job.” He kept after me and eventually we came to an agreement that if an organization would take the time to assess whether or not I was capable of doing a church plant, and they were willing to financially back it, that I would resign and do a church plant for them. So that’s when I flew down to the Northern California Evangelistic Association (now Stadia). To this day I think it was a conspiracy, <grins> but they assessed me and said, ”Yes, we’ll support you in this, and you should resign and become a pastor.” So I did. Biggest leap of faith of my life.
How did Nona react to that?
It was so surreal, she couldn’t really grasp it. It wasn’t until years later that we stopped looking at each other saying, “How in the world did this happen? How did we end up here?” There’s no other way to describe it than it was supernatural. Nona has always believed in me, not that she was blind to my faults. She sees them. She just has this incredible Christlike vision that says your sin is not nearly as great as the image of God in you. And it’s been a real blessing to try to live up to her high standard of belief and expectations—the high value she places on me. It’s good to have that; it makes failing safe. It turns failure into learning opportunities, rather than painful defeats.
What was the biggest surprise about the shift in careers?
Grace. Grace was hard to receive and it was hard to give. In the business world you either performed or you were fired. In the ministry I was very focused on whether a person’s performance was up to standards; if it wasn’t, there was very little grace. So it was hard for me to translate from the secular environment to a ministry environment.
How did being in sales teach you about ministry?
It was huge. The items I was selling cost millions of dollars. When you’re looking to ask someone to spend upwards of a million dollars, suddenly you’re not selling a product as much as you’re selling a relationship. So sales taught me how to be extremely relational with people—to listen to their needs and to try to provide them with something of great value that would meet those needs.
Were you surprised by the different environment of working with volunteers?
Who isn’t? That’s probably one of the biggest struggles for me, and this isn’t a business world vs. ministry world thing, this is something I am passionate about to my core. How could anyone who calls himself a Christ follower not see how seriously Christ took the church? Ephesians 1:22 says, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him head over everything for the church.” The reason Jesus is the boss of everything is so somehow, someway, it could work out for the benefit of the church. He died for the church. Ephesians 5 says he gave up everything for the church. How could anyone who is a Christ follower not somehow, someway, take it seriously, rather than treating it as something optional? Doesn’t it ever disgust you that people take a lackadaisical approach to church? And these are people who call themselves Christians! Church is a very serious matter to Christ. If you’re going to commit to going to church, you better commit to more—sustain her. Jesus called it his bride for a reason. Make her beautiful.
What’s hard about ministry?
The hardest two things about ministry are not being able to be there for somebody because you’re committing everything you have into someone else, and not being there for somebody because you just don’t have the energy. Anybody who is in the middle of a crisis can’t imagine there’s anything more important than his crisis, but sometimes you don’t have any good excuse, you just know that you have nothing in your tank and you would be of no value to that person.
So the difficulty is what you can do versus what you can’t do?
All this stuff that I’m responsible for, in terms of my job description, is work. It’s rewarding work, but it’s work. It’s not a hobby. Sometimes I’ve got to take time away from it. I can’t be there for everybody. That’s the hardest thing. You want to rescue, be a hero, at least love on them, but you can’t because sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day.
How have you taken what you learned in your conversion to help others?
The Bible is filled with stories about how God used idiots—over and over and over again. When a person sees my story he can go, ”There goes God again, using another idiot.” For me it’s really easy to say to somebody, ”Don’t give me your lame excuse about God not being able to use you because of your past, or your lack of talent, or you don’t know the Bible.” God will use anybody he wants, and if you’re willing to let God take your life and do something with it, he will. It’s an amazing thing.
God has certainly put you to use.
To me, if you’re a tool in the master’s toolbox, and he wants to use you—how cool of a gig is that? I want to be God’s all-purpose tool that can be used as a screwdriver, a hammer, a can opener, anything. I want to be so handy that when I baptize a guy on the road to Gaza he says, “I’m going to teleport you to Azotus right now.”
Brad Dupray is senior vice president, ministry development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.