The challenge of raising children to become Christ-honoring men and women—all while being a busy church planter and hard-working pastor—are many. We must consider issues like managing our time, giving each child individual attention, creatively commending Christ, and giving them a healthy view of the church.
In my discussions with pastors and planters, this subject often comes up. Parenting is a privilege and a joy, but it’s hard work and often filled with grief, disappointment, and pain.
So, how can we parent and pastor well? And what about parenting adopted children? What kind of unique challenges does that bring? My guest today is a church planter with a full quiver of children. Renaut van der Riet is the lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Orlando, Florida. He and his wife, Brooke, are raising eight kids.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Tony Merida: Welcome to ”Churches Planting Churches,” a podcast on the theology and practice of church planting. I’m your host, Tony Merida. The challenge of raising children to become Christ-honoring men and women while being a busy church planter and hardworking pastor are many. We have to consider issues like time management, giving each child individual attention, how to best commend Christ to our kids and how to give them a healthy view of the church. These are about a few of the challenges. In my discussions with pastors and planters, this subject often comes up. Parenting is a privilege and a joy, but it is hard work and often one filled with grief, disappointment, and suffering.
So how can we parent and pastor well? How can you parent a lot of kids and plant a church well? And what about parenting adopted children? What kind of unique challenges does that bring? My guest today is a church planter with a full quiver of children. Renaut Van der Riet is the lead pastor of Mosaic church in Orlando, Florida. He and his wife Brooke are raising eight kids. Renaut, welcome to the podcast.
Renaut van der Riet: Thanks ,man. It’s great to be here. Really great to be here.
Tony: It’s great to see you brother. Renaut and I just had a meeting not long ago in Houston with a number of Acts 29 pastors and just talking about life, ministry, vision yeah, future of A29. It was a joy to just catch up with him a bit. And we share a common joy and challenge of parenting a lot of kids.
Renaut: Yes, we do.
Tony: Including adopted children.
Renaut: Yes, we do.
Tony: And so we were kindred spirits. So I’ve got Renaut on the podcast because I wanna capture his stories, doing tremendous work in Orlando, but also I need counseling myself. And so…
Renaut: Let us counsel one another, my friend. Let us counsel one another.
Tony: Why don’t you tell us a little what about yourself, how you came to faith and about your church Mosaic?
Renaut: Sure. In a nutshell, I grew up in South Africa actually born and raised their parents, born and raised there, etc, etc. Military kid and had the extraordinary privilege of growing up in a home that was a Christian home, not just a theoretically Christian home, but, you know, parents that actually love Jesus. They’d both grown up in parts of the faith that were a little bit more private. So like what my dad was, I think Anglican growing up and my mom was Dutch reformed. And then when they got married, they were like, neither of those will work, so they jumped into the Baptist world and I think didn’t necessarily come to faith there, but found their faith in terms of expression there. So I’m born into this home that Jesus is kind of part of the home, but not a legalistic way or in a theoretical way, just it’s just part of life.
And so I, you know, I used to think to myself, it kind of sucks I don’t have a good testimony because when you fill out those testimony sheets, it’s like before you knew Jesus and I’m like, don’t remember. After you knew Jesus, always been. Not that I’ve always known Jesus, but really in many ways it has felt that way. But now that I’m an adult and I have children, like I have the best testimony on the entire planet where I’m like, I don’t have dark nights and drug addictions and crazy stuff to thrill everyone with before Jesus saved me. I just have freedom, an entire story of freedom. I look back on my life and I can’t think of a regret I have other than little silly things because Jesus has been part of it from as far back as I have memory.
