Pastor Zach's Story

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Pastor Zach shares his story of faith and how theCross has played an important role. Please share your story by clicking the link here and scrolling to the bottom. We are using these stories for our Plant and Build Initiative that we have launched. Without further ado, here’s Pastor Zach’s story:

I thought I had a normal life and a normal story. It wasn’t until I got to theCross that I realized that me and my story are abnormal. I actually have had a very fortunate life. I’ve known Jesus my entire life. When I tried to wander early on He brought me back. My parents have never divorced and I’ve gone through no major catastrophes. There are no major addiction issues in the family. I went to college right after high school and never changed my major and was both graduated and married at the age of 21. The woman I married was a beautiful, out-of-my-league, God-fearing woman. We moved to Seminary and owned our first house at the age of 22. I received my Masters of Divinity at 26 and was planting and pastoring a church a month later. We bought our second house and in the midst of those years had two healthy boys. And I now sit at the helm of what we believe is the fastest growing church in our entire denomination.

Many would say that’s how life is supposed to go. That’s what the “normal” life should look like. It wasn’t until I came to theCross that I realized my “normal” life was anything but.

What I realize at theCross is that my story is actually unique. The “normal” story at theCross includes some combination of words like divorce, separation, cancer, drugs, alcohol, addiction, death, financial loss, cheating, affair, rock-bottom, broke, and I often wonder why God would allow a preppy golfer guy like me to oversee a group of people like that. I guess my heart goes out to those who haven’t had my life.

I’m grateful to the ones who’ve gone before me. I’m grateful that over 100 years ago my great-grandfather decided to give his life over to following Jesus and serving the church. His example and model inspired my grandpa to do the same who inspired my dad to do the same who inspired me today to try to model and instill that in my children and church. What I want to do is give people hope and encouragement that the decisions they make today in following after God can change not only this generation, but the generations that follow after them. No matter where we are in this life, we can impact the others around us now but also those that come after us.

That’s why I believe God has me at theCross: to help inspire and motivate others to lead the life God has for them. But something else has happened along the way. As much as I’m teaching and leading, I’m being taught and I’m being inspired like never before by this group of people with the abnormal stories.

From this unique, diverse group of people and stories, what I’m finding is the most genuine, friendly, welcoming, loving, and grace-filled church family that I’ve ever experienced. Not only that, but one of the things I love the most about this church is we like to have fun together. I love that we can reclaim that in Christ it’s okay to have fun. At theCross God has given me confidence that I’ve never had before. My faith has increased and I believe God has put in this position at such a time as this so that we can and we will win this city for Jesus Christ.

I think what we have going for us is that because there has been so much tragedy, obstacles, and problems collectively in this church, is that people in this church are ready like never before to finally and truly submit to Christ because they’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked. And only Jesus can work and will work. Jesus is simply better and He’s the only way.

There are times when I feel out of place, times when I feel like I’m in over my head, and times when I simply don’t know what to do. That’s probably why we ended up with 21 people getting tattooed with our church logo. But in just a few years, look around. People’s lives are changing and there is no cause greater in the world than living for Jesus and trying to change a city.

Through it all, I can honestly say I’ve never felt the love of God like I have in this place. Thank you for accepting an abnormal guy like me like you have into your midst.

I’m excited to be your pastor. I can’t imagine being the pastor of any other place. I love you. And I want to be a part of winning this city for Jesus with you. We can do this.

Posted by Zach Zehnder with

What is Plant & Build?

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Four years ago, through the generosity and vision of the Central Florida Cross Network (CFLCN), our congregation, theCross, was planted in Mount Dora, FL. God has done amazing things in the first four years of our existence. He has grown us from a handful of families to a movement of hundreds of people who worship together, enjoy life together, and serve the community together. Over a hundred people have been baptized and hundreds more are enjoying a new or stronger relationship with Jesus Christ as a result of God planting theCross in Mount Dora. What has become abundantly clear through these first four years is that theCross is a viable congregation that is here for the long haul!

“What does God want theCross to look like or become in the future?” As the leader of a young, growing church, this is one of the many hard questions I’ve faced. Does God want us to continue to grow as big as we can at this location or does He desire for us to split up and add a new location as a new church plant when we grow to a certain size? I have wrestled with this question and after much prayer and conversation, I believe the answer is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.” We are excited and energized by the explosive increase at theCross and believe we should continue God’s growing work. At the same time we recognize and embrace the biblical value of continuing to plant additional churches.

