The consistency of challenging their congregation to be bold in furthering the kingdom over the years paid off throughout 2017.
By Natalee Jones
Change isn’t easy but it’s necessary for growth. That’s what Don Wilson kept in mind as he was deciding to retire as senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley (CCV) in Phoenix, Arizona, a church he helped launch.
Wilson and his wife were meeting with three other couples in the Wilsons’ living room just over 35 years ago when they felt God calling them to start a church in the Phoenix area. CCV’s first service was in a local movie theater on April 1, 1982. Since then, CCV has grown into one of the largest Christian churches in the nation, with eight campuses and more than 25,000 in weekly attendance.
In late January 2017, Wilson announced it would be his final year as senior pastor, and Ashley Wooldridge would replace him in November.
“The hardest part is knowing when to leave,” Wilson said. “I wanted the transition to be as smooth as possible and that takes a lot of time in prayer.” Wilson listened to God for timing and guidance.
Nearing the conclusion of a very successful and spiritually impactful 2016, Wilson felt that the timing was right. The church leaders had continually challenged the congregation to invite their unchurched friends and create an environment that people would want to come back to.
The consistency of challenging their congregation to be bold in furthering the kingdom over the years paid off throughout 2017. The church had the most baptisms in its history, with more than 3,500 dedicating their lives to Christ last year. They also opened their eighth campus, in Chandler, Arizona.
“Most people that start a church stay too long,” Wilson said. “Part of that problem is that they do not have something to retire to.”
Wilson, 69, and his wife will continue to focus on helping young couples serving in ministry. They started Accelerate.Group, an organization that focuses on encouraging young leaders through the challenging parts of ministry and assisting with leadership selection and church transitions.
Wilson felt CCV was well-prepared for such a transition because a team of good, youthful individuals capable of taking over was in place. His replacement as senior pastor, Ashley Wooldridge, had been serving on staff as an executive pastor at CCV for more than 10 years and on the teaching team for three years. Wilson believes Wooldridge’s leadership skills and energy will help him to successfully lead CCV.
Ultimately, Wilson knows the impact of CCV is not determined by the people in leadership positions. Any and all accomplishments are God’s handiwork. These past 35 years, Wilson said, “show you just how good God is and all of the grace that he has for us.”
Natalee Jones is a multimedia journalist who is passionate about using her abilities to bring joy to others and glorify Christ.