And so when Jesus is part of your story, whether it is post a mess or pre a mess, it’s freedom that you find. And so to have a life and a story that is essentially just here’s what freedom looks like when God is gracious from a very young age, is that not the testimony that I dream and wish for every one of my kids, which now, by God’s grace, I can say this is gonna be their story. Because they’re all teenagers and young adults now and they have no story of memory beforehand other than my four adopted, which we’ll get into. But yeah, it’s…
So then we moved to the U.S. my dad became the military ambassador to the U.S. when I was 17 and we moved to the DC area, finished high school here, went to Bible college here, got into student ministries. Thought I’d be a student ministries pastor my whole life. Had no interest in working with adults. Kids are awesome. Adult are crazy. And then while in Monterey, California at a Saddleback model church there in student ministries, God stirred my heart, my wife’s heart into church planting. 28 years old, two kids, one three years old, one five weeks old when we moved to Orlando to plant Mosaic Church. And then just started the journey. And that’s been a 17-year journey with Mosaic now. First few months, just lived here and then planted in Easter of 2003. And have been riding that extraordinary journey or rather tumbling down that extraordinary rabbit hole, if you will, for the last 17 years watching God do his thing. So in a nutshell, it’s kind of the story.
Tony: Yeah. Yeah. So how did you convince your wife to marry you?
Renaut: Man, I joke sometimes that she had probably had too much to drink, but she doesn’t find that funny at all because she doesn’t have my story and has a story before she became a Christian. And that was part of it. And so she doesn’t like that. So you may not have to have her ever listen to this podcast, but, you know, we met my wife had been a believer for probably two and a half, three years when we met. She became a believer at UVA as a almost sophomore. And so her entire space hadn’t been so much in the church as much as on a college campus being discipled extraordinarily. And so because of her life before, a lot of guys played into her story in very unhealthy ways obviously.
And so when we met and we started out journey the first nine months of our journey, it was just the first time she had ever been in a space where the relationship was not after something from her. It was just after Jesus. And she was from me, this fresh, clear vision of Jesus in a fairly new believer, kind of, but very well-discipled by that stage. And so by the time we had gotten engaged, we were in the DC area. We had a big old romantic day of leading to the engagement, got engaged and she said yes, which was awesome. And we’ve been married 23 years now.
Tony: So you proposed in DC?
Renaut: I did.
Tony: I did, too.
Renaut: No kidding. Where did you propose?
Tony: Well, it was in Arlington.
Renaut: In Arlington?
Tony: It’s a long story, but Arlington cemetery. Arlington cemetery.
Renaut: Yeah. I proposed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at like two minutes to midnight, and I needed her to say yes before midnight because it was on the 1st of July and I knew I wouldn’t remember the date unless it was. So at like exactly midnight, I said, look, is it a yes or a no? Because we need to know before the date switches that she said yes. So.
Tony: Yeah, she’s a Virginia girl. She worked on the Hill. Her dad worked in the Pentagon who worked on the Hill for many years, so.
Renaut: That’s awesome. My wife’s dad worked at the Pentagon for many years too, so. Yeah. That’s so awesome.
Tony: From DC to Saddleback to Orlando, back to Saddleback, what is it that triggered these interests in church planting at that particular event?
Renaut: So the church I was at in Monterrey, Saddleback Model Service Line Church, we had started a young adult ministry there for some college kids. It turned into a Bible study that went from like 20 to 70, and then you get into that weird space where like, it’s not a Bible study. What the heck is it? We started a little bit of a gathering thing and then it turned into one of those young adult gatherings. At the time in Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Bible church was doing Graceland at the time and the post when postmodernism was a thing.
You remember that? And so we kind of on the Monterey peninsula had this young adult group and it grew to a couple of 100 people. And I had approached the church to kind of say, Hey, in the future, not immediately, but down the road since this is kind of turning into somewhat of a thing, could we church plant this thing out? And in that model of church, nothing wrong with that per se, but philosophically if you have a great thing going, you kind of keep it in house. And so they were like, you know, that’s not our thing. And that was the beginning of God kind of stirring in my mind at least. Huh. I wonder like if church planting is not a thing here, should it be a thing at all? And that was the beginning point of God kind of stirring idea of church planting. And then over the next year it just, that was what he had sparked. And then it was just like a, this pull into like we need to go plant a church.
Tony: So what led you to Orlando?
