John Dickerson came to pastor Cornerstone Church in Prescott about six and a half years ago. When he and his wife Melanie arrived, they were practically still newlyweds. Little did they know the challenges they would face.
As is often the case in Prescott, Cornerstone had experienced its ups and downs since starting out as the 1st Evangelical Free Church in the late 1980’s. It had achieved attendance levels of more than 150 and had dropped to as low as 60 on more than one occasion. Jesus often referred to His followers as his flock. Throughout it’s existence, Cornerstone had been the home of a few rather unruly sheep.
When the Dickersons arrived, about 60 people were attending the church - and that number included a few children. Cornerstone was struggling financially, even to the point of having serious discussions of merging with another church. The Dickersons were taking a step of faith in coming to Cornerstone.
Of course, Cornerstone was also taking a step of faith in calling John to be their pastor. First of all, he was young - in his 20’s. Secondly, although he received a degree from Bob Jones University it wasn’t in pastoral studies, it was in journalism. Thirdly, he would be coming to the church straight from a thriving career in journalism at the Phoenix New Times, a publication which is not exactly known for either it’s conservative or Christian values.
Biblical stories are replete with accounts of unlikely messengers (Moses, Peter and Paul just to name a few), here was a modern day version. And so, this match which could have only been made in heaven began in December, 2008.
John Dickerson, on one of his first Sundays at Cornerstone.
At first, Dickerson looked a bit overwhelmed. This was a lot different than being a journalist!
Fast forward about six and a half years. Cornerstone had outgrown its facilities on Rosser and Demerse, the church now meets at the Yavapai College Performance Center, with about 800 in attendance between the two services. The pastoral staff had grown from one to six, with several other supporting staff members. More children take part in the Sunday School program than the church’s total attendance when the Dickerson’s arrived in 2008. The church as a whole donated over $100K last year to missions. Partnerships have formed within the community, leading to several Night of Worship events on the Courthouse Square.
The Dickerson family grew, too. Jack was born a couple of years after they arrived in Prescott, daughter Zoey followed a couple more years later. In addition, John and Melanie are in the multi-year process of adopting a daughter from Haiti.
Reaching back to his journalism roots, John wrote a book called The Great Evangelical Recession, which was released in January, 2013. Suddenly, he was in demand all over the country as a speaker and teacher. He juggled his pastoral duties with his speaking requests, while also fulfilling his role as a husband and dad. The responsibilities were wearing, but he managed with God’s grace.
John Dickerson at a local book signing for “The Great Evangelical Recession.”
Then, in the fall of 2014, the Dickersons sensed a change was coming. That God was leading them in a new direction. John explained this in a letter to his congregation on March 9, 2015:
“...You all have taught me what it is to love. You’ve showed me how healthy and world-changing a local church can be. You’ve helped me navigate the challenges of being a dad, husband and spiritual leader. You’ve believed in me—when I didn’t believe in myself. You’ve demonstrated that churches can be places of healing and can love their pastors, extravagantly. If not for you, Cornerstone, I would not be the man of God I am. Because of you, God is now allowing me to minister to the tens of thousands of His people through national writing and speaking, building up His broader Church at large.
"So here is my Jordan River crossing. On Wednesday, I accepted a position as “Teaching Pastor in Residence” at Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, California. This is not a Senior Pastor position. At Venture, I will be mentored by one of the most effective Christian communicators of our day, Chip Ingram. The role will focus exclusively on developing my teaching and writing gifts—to build up the Christ’s Church around the world and in the strategic Silicon Valley. I will teach about 18 weekends per year, but will not be a Senior or Lead Pastor. This will allow me to continue serving the national church and serving my young family—at a pace that will be physically and emotionally sustainable.
"This position is a direct answer to prayer for Melanie and me, as we have strained to balance the demands of a young family, local church ministry in a “Lead” position, and ever-unfolding national ministry. We have no doubt that this move is God’s plan for us to contribute to His Kingdom on earth. Cornerstone and Venture are equally the Ephesians 2:10 “good works” that God prepared for me and Mel before the foundation of the earth. We have one short life to invest irrevocably into Christ’s work..."
While still digesting the news, Cornerstone members have rallied ‘round the Dickerson family - willing to send them out as if they were missionaries going to a foreign land. (Some may even consider that comparison appropriate.) Since the Dickersons had a sense last fall that they were being led away from Prescott, John prepared the Elder team for this eventuality. The transition was carefully considered and planned, with a team in place. A month-long national search for candidates started on March 23.
Other details fell into place, too. On April 13, John wrote on Facebook, "God brought the perfect buyers on Friday--the first day the house went on the market. We are excited to be working with them and amazed at how clearly God's hand is leading our family."
Friday night, hundreds gathered at the Cornerstone Rosser campus to say goodbye and offer their love. One of the church elders, Dave Richards, expressed it well when he wrote on his Facebook timeline, "Dickerson Reception tonight at Prescott Cornerstone Church! We are SO going to miss them, but know God has such incredible plans for them!!! Love you guys!”
And so, it is with brimming hearts that Cornerstone meets this morning to hear John for one last time as their Senior Pastor. The goodbyes will be painful, but the love will overflow as new adventures begin.
Once again, it comes down simply to steps of faith for a church and a young family.