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Roger Greenwalt utilizes new knowledge to build community

One of Tribal member Roger Greenwalt’s favorite quotes is, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

The Bergeron family descendant began serving at CrossPointe Church in Fontana, California, in 2009. As the executive pastor, Greenwalt oversees small groups, known as Life Groups. He graduated with his doctorate of ministry in May 2019 from Gateway Seminary in Ontario, California, at the age of 57.

He describes himself as a “big picture guy” who enjoys a challenge.

“I don’t play it dangerous, but I don’t play it safe either. I’m willing to try things other people think are crazy, like getting my doctorate in my late 50s,” he said and laughed.

Bergeron family descendant Roger Greenwalt celebrates his graduation with his doctorate of ministry from Gateway Seminary with his family. (Photo provided.)

Greenwalt found out about the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Department of Education scholarship while reading the Hownikan at the same time his children started college. When the time felt right for him to return to school, he applied, too.

“I wouldn’t have done this without the Potawatomi,” Greenwalt said. “It’s not just giving people a handout; it’s giving them a hand up so that we can become better, so that we can achieve more. And I am so proud of the way the Potawatomi use their funds for this.”

Serving God

The youngest of seven children, Greenwalt decided to become a pastor at age 16. His father served as one, and at first, Greenwalt hesitated to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

“Everybody would always ask me, ‘Are you going to be a pastor like your dad?’ And I’d say, ‘No, that’s not how God calls people. You don’t do it because your father did it. You don’t do it because you want to do it. You do it because God calls you,’” he said in a recent Hownikan interview.

After high school, Greenwalt attended California Baptist University in Riverside, California, earning a bachelor’s degree in religion. Later, he received a master’s of divinity at Gateway Seminary. Afterward, he served at several churches throughout the years.

A few years ago, Greenwalt and his wife discussed selling their home to live on their sailboat and minister to people as they traveled. Those plans faded, and he continued in his current position at CrossPointe Church, where he became comfortable.

“My wife told me, ‘Roger, you need a new challenge in your life. You need something to go for. It seems like you’re just coasting right now.’ She was right — I had been living off the knowledge and research that I had done 30 years prior, like being in a cocoon of old knowledge, old methods,” he said.

It was time to return to school; however, he last attended class in his 20s. As a pastor, he prefers surrounding himself with people rather than secluding himself in an office to study. Throughout the process of becoming a student, nervousness came and went.

“I was talking to the Lord one night, and I said, ‘God, I don’t have enough time to do all this. I have a full-time job. I have a family. I haven’t been in school for over 30 years,’” Greenwalt said.

After further self-reflection, he says he found strength in God.

“For the first time in my life, I started enjoying doing research and studying because I was able to do it well, and I gave it my best,” Greenwalt said.

He finished his program with the highest GPA of his life, and his age positively influenced the experience.

“When I studied, when I read the books, I wasn’t just skim reading to get the grade. I was studying and reading to learn,” Greenwalt said. “And that was the major difference. I was doing it for my growth and the impact on our church, and that made it all worthwhile. That was the satisfaction.”

When asked how graduating felt after four years of classes and projects, he replied, “One word: awesome.”

Starting small

During his doctoral program at Gateway Seminary, Greenwalt chose to focus on a leadership track. He learned new methods of communication and approaches to creating and attracting participants to community organizations. His dissertation revolved around developing small groups that connect people on an individual level, eventually leading to attendance with the larger congregation.

“Life Groups provide a family atmosphere; it’s genuine relationships, because in our culture, especially in America, we’ve become more isolated as people,” Greenwalt said.

“What these home groups do is allow us to have deep relationships with people because we were created by God to have relationships with each other, genuine relationships.”

During the first half of his program, Greenwalt established practices for use in small group sessions to build helpful relationships. Long-lasting connections that passed beyond surface greetings in the worship center became the goal.

“I’ve learned to design the home groups to include elements such as asking everybody to share a high or a low from their week because that helps us get to know each other,” he said.

CrossPointe is a smaller parish with approximately 100 attendees. Greenwalt implemented his ideas for small group growth at his church during the final two years of his doctorate project. Before his new methods, approximately 30 church members participated. Within three months, that number more than doubled to 70.

He believes the assembly’s growth as a whole begins in the small groups, which he hopes continue to multiply. Initial interactions with neighbors in a relaxed environment cut down on the intimidation many people feel when setting foot into a place of worship for the first time.

“Most people come to church because somebody invited them, not because they saw a poster or a Facebook ad or a billboard,” he said. “They come because somebody personally invited them, and people will more likely come to a home group for the first time than they will come to a service at a church building.”

For Greenwalt, the successful implementation of his plans and seeing others’ growth firsthand makes his doctoral experience worth it.

“I am committed to serving the Lord, and he’s called me to spread the gospel of Jesus. And so, if this reaches people in a better and faster way, that’s what excites me. It gives hope,” he said.

CrossPointe plans to move to a new location in the northern section of town and reach out to families moving into the surrounding neighborhoods currently under construction. However, Greenwalt does not look for any extra praise or new title that comes with his schooling.

“Some people ask me, ‘What do we call you now? Do we call you Dr. Greenwalt?’ No, that’s still too weird to me,” he said. “I’m just Roger. I’m just a regular guy.”

For more information on CPN Education Department scholarships, visit cpn.news/cpneducation.