Renaut: Yeah. So we wanted to, you know, in the middle of all the postmodern world wanted to plant a church for postmoderners at that time, so young adults and looked at all the young adult meccas that the country holds, assuming that that’s what God would call us, cause we’re planting for young adults. So research triangle in the Carolinas, Seattle, Austin, Texas, other places like that. But we did find that in a lot of those places as we researched, there were other ministries planting great young adult churches. And so if we were the better version, they don’t come to us versus them. But if you are a young adult and you wanted to go to a great church, that would culturally be relevant, you had an option in all those places.
I had a friend who had a friend in Orlando that I had met once before and he said to me, ”You should reach out. I think he might be interested in planting a church.” And that was what sparked the flight out to Orlando to kind of see is Orlando a thing. We moved, we drove out to West Orlando. My wife was pregnant with our second child at the time and went to this little town called Claremont, which is where we were gonna plant. And I literally drove into town saying, well, good decision made. We’re not planting here because it was like there wasn’t a young adult in sight. It was sort of small town outside of Orlando.
And we went into the Chamber of Commerce and there was this pink flyer. I remember on paper, I remember even thinking what kind of a Chamber of Commerce print their projections on a pink piece of paper. I mean, this is so dumb. And but the projections were that a lot of Disney employees, especially young families, were gonna move out West of Orlando because the traffic from where they were living at the time was getting heavier. And the next few years would see a large growth of younger families in the West Orlando area. And God just spoke and said, this is why I brought you here because they’re coming and there’s nothing for them here.
And so I was honestly not convinced cause I’m like, yeah, but there’s nothing for us here either. Like how long are we talking here? I’m planting for young adults in a retirement community. I mean, none of this makes any sense. But God stirred our hearts. And so we trusted him and came and planted when there was really no young adults on this side of town. And then that projection turned out to be exactly what it was.
And a big part of what God used to stir our hearts in why Orlando and West Orlando is when God shared with us that Disney was where all these young adults would be coming from. Disney is a world-shaping organization. And specifically, Disney produces most of the entertainment that our children watch. And so if that entertainment trajectory gets less and less a biblical in principle, less and less the gospel centered, not that it’s ever gospel-centered but less and less, so then that affects our children’s minds. But if Disney were to be influenced by the gospel, a high level and the decisions they made in the entertainment they chose would become more and more gospel-oriented, we could literally change the world by changing Disney.
And that was one of the big stirrings that got created in me to say, come to Orlando, we’re gonna change the world. Because change in the world is my sort of I would say obsession. It’s more like a curiosity. Like, “Oh my gosh, I get to do that. Like, really? I get to do that?” And so why not try? And so that’s how that played out.
Tony: Every day, I asked my kids that, “Did you change the world today?” Like it’s a running question.
Renaut: It’s awesome.
Tony: At our home. Did you have any interest in Disney before then? Were you a Disney guy?
Renaut: No. No. No. And my interest in Disney to this day, though I would say I’ve learned a lot from Disney and their intentionality in storytelling, which is really the gospel is the grandest story of all. And we are very unintentional in the way that we tell the biblical story, which bothers me a lot. It turns into a textbook of theology rather than a beautiful novel that God is unfolding with much theological implication, right? But though I’ve learned a lot from Disney, my true love for Disney is still that Disney is world-changing and we get to change her. So Disney itself, I’m like, yeah, you know, it’s got princesses. That’s nice.
Tony: And so take us through maybe high level view of the seasons of 17 years of church planting. Can you just kinda drop us into the various periods?
Renaut: Yeah. You know, the first few years where everything that you imagined church planting might be, it was very lonely. Not a whole lot when you parachute in, you know, back then I didn’t know that there were organizations like Acts 29, well I guess back then there wasn’t. But even church planting organizations, books to read, so on, I wasn’t the guy that was like let me get all prepped up and go, which by the way I highly do not recommend.
