Love and Marshmallows
15 Questions you’ve always WONDERed about Nathan
If you’ve been around Northland for even just one week, you’ve probably seen a guy with red pants and a denim shirt. Nathan Clark is our go-to announcements guy, minister on duty for our online congregation and coming in August, part of our teaching team. And that’s only just a few of the ways that Nathan contributes to our Northland family.
Here’s a peek inside our conversation with Nathan.
How long have you been a part of our Northland community? And what are some of the different roles you’ve had along the way?
I showed up at Northland right out of college. I was in a band, and we were on tour at the time and played for Student Ministries one night. I remember thinking, “This is such an amazing place!”
Then, two of the guys in my band bamboozled me into moving to Florida with them to start a business. During that time we were looking for a church, and remembered Northland. That was in 2000, which seems like a lifetime ago.
Northland became my home quickly, and getting involved and connected helped me fall in love with our church. I was recruited — or roped in! — to serve in a few areas, including our middle school and high school ministries. We started a college ministry, and I served on the leadership team for what was then-called the young adult ministry. I taught Sunday school classes, led a mission trip, greeted people and did some design work as a congregant.
Sounds a lot like your current roles at Northland — jack of all trades! How long have you been on staff and how did the move from volunteer to staff member come about?
You’re right! I’ve been on staff for 14 years and have had lots of different responsibilities.
In 2004, I joined staff to serve as our Creative Director, handling design and content development. But, my heart has always been pastoral. So over the years, my role has really shifted in that direction.
When most Northlanders hear my name, it’s in the context of online ministry. That makes a lot of sense, because I’ve served as our online minister since we launched that ministry. In fact, we launched our online ministry on both a technical and pastoral basis 12 years ago, and it’s been a wild ride! Northland was one of the first churches in the world to connect streaming video with pastoral chat. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with people in most of the countries around the world, and all told, I’ve probably connected with tens of thousands of people over the last decade as our online minister.
The best part is that in our online community, I’ve seen people come to faith, and prayed for members of our online congregation to overcome fears and challenges. Leaders have risen up in their local communities and hearts are mended through the grace of Jesus. I’ve event officiated weddings and funerals for people in our online community. Incredible life change takes place for these folks — just like we see and hear happening in any of our physical campuses. Many of our online worshipers are local to Longwood, so sometimes those people I serve also show up on the weekends. But, often my role involves building meaningful relationships with people from all around the world.
Over the past year, I’ve also been writing our Bible studies, teaching and helping relaunch our small groups. I provide strategy and ministry support behind-the-scenes, particularly in the areas of equipping and training.
In my head, all of these avenues of service line up with a specific focus, even if I do wear a lot of hats -- some even at the same time!
Yes! We’ve watched you announce yourself as online minister during the announcements, and then make that quick dash back to your computer. What is the common thread that connects these roles?
Well, there are two: People and Jesus. You know, if you tried to make a job description for the apostles, Jesus’ earliest followers, it would vary moment by moment.
But, the common thread is loving God and loving people. So when any of us are caring well for the people around us, we shift focus on the tasks performed because ultimately the job isn’t about the process, it’s about the people. We just jump in and help and do what it takes to love people well.
So, after 18 years at Northland, what is your all-time favorite memory?
I met my wife on a Northland mission trip to Namibia. So, that has to be the winner! We were on different teams, as part of a 300-person trip. I made a comment about her denim jacket as we were boarding the plane to depart, and exactly a year to the day later, we walked down the aisle.
We just had our 15th anniversary and have six amazing kids.
Six kids — and one is a newborn. When do you sleep?
Whenever we can! For us, we operate off figuring out the things we’re supposed to be doing, and then figuring out what it takes to make that happen. We start with God and with family. And then everything else comes after that.
We’ve been talking a lot at Northland about the value of community. Tell us about the community that you and Jenn have built around your family.
When Jenn and I first married, we lived in downtown Winter Park. We loved it there and we were part of a vibrant community of about 30 to 40 people. We were almost like a church within a church. We studied the Bible, worshipped at Northland together. We did everything together. We all lived in tiny apartments.
