Interview with Mike Baker

By Paul Boatman

 

Mike Baker has been senior pastor at Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois, since 2007. He first served at Eastview as youth pastor, beginning in 1995, and became associate pastor in 2002.

 

How do you happen to be in ministry?

I was called to preach when I was 6 years old. It is all I have ever wanted to do. I did a side trip of 16 years in youth ministry. That let me be part of a team, learning from leaders in growing churches. I still preached—to the youth, occasionally to the whole church.

Eventually I went to Christ in Youth. Working in that awesome nationwide movement showed me that I really need to be ministering in the local church. So I came to Eastview as youth minister—“preacher” to 300 kids. The leadership spent five and a half years transitioning me from youth minister to preaching minister, but preaching is why I’m here.

 

More than just preaching, you are the leader of this megachurch.

I lead so I can preach. The preaching voice is the most naturally organic leadership the church has. The presenter of the Word of God is the voice that influences.

 

What do you preach?

I have always said that all of the Word of God is interesting if you will preach it. I want to preach every passage in the Bible before I die, and I will have to preach passages that I don’t want to preach. Since I have been the senior pastor, we have preached through Deuteronomy, Luke, and Acts. After Easter we began our journey through Genesis. We just go through the book, and dig into it, looking at the key Greek and Hebrew words.

 

We?

Yes. This year J.K. Jones, our spiritual formation pastor, and some of our younger staff joined me in studying Genesis for about three months. We met to share our thoughts, and the whole preaching team will follow the same path through the text.

 

So Eastview is all about preaching?

The debate in U.S. church culture is over missional church or attractional church. Every church must be missional—every church must be on mission. But church is attractional—there is power when people know there is a place in culture where they can go and hear truth.

I think part of the explanation of the growth of Eastview is, “You guys preach the Word of God; you’re not afraid to tackle tough topics; you don’t tiptoe around.” If it comes up in the book we are preaching, we talk about it, even the sticky issues. I believe this gives a more well-rounded approach to all of life without doing the typical topical series like “Family,” “Giving,” “Holy Spirit,” and so on. We just take what comes, and strangely enough over the last five years, we’ve covered just about every big topic several times.

 

Does that explain your growth?

Eastview is a 62-year-old church that has grown steadily from 19 to 5,000. But back in ’98 we hit a soft spot. We had just moved from a 4-acre campus to a 100-acre campus, from a traditional building to an 85,000-square-foot facility that let us do programs for every need—and we started shrinking.

We went from 2,700 to 2,300 in four years. The leadership had a prayer retreat and decided we needed to do what we do best: quit the smorgasbord, and focus on mission. We’ve grown ever since.

 

Are there specific growth techniques you have rejected?

The satellite church approach concerns me. Preaching in the church is an incarnational event. I don’t want people coming to church to watch a video—I want them to interact with a body of Christ made up of living, breathing people.

If we build a church on programmatic hype, then we have to keep doing that; the show has to keep getting better and better. We used to be this highly programmed show designed to make outsiders react, “That was cool.” Now, we may still have cool lights and stuff, but we emphasize that something spiritual is happening here that is not experienced anywhere else in culture. We can sustain that. We’re about following Christ: we do small groups, we are a church of prayer, we preach the Word of God, we help people in need, and we can do that until Jesus comes back. So, I would say that the satellite church movement is not for us.

 

Satellites seem to be working for some churches.

I think it is dangerous. I’m not sure that I like it philosophically or biblically, but I don’t think it is sustainable. A transition will bring crisis. It is hard enough in any church of any size to replace a pastor, especially the longtime leader of a great church. Multiply that problem by the number of satellites who have related to the face on the big screen. I don’t see it working.

 

Some of your colleagues are leading the movement of satellite churches.

I think it is ironic that our movement does that when one of our distinctives is the autonomy of the local church. In essence, we’re creating little denominations in starting two, three, five, six satellite churches. (My apologies to my friends for this soapbox.)

 

Speaking of “our movement,” how do you relate?

I grew up in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. It is my heritage. I embrace it. I love it. It made me who I am. But something bothers me. A lot of talk goes, “How are we going to hold this movement together?” I wonder if we might be trying to keep something alive that God intended to serve only for a certain time. Keeping a “movement” together is like holding a denomination together, and that is not what we are about. I’d rather just live out the idea of the movement.

 

What else troubles you?

Our Bible colleges are in crisis, trying to define who they are. Years ago if you wanted to be a Christian church minister, you had to go to a Christian church Bible college, but not anymore. Bible college leaders, in struggling to adjust, have responded the wrong way. Instead of doing what they have done well—train people for ministry—they have diversified, and most cannot compete with the bigger, better-endowed schools.

The more sandwiches and other meats Kentucky Fried Chicken offers, the worse their chicken gets. I tell kids, “Go where you’ll get the best education to be what you think God wants you to be.”

 

What’s your future in ministry?

Whenever this ride here at Eastview is done, I could go to another culture or another place. Maybe I’ll start a church at age 62. By then I’d have 40 years of experience, maybe a little wisdom, fewer hang-ups, and nothing to prove. I’d try to be teamed with young preachers with loads of energy. For now, I just want to keep preaching until I die.

 

Paul Boatman is chaplain of Safe Haven Hospice in Lincoln, Illinois.

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