So I just kind of parachuted in with my wife and I think the first probably year and a half to two years, we had a three-year-old and a five-week-old. No friends, no church because that’s the other weird thing with church planting man. It’s super weird. And you know this. You roll into town usually, especially if you’re coming out of ministry, you always move some way to become a ministry leader of some kindness. So your church automatically is handed to you. Here’s your church. And they all know you because you get introduced on a stage.
Now, you show up in a town where you’re planting a church. No one knows you and you can’t really go to the other churches. I mean, I feel like you should be able to, but when you go, then they say, ”Oh, what are you doing in Orlando?” And the second you say, ”Oh, I’m here to plant a church,” they feel like, oh. So then you kind of get used to saying things like, well, we’re praying about it, you know, like come up with stuff to say that. So you don’t threaten every church in town. And it’s weird. You can’t connect to churches, but you gotta wait. So super lonely. Then we planted the church and, you know, nobody really came. So that was super lonely.
Our first gathering we had probably, I don’t know, 10 or 12 people there, maybe. The extraordinary part of the stories that those 10 or 12 people other than two of them, they’re all still with us and all either deacons are on staff with us. So it’s kind of crazy and really cool. But the point is very small and then rarely stayed small for a long time. I mean the first three years…so those first three years, we focused on a singular idea because we asked ourselves what would it take for people to know we follow Jesus. And we gravitated toward one of the obvious, which is if you don’t love each other, he doesn’t know that you follow me. So we kind of said, well, let’s learn to love each other for real, like legitimately in everyday life and we’re small enough that there’s not a whole lot of dysfunction that’s around.
So let’s do that. Then there was a lot of dysfunction because humans bring tons with them, but we learned to love each other through that. So we said for three years, if we don’t love each other, well they won’t know we follow Jesus. Then three years in there was a juncture, we were probably 60 people or so and we’d gone up and down. We’d gone up to like 70 down to 20, back up to 70. So there’s a lot of those first three years, it fluctuates. So you constantly feel like, am I succeeding or failing? Which in of itself is the wrong question, but that’s how you’d feel.
And then God provided a space for us that was permanent. It’s a story I won’t tell now, but it was an extraordinary story of God’s provision with giving us that space. And part of the story that from a church planting perspective, when people look at Mosaic story now and we have thousands that are part of the story and the church is influential and really cool things happening and everybody assumes this should be the story we all shoot for, which I couldn’t disagree more wholeheartedly because I don’t think church size is the measure of success.
But I do remind people, especially when I’m talking to church planters, like our story is unique, just like every story is. In a now unique story, there’s some things God provided us along the way, like a building practically for free, that if you don’t have some of those parts in your story, don’t measure your ”success” compared to another because you don’t know what God uniquely did in their story that had nothing to do with their extraordinary leadership or their wonderful acumen, but just God’s story that he decided this is the story for this church. And steward, what’s in front of you, whatever’s in front of you, steward that.
So I think in our story, that was one of my big learnings because when we got that building, things grew some then, then we try to stop growth because it was growing fast enough that we’re like, this is changing the DNA. We can’t love each other well. So we stunted growth for a couple of years. I mean, legitimately worked diligently to stunt growth.
Tony: What did you do to stunt growth?
Renaut: I mean, I’ll give you a quick example. We moved into the building in June and we were probably 60 people at the time. Between June and October, we grew to about 130, 140 people. So we more than doubled in size. And that’s a big thing for a church because it disrupts everything. I mean, everything you’ve built for three and a half years in DNA is disrupted because you have more new people than you have people, right?
And so I got in front of the church, Thanksgiving, I remember this and I said to the church, ”Listen, we’ve grown a lot. We’ve got a lot to learn together because there’s a lot new of us. We’re coming into Christmas and Easter. So I’m gonna ask you guys very, very deeply that unless God tells you otherwise, don’t tell anyone that we’re here. Just come enjoy Christmas, enjoy Easter. Please tell no one. Because if we grow any more than this, I don’t think we can maintain what we’ve spent years building.” And I don’t know that everybody honored that. But some did.