Then, Jenn and I were blessed to be the first of the group to experience the joy — and terror! — of parenthood. She really wanted a yard, and we discovered that yards in Winter Park are expensive. We started looking for places and just happened one day to have lunch in downtown Sanford, and we fell in love with the old houses … so we bought one and moved!
We were suddenly 20 miles away from our whole community. But, luckily, when you start having children, you have lots of natural opportunity to reform community. We eventually became connected with neighbors and formed strong community on this side of town.
For most of the last 15 years we’ve been a part of significant community, often in the form of a small group. It’s hard to imagine our family growing up any other way than with a broader family of families by our side.
You clearly have purpose when it comes to pursuing ministry, relationships your family, and let’s face it, even your clothing strategy! How do you sustain this speed of life without becoming unbalanced or losing an aspect?
I think the biggest challenge for all of us has to do with whether we see life as an exercise of abundance or scarcity. Everything in the world tells us, “You don’t have enough,” so we end up overwhelmed, overcommitted and anxious. The truth of the Gospel calls us into abundant life, though. Because what we lack, God has in abundance. So the Christian life involves a transformation from a journey of scarcity into a experience of abundance.
And that’s the thing about community: God created us to be in relationship with others so that we can experience abundance. Often, scarcity comes out of the full awareness that I have about my own deficiencies, inabilities and failures. But what’s cool is that what I’m not good at, somebody else in my community is! Or maybe you get five or six people together in a room, as a small group, and there are incredible strengths. Then, collectively as a church, we have so much more ability than we could have even imagined when we were on our own.
When it comes to the pursuit of passions, it really comes down to the pursuit of people and seizing the opportunities that God puts in front of you without a fear of failure. To do this, you have to be deeply rooted in the Gospel, in Christ and in other people. Because when you do that and experience church in that intimate way, you start to realize that taking those opportunities isn’t going to drive you to weariness. In fact, you’re going to feel more alive than you ever thought was possible when you embrace God’s call on your life.
You are such a big part of our weekly services, leading us into worship and inviting our congregation to community. Have you ever thought about preaching?
Northland has been truly blessed with so many amazing teachers, which results from all of the avenues for teaching that we have. I remember shortly after I moved here, I was invited to preach to a high school group -- and then middle schoolers. Then I launched a college ministry and preached there for years. More recently, I taught in more than 100 “Church Everywhere” videos that were posted online and ran before each worship service. And over the last year, Pastor Veron and I alternated doing teaching videos as companions to the weekend sermons. So though I’ve never preached at a weekend worship service before, I’ve had many opportunities to teach at Northland in other places.
But … I am excited because I will get to preach during weekend worship for the first weekend of August!
Wow, we can’t wait! Any idea what you’ll wear on that day? Just kidding! We all know! So, why do you love the red pants/denim shirt combo so much? And be honest, how many pairs of red pants do actually you own?
Yes, I will definitely be wearing my uniform when I preach! I’ve been wearing this same outfit of red pants and blue shirts every day for years, after all.
There are basically three reasons I wear this outfit daily — and they’re the same reasons I’ve given thousands of times over the years, so some of you may have heard this before.
First off, this is my favorite outfit. And when you have a favorite, why settle for second best? I actually find it crazy that other people don’t wear their favorite outfit everyday. When you wear your favorite clothes you walk taller and have a little more spring in your step. So that’s me, every day.
Second, there’s a principle called decision fatigue, which states that you have a limited daily capacity to make good decisions. The more decisions you make, the more exhausted you get, and before you know it, you start making poor decisions. When you know what you’re wearing every single day, you don’t have to expend any energy picking your outfit. So, everyday, I’ve got a little edge on my game because I’m a little less decision tired; I’m decision ready.
And lastly, it’s just fun to wear red pants!
Well, and I also have a lot of children and this outfit makes it easy for them to find me in a crowd.
My closet is literally filled with red pants and blue shirts. I get red pants as gifts sometimes, which is sweet but also funny.
Outside of Northland, you and Jenn also own Wondermade, a marshmallow and ice cream shop in downtown Sanford and a favorite of many of ours. How did that get started?
