BY MICHELLE WILLIAMS, BLOG CONTRIBUTOR & VOLUNTEER EXTRAORDINAIRE
Dave Rodriguez, known simply as “Dave Rod” to most, has been the Senior Pastor for Grace Church since the very beginning in 1991. Although he regularly preaches to thousands as if it’s his second nature, he remembers a time when today’s reality was a singular prayer. “I never would have dreamed.” he said recalling the time he visited a church led by Gordon MacDonald in Massachusetts—one of the largest churches in the United States at the time. “I remember going there and saying to Penny, ‘Boy, what I wouldn't give to be able to serve in a church like this.’”
Dave Rod grew up in a Baptist church where, at the age of 11, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ for the first time. “It’s a good thing you said ‘first time.’” he said. “There are three distinct moments in my life that were revelatory or something happened to me.” The second time he surrendered was during his senior year in high school. He played a major role—the “bad guy”—in the school musical who ended up receiving Christ into his life. Dave remembers feeling overwhelmed with understanding in a moment on stage. He “got it,” although God yet had more in store for him.
In college at the University of Pittsburgh, Dave described living a dichotomous life. “On one hand, you'd say, here's the religious kid. On the other hand, I knew what my life what really like.” After becoming ill and missing 2 months of school, he came face to face with the sense that he no longer recognized himself. “I felt awful.” he said. “That's when Jesus really entered into my life and I surrendered my life once and for all. Completely transformed me.”
It was at that point when Dave started searching for clues to his calling. During a trip to his home church to see a traveling Evangelist Bible teacher. The man was Bruce Wilkinson, who later went on to become an internationally known writer and speaker. “I remember standing there drinking punch, and he stuck a finger in my chest and said, ‘God's calling you to be a pastor.’ And it freaked me out.” Nevertheless, he took the words to heart and asked his pastor for guidance, ending up studying at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
Prior to Grace Church, Dave’s career path started with music. In fact, his marriage started with music. Dave met Penny while he was singing with a male quartet. The group needed a pianist. “She is a ridiculously talented musician.” he said. Starting out as a music director and worship leader, Dave moved on to serve as a youth pastor and student ministries pastor.
The idea for Grace Church began materializing during his early years in ministry. In 1987, he went on a mission trip to Monterrey, Mexico. “When we got there it was Sunday morning, and we walked into a worship experience that was all in Spanish. But it was like magic. It was wonderful. I had never seen anything like it.” he said. This church had numerous social justice connections, powerful worship, and remarkable Bible teaching. “And then there was just this presence of the Holy Spirit.” That’s when Grace Church went from a prayer to a vision.
Four years after the trip to Monterrey, Grace Church was sent out as a church plant by Faith Missionary Church—with Dave at the lead. At that time, it was typical for a church plant to start with 200 members or fewer. Grace Church started with 650. “It was a very odd church plant in that it was much bigger from the start. And I should add that I didn't know what I was doing. I had no preparation—I had a vision.”
Today, Dave’s vision is alive and working—with numerous social justice connections, powerful worship, and remarkable Bible teaching. Grace Church is led by an incredibly amazing and passionate group of people, and I’m surely not the only person who can attest to having been impacted by the presence of the Holy Spirit in my time there.
Telling his story, Dave’s advice is, “Don't be expecting to get a finger in the chest.” He added, “I am of a strong conviction that if we pay attention, opportunities will open up all the time. Whether they're divine appointments with people, or whether it's the next step in our calling. If we just pay attention, God's always at work.”