We also, I remember that same time I called the newspaper in our little city, you know, they have that free space and these people with churches, they, these are the churches in town. It’s not advertisement, just free. And I called them, I remember I called them, this is dysfunctional, don’t get me wrong, I’m not recommending this. But I called them, I said, ”Hey, could you do me a favor? Could you pull out church out of that directory?” And I remember the lady saying to me, ”No, no, no, no, it’s free.” And I went, ”No, no, I know it’s free. I get that part. But like, we just can’t afford right now for people to know that we’re here. So if you wouldn’t mind just pulling that, that’d be great.” And if we were to argue about it, and she’s like, sure. And I’m like, I’ll let you know if I need to back in. And so we pulled it. I don’t think I ever told her to put it back in actually. So I don’t think it’s in there yet.
But that’s an example where we really intentionally kind of said, let’s get this right here with these people because if we can’t be a people that live out the realities of Scripture, then whatever we become, however big or large, we’re not the people that show the world what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. So then what’s the point of having a church that’s not doing church stuff? So again, I don’t know that that was godly or functional, but it is what we did and it did hold back growth. We probably grew over that Christmas and Easter by another maybe 80 or 100 people. But at least we didn’t grow by 300 or 400.
And I know, you know, I want to be careful in these spaces because every church planter right now it’s going, yeah, that’s great. I mean you’re like, Oh we didn’t grow up but legitimately like we were very afraid of what fast growth can do. And I’ve seen it do tremendously damaging things. So it’s not always the romantic thing it seems to be. And today I would say I’m so grateful for those kinds of decisions over the years because it allowed us to keep our minds in the right place that health of the church can’t just be a side partner to growth. It has to be the central reality. We work at health, we facilitate whatever growth we have, whether it’s up or down, but we work at health and that’s what we’ve tried to do. We still try to do it today.
Tony: That’s good man. That’s so good. Now you mentioned something there that caught my attention. You said church planters should not get all prepped up before they plant. Can you tease that out a bit?
Renaut: Well, I would say they should get all prepped up actually.
Tony: Okay. That’s what you did say. You said should.
Renaut: I did not very much recommend you should, right?
Tony: Gotcha, gotcha.
Renaut: I now get the privilege of being a part of the A29 assessment processes for church planters. And I watch these guys and their wives go through church assessment. And I think to myself, what I would’ve given to have something like this, like what I would have given. The amount of crazy stuff that we had to figure out the hard way that I would not have had to figure out the hard way if I just had a couple people willing to pour into me a assessment process and then resources, books and things to read before I plant.
I mean, I tell guys when I’m done with an assessment process now, and I sit with a couple and we have to tell them some hard things about what they have to do for nine months before they can plant and read these six books. And they’re like, what? And I tell them, listen, here’s the deal man. Like I knew none of this and I planted with none of this and God was gracious, no doubt. But the amount of things I could have saved my wife and kids and family and the church of mistakes we made, or at least just clear expectations. When you feel this lonely, don’t worry. It’s normal. Have a cohort, you’re part of, go find someone. It would have been invaluable.
So I would actually say if you’re gonna church plant, man, whatever process, the movement or organization you’re part of, wants to put you through, thank them. Don’t feel like it’s a burden. It’s not a burden. I’ll tell you what a burden is. Here’s a burden. Plant a church without being well-equipped and wait two years and I’ll show you burden that that is burden.
Tony: Yeah, man. Yeah. Now you and your wife Brooke have eight kids. Is that right?
Renaut: We do. We do indeed know. Yes.
Tony: Now, what kind of car do you drive and whose idea was that?
Renaut: Yeah, we drive a sprinter van. And when my wife is a very orderly person in personality. She very much likes structure and she likes things where they ought to be. So she had two kids in mind, very much so. That would be good. You know, we’d have two kids, so we’d do our thing. I had a little more than that, just, I was more like, I don’t care. Whatever, you know, like, give me 10, give me 2, whatever. So when we birthed our third, that was sort of a wow. And then when we birthed our fourth, that was definitely like a, what the heck?