It all happened by accident. I gave Jenn a candy thermometer and recipe for marshmallows one Christmas. We just started making them for fun. In fact, at the beginning, every week or two, I’d bring a new flavor of mallows into the breakroom here at Northland. Everyone seemed to love them — and in fact, it was someone on staff who put in our very first paid order.
When we got that first order a light bulb went off: We realized that there were probably lots of people who would love these and even buy them. So, we decided to see what would happen and started Wondermade.
It was a little funny, because all along the way, we always knew that Northland was where we were supposed to both worship and serve. We never saw Wondermade as a business that we were starting to give ourselves a new job. But when God gives you something to do … well, you’d better go out and do it! Even if He’s given you other jobs as well.
Over the years as Wondermade has grown, it’s been a great opportunity for us to use employment for ministry. We’ve been able to bring along people who are in profound financial stress, we’ve been able to help people transition out of jail with employment, been able to give people their first jobs. And balancing all of those different needs in the same workforce has been interesting. It’s been a consistently surprising experience for us.
We’ve also had some unusual experiences. We even got to hang out with Martha Stewart and have news stories written about us. All of these opportunities have led to some pretty great Gospel-sharing opportunities. People don’t always want to hear what a pastor has to say about love, but they will listen to a marshmallow guy! I’ve been invited to speak at different conferences and give a TED talk about love.
And of course, every time I talk about love, I have to come back to Jesus. So, in so many ways, whether through employment, public speaking or just the role in the community we have through our store in downtown Sanford, Wondermade’s been such a great vehicle to advance the gospel.
You’re a successful entrepreneur. Do you have any advice for other business leaders when it comes to leadership? What has God taught you in that regard over the years?
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talked about focusing on which race you really are running — what prize are you really chasing. I think it’s easy in business to think that the race is all about traditional business success. But Paul wasn’t calling us to give up every part of life that wasn’t explicitly connected to the Gospel. Paul himself was a tentmaker. He was reminding that in everything we do, we have a bigger goal on which to focus.
Whether you’re in business, or education, or medicine, or IT, your real goal is to use everything you have to glorify God. So if you’re in business, that’s the prize you need to chase. Because in the end, that’s the only prize that really matters.
With two jobs and a busy family, how do you manage all of your commitments?
As much as possible, we try to do the things we think are important together. For Jenn and me, obviously parenting falls into that. Ditto on Wondermade. But, there aren’t many things that either of us do that don’t also include some friends or family, because generally speaking community and relationships are our driving factors.
I’ve also learned to say “no” often — and give full credit to Jenn for that lesson. For years, I mistakenly thought every invitation or opportunity was automatically something I was supposed to take. But, she taught me that when you say “yes” to everything, you’re actually committing to fail everyone. So now as a family, we’re pretty focused on just doing the things we’re certain God has put before us.
Word on the street is that you really love soccer. How does that fit in with your schedule? Do you have a favorite team?
Well, I do love soccer! I play once or twice a week and as often as possible, I play with friends — sometimes Northlanders, other times neighbors and often, my kids. I work hard to work the games in, because you wouldn’t believe how many calories are involved with taste testing ice cream and marshmallows!
I do have some favorite teams (go Everton!), but if I can’t play, I’m happy to watch just about any match. Unless it’s a zero-zero draw!
With this new season at Northland, what are you most excited about with our new vision that Pastor Matt shared at the end of June?
I’m so excited about being part of a community rooted in abundant life. It’s so easy to settle for less than being fully alive, even those of us who are following Jesus. It’s easy to aim for “good enough” and be content that our eternal destiny is secure in Jesus.
Except Jesus wasn’t content to let us stop there. Jesus talked about eternal life, and he also talked about experiencing abundant life. He said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
And that’s something that we’re made to experience and share starting right now. God’s built us for relationship with Him and relationship with each other starting right now. And those relationships are meant to be eternal, so we don’t have to wait to get started.
I can’t wait to see what happens in the near future as we more fully experience Jesus and serve as agents of love, joy, peace and grace. And I can’t wait to see how that shapes each of us, but also how God then uses us to reshape our families and communities.
To that end, how can our readers pray for you right now?
Well, we’ve got six kids. So pretty much every day we could use some prayer there!
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