It’s time we consider our future with intentionality.

It’s time for us, as the people of theCross Mount Dora, to consider the reality that what we carry inside of ourselves is the hope for the world. With this reality comes responsibility! How do we endure as God’s church? What do we do with the hope that we’ve been given?

God gave our people the answer some time ago in Jeremiah 29:5-7:

“Build houses and make yourselves at home; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Seek peace and prosperity for your city and pray for its well-being. For when your city thrives, you also will thrive.”

God’s churches always build the infrastructure to thrive where they are, and plant seeds of peace and prosperity in their city. We believe that God’s word in Jeremiah 29 also speaks to us in the Lake County community for this time. We are to grow where God has planted us and to continue to seek the peace and prosperity of the surrounding area(s) in which we are involved.

So how will we do this? What will this look like?
We’ll join with our network of congregations, the Central Florida Cross Network, as we imagine the best way for us to plant and build over the next five years. Our church joins in their mission to transform Central Florida as we bring Jesus to everyone by serving the needs of the community and growing the faith of all who believe. Arising from that mission for us specifically, we see the following things happening:

  • Raising funds to plant a new church that shares the vision and values of theCross Mount Dora
  • Establishing a fund for grants to support non-profits and organizations that serve the community as well as serving in these non-profit organizations in our community
  • Setting aside resources to improve our facility and/or develop a new one
  • All of this will be organized under an initiative called Plant and Build. The sacrificial gifts offered above and beyond our normal offerings will allow our church to continue to plant and support new ministries while continuing to build upon what God is doing at theCross. The goal for this campaign will be to raise pledges over the next 3 years for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in Lake County. Here is what we are hoping to do with the funds raised:

Planting a New Church: $250,000
The first component of Plant & Build is to plant a new church. Together with the other member congregations of CFLCN we have identified the cost of $250,000 to plant a new church including administrative support and resources for the first three years. As a recent church plant, we are excited to be in a position to pay it forward and plant a new church. We believe that by planting a new church we will bring many more people to a relationship with Jesus Christ and His Kingdom will grow. Church planting is statistically the best way to reach the un-churched population and also one of the best ways to renew the whole body of Christ. We are passionate about helping contribute one more congregation toward our network goal of seven by 2020.

Strengthening Non-Profit Partnerships: $150,000 plus 150,000 community service hours
The second component of Plant & Build is to strengthen our commitment to our community partners in Central Florida with finances and an aggressive plan to increase volunteers for these partners. We plan to support our non-profit partners through grants which will serve a need in the community. Imagine if we are able to contribute significantly to organizations like Hand in Hand, Lake Cares, and Habitat for Humanity as well as be the catalyst for new non-profits or ventures that will serve the community. Possible ideas could be a community garden, sports programs for children, tutoring/mentoring programs, etc. It is our goal that by 2020 we will also have served over 150,000 service hours in our community. By strengthening our community partnerships we reinforce our mission to meet the needs of the community and grow the faith of all who believe.

Growing theCross Mount Dora
The third component of Plant & Build is growing our existing church. Every healthy congregation needs capital improvements as it grows. Our growth trends are extremely encouraging. With the amount of visitors and guests that come through our church doors, combined with the growth of Mount Dora, we will continue to make responsible fiscal decisions as we move forward. What has become abundantly clear through these first four years is that theCross Mount Dora is a viable congregation that is here for the long haul! Because of this reality, it makes sense for our church to move towards a more sustainable permanent location by 2020 by investing in land and/or a building that will better suit our needs moving forward. We are trying to anticipate the needs for the next 3-5 years for our church. If we are looking to move before 2020 then the strategic planning needs to begin now so that we are ready by that time and we do not become stagnant for any length of time. We plan to use a small portion of these funds over the next 3 years in equipment upgrades and possible rentals of additional units. The majority of this amount could be applied towards a down payment of land/building/renovation of a new worship facility.

This may not be easy, and will require sacrifice of time and funds. It will take more planning and involvement than we’ve seen yet. But I’m convinced it’s the right next step for us. During this process and in our future, I believe that many lives will change and our city will be better.

Verse 11 in Jeremiah 29, the text we began with earlier, shares these words from God:

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord — “plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

I am confident that as we seek the Lord and follow in His path He will continue to bless us with all that we need to accomplish all that He has placed before us! It is such a gift to be a part of theCross! I’m excited to see how we work together to become what God wants us to be in this community!

Posted by Zach Zehnder with