And both of those, you know, we often say someone probably should have told us how it works because those were not necessarily two of the planned versions. But they are awesome now. Well, at least one of them is. No, I’m just kidding. They’re both are. But Brooke, I remember Brooke very distinctly saying I never want to drive a minivan. I don’t wanna be one of those minivan moms. You know, I wanna drive like, so, so you can’t really have more than three kids if you wanna not drive a minivan. So when we made the transition to minivan when we had our fourth biological child, I think that was a big moment for Brooke was she’s like, ah, bummer. Like, oh, well, here we go into the world.
But when we adopted our other four kids, it was a sibling group that we adopted almost eight years ago now. And she knew that she had to transition from a minivan to a sprinter. That’s a thing that the, you know, Amazon prime drivers drive now. It’s a beast of a thing. FedEx, you think FedEx, Amazon prime. I don’t think she could’ve dreamt in her wildest nightmares that she would be driving a sprinter van around. But she does. She drives it. And all my kids that I have driver’s licenses now, they all learned to drive on the sprinter van. Because I said to them, in a family like ours, you get a driver’s license to become one of the commuters. So if you can’t drive the big van, you’re useless to me. So I teach you on the big vein. And then there’s no other vehicle on the planet that you can’t drive when you learn to drive on this.
Tony: That’s good. We’re having that exact same conversation with my 18-year-old and 17-year-old right now.
Renaut: There you go. There you go.
Tony: Learn on the weekends. It was whose idea was it, you know, in all honesty, it was God’s journey with both of us obviously. It was not, there was never a point where we had made the decision to adopt four children. We had four already. We had been so compelled by the scriptural mandate to engage in the care of orphans, that we knew that it was non-negotiable to at least be engaged. And adoption as the lead pastor just seemed to me also somewhat non-negotiable. I wouldn’t say totally nonnegotiable, but I’d argue pretty close. And so we were always open to that. We discovered out daughter our now daughter and Ethiopia were told that she was abandoned and alone. Found out through the process that she had siblings, which we did not know three siblings. And we had a plan to have four families us and three other families adopt all four of the kids, one each because nobody adopts for that would be idiocy.
And that God through a set of circumstances unraveled. Then we had a family that was gonna dump the two boys while we adopted the two girls because the two boys are older than my biological girls. So that’s a big no-no in the adoption world for good reason. And the oldest boy is older than my oldest biological, so that would break the birthing order as well, which is a giant no-no in the adoption for good reason.
And so I tell people all the time, don’t break those rules unless God absolutely tells you otherwise. And he did for us. It’s a long story not worth telling now, but it was a moment for me quite honestly in a living room where I had to ask, God asked me, I remember very clearly, I’ll just say this part of it. My two daughters, biological daughters, God asked me this question as I was wrestling with adopting the boys because it had become clear that we might have to do all four or none. And God did not say to me, do you believe that I could protect your daughters if from these boys if they have issues?
What God’s question from me was, if things go badly, do you believe I can redeem it? And it’s a very hard question for me to wrestle with because it is the theological space we live in as people who understand God’s sovereignty. It’s what I preach, but now it’s sitting in front of me and my daughter was the question. If he abuses her, can I redeem that? Can you get on a stage and say God can redeem anything? And again, be careful what you hear when I say this because you should never put your children into harm’s way because you are a lead pastor or you think you’re a cool Christian.
But when God himself whispers to you, do you trust me enough to redeem a story that could get ugly? If you follow me into this. And I remember having to come to the place where I say, “God, how could I answer no.” Like how do I answer? No one ever get back on a stage or ever walk out of this house and tell people, “I know and love Jesus and trust him with all of my life.” So I said, “I do believe that you could if you had to.” And then God said, then got invited me to adopt the boys. But it was an invitation. The two girls was very much like, these are your daughters, the two boys. It was like they could be your sons. And Brooke and I prayed and felt that God was calling us to adopt them. So we said yes to that.
I can tell you, my boys have turned out to be the greatest protectors of my entire the all their siblings. God was gracious not to have the things that could have happened happened. I say that carefully also because we should not live under the naivety that says if we step into mission on God’s, he’ll always make it okay on the back end. That’s not true. All the disciples did not have okay ends to their stories and many others after them. But God does promise that everything will be redeemed.
And so it was a big journey for us. We ended up with eight kids, four came to us simultaneously. For our home, it was like taking two tractor trailers and driving them at each other at a hundred miles an hour and hoping that when they collide, it would turn into one big tractor trailer. That was the naivety in which we lived. When two tractor trailers collide, folks at 100 miles an hour, they do not turn into one tractor trailer. I can tell you that. And we’ve spent the last I would say seven and a half years collecting parts. The first two years just putting out fires and dragging dead bodies from the carnage of that collision when two families collide like that and the trauma and insanity that comes with that.
My wife almost died in the process from a soul death standpoint. And God had to redeem a lot. And then we are now at a place where I think we’ve built the chassis. We’ve got maybe some doors duct taped on, the engine is intact. It starts when I turn the key, this thing called a family. I started as I cope, it starts, I have first and gear, I need six more gears, but that’s another decade of building. The truck can move forward. It’s good. And so we’re building and working. We have an actual family now after seven years of work, but it has been a brutal and beautiful journey.
Tony: Amen, bro. Now, you’ve created in your leadership an example, quite an adopting culture as your church, right?
Renaut: Yep. You know, I have always loved the scene in ”Braveheart” where he’s riding his horse in front of those guys with pitchforks about to rush into an enemy that has every reason to kill them, right? I mean, whatever you do, don’t do this. This is stupid. And then I love the fact that he just at one point stops talking and just goes. And there’s that scene where the two guys look at each other like, what do we do now? And the only conclusion is, just charge. Right? And I like to lead that way. I think it’s the way we ought to lead rather than a general in a room somewhere giving orders to the people to go live on mission.
And so we kinda charged in, people…I preach very vulnerably from the stage. I always have just here’s my life, here’s the gospel, here’s how they collide. So through the journey of adoption, both pre and post our kids coming home, I preached a lot of hard, a lot of hard because it was very hard. I remember a title of a message one time was the darkness rises. And I remember preaching a message of the hellish reality that it can feel like when you take on mission and you bring it into the only safe place you have, which is your home and how hard it is on everyone. Not just a biological family, but the adopted kids as well because we are one family now.
So we didn’t hold back. We were very honest and very real. And in that honesty and reality of not saying, this is such a joy, go do it. We’re like, this is gonna kill you. Very likely you’ll probably die. But did Jesus not say that if we follow him, that we should take up the crosses of this world? Because we often use that terminology in terms of Jesus, like take up your cross, meaning whatever circumstances you face today, carry them well. But I’m like, that’s not what Jesus was saying. He didn’t go like have the cross fall on his back by accident and go, “Oh crap, what just happened? Oh, well, I guess, I’ll redeem the human race.” He knew exactly where he was going and he knew across was included. And so what he said to us is, you’re gonna watch me redeem you. When I’m done redeeming you, if you follow me, you’re gonna go take up all the unredeemed spaces of this dead planet and you’re gonna take them on. And here’s how it’s going to feel. The darkness bites back, brother.
So when you take them on, you will feel like you are dying on a cross at first. The very people you’re trying to save will try to kill you. But the one thing you’ve got is that I came back to life after I died and I will bring you back to life after you’re done on mission, whether you lose, literally lose your life or not. And so we preach that a lot. And so people started daring to say, “Well, it’s gonna be hard. It’s gonna be crazy, but someone’s gotta do it and this.” And so our church became a church that kind of said, if we’re gonna adopt, who doesn’t get adopted? Well, special needs and older kids. So we have had close to 300 adoptions into Forever Homes.
And I can’t think of an infant actually in that story. There probably is one or two, but most of them are all five and over or I’m special needs. We have hundreds of special needs children that call this place home with their families. So we’ve become very, very good at that. And fostering, we foster hundreds of children in our midst. And so that’s a lot of special needs and a lot of trauma and a lot of crazy. I will tell you that we stormed in like Braveheart and his team and we got pummeled. I mean, marriages were on the brink, people were dying left and right. We have no idea how to do wraparound care properly. We weren’t a community that was ready for this.
And so I would just tell you as a church, if you wanna go do something crazy like this, again, kind of like church planting, it seems to be my MO. Don’t charge in like an idiot. Get some help to get wraparound care in place and other things. We’ve got that now because we had to learn the hard way. I would say now we have very well -equipped and we are a great place for adoptive and foster care families. But we weren’t always and it was carnage, but God was gracious and we survived and now we are thriving forward.
Tony: That’s awesome man. So one more, we could talk forever about this. A lot of kids ministry, any advice, any advice you’ve got for guys out there who are trying to, I don’t even like the word balance, but balance the role of parenting and pasturing.
Renaut: I do, I do. If you hear nothing else on this podcast, if you’ve ignored everything else, feel free. Don’t ignore this. If I could pull my heart out of my chest and put it on the table for you and show you what I feel about this, the words would be an adequate. There is no balance. There is no balance. Abandon that notion. Okay. Here’s the deal. You’re gonna live if you live a normal human life for about 70 years, maybe 80, that gives you 55 productive years, maybe 60. Okay. When you’re 50 or 60, you can plan to church. If your church fails, you can plant another one and do it again. You can start a new business. I’ve thought about this a lot. I can start anything I’m doing today. If it all fails, I can do it again when I turn 50, I’m 46 now. Okay.
When I turn 52, my youngest child is 18 and if I say to God, “God, I’m so sorry. I was really busy over these last 20 years pastoring a church because you called me to it because it was a sacred work. And the church had lots of demands and so they pulled me a lot so I didn’t quite get it right with the kids. I’m so sorry. They don’t know me super well because the mistress that was the church pulled me from them. And they’re struggling because they don’t like the church very much because she was the mistress that pulled me from them. Can I have a do over on them for the next 20 years?” Bro, there’s no do over. There’s redemption, but there’s no do over.
Now, on the other hand, if I give my life to my kids for those 20 years while I’ve got them and the church suffers because of that, really does. People like, man, you don’t, you don’t work really hard. Or men, you say no to a lot of people. Man, you disappoint a lot of people. Let’s use that word because you disappointed a lot of people. People think you give way too much time to your family and your kids turn 20 and you go, “God, the church failed. Can I do that over again?” He goes, “Yeah, as a matter of fact, not only that, but you’ve got 20 years of experience now so you can do it better.” But your kids didn’t fail.
I got a letter from my daughter who’s 20 she’s at Liberty University junior last year for father’s day, and I’m done then. And she wrote me this little note and the note basically said, ”Dad, I always knew that you’re a great dad because you lift the gospel at home, which in of itself was just amazing thing to hear.” But she said, ”Since being at school in a Christian university with other Christians, I had no idea that being present at our home every day and choosing us over church was not a thing that everybody else experienced. And we did. And today it sets me apart from all my peers because I have a dad that I knew put us first every time and said no to a lot of church.”
And folks hear me on this. I disappointed this church a lot. I wasn’t available a lot. And I still do. And during the years of adoption, I probably worked 15 hours a week for two years because my wife needed me home in a big way. During a time that this church was on the verge of changing and it needed me and I didn’t give myself to her. And I don’t regret that for one single second. So don’t balance this out, boys. Please don’t balance this up.
Tony: It’s good.
Renaut: Be home. Be with your kids, raise them well, get that right and do everything else after that that you want.
Tony: Thank you so much, brother, for your life, your example, your transparency, and taking some time to capture this story. It’s encouraged my soul deeply.
Renaut: It’s a joy to do it, my friend. I’m looking forward to hanging with you soon again.
Tony: Yes. Yes, indeed. Thanks, man.