In the conversation, Rich Nowik, pioneer, leader, counselor and associate pastor at Mt. Zion church in Clarkston, Michigan discusses the path that led him to the ministry. How the right identity has the power to shape our path into making positive choices.
Charles: Did you know exactly what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Rich: You know, it’s a really funny question because I don’t know if it was the era, or maybe the house that I was raised in, but I just never really gave a whole lot of thought. I just thought I’d do what my dad did. I was trained in design and I was going to be a designer in the auto industry, work in CAD, or something along those lines.
Rich: My dad did that for many years and was very successful with it, and I just thought I’d follow in his steps. Well, in following his steps, one day I got laid off from a job and I thought to myself, I never want to not be in control of my future. I want to be able to at least have a college education so I can make a choice for my future. It was at that moment, and in being unemployed, that I decided I needed to do something.
I wasn’t a great student, didn’t have a great track record as a student. My parents certainly weren’t going to pay for me to go to college, and they let me know that because I wasn’t a great student, so I went to a community college local and paid for that first year on my own. Learned a lot of things about myself, pushed myself, and after that first year at community college my parents agreed that they would send me away.
When it came time for me to pick a college, I didn’t know anything about college. It wasn’t ever part of my plan, so the only thing I knew was the school across the state that a friend of mine went to, and he didn’t even graduate from it, which is the funny part. He went there for a semester or two or three, and didn’t finish. Ended up coming home and working for his dad in carpentry, and I ended up going to a school, didn’t know a single person. I literally drove there, got accepted, drove back the next weekend, unloaded all my stuff and moved in, and started college.
Rich: When it came time to pick a major it wasn’t like I had any idea of what I was even going to do. It’s really kind of funny to me, looking back at it. The Bible says the steps of a righteous man or a good man are ordered of the Lord. I think sometimes when we look at our lives, it doesn’t really make sense how that can be when we’re thinking forward, but if you’ll take time to actually look backwards, you can see how your steps have been ordered. You can see how there always has been a plan.
I had a friend that was going to a college in Midland and he was going to school for marketing. I thought, well surely this is good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. I’ll just be a marketing major. I didn’t know anything about business, didn’t know anything about marketing. I mean, my dad worked in the auto industry and he collected a check from someone, so I didn’t know anything about sales or any of those types of things. I signed up to be in a business school that I didn’t know anything about and a marketing degree that I didn’t even know what it was about, based on someone that said, “Hey, I’m going to be in marketing.” I said, “Well, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.”
Charles: Yeah, absolutely.
Rich: A lot of the choices of my life are a little more haphazard than I’d like them to be, where it was more driven by well this so-and-so’s doing it, I guess I can do that too.
Rich: Looking back on it, like I said, I can see how the hand of the Lord was in it and he was directing things and preparing me for a future that I didn’t know about.
Charles: That’s very interesting. I’m sure there are a lot of people that can identify with that. Especially when young people are getting into college. We’re basically told that you need a college degree in order to be successful in the world. A lot of kids enter into college just sort of well, I guess this is what you’re supposed to do, right? Once you got out of college, did you find a whole lot of open doors?
Rich: You know, I really struggled when I graduated from school. I did really well in college, got great grades, made Dean’s list, had a great GPA, but for whatever reason I just couldn’t ever seem to get the doors to open. It wasn’t a great era in employment, so there weren’t a lot of banner jobs.
In fact, the first job that I took I actually had to pay for. I hired a firm. They were headhunters at the time, but what they did is you paid them a fee and they found you a job based on the people that had come to them and said, “Hey, we could place you here, we could place you there.” It was kind of like a placement agency that you paid to get you a job. I paid for my first job, which is really kind of a silly concept looking back at it now. It was in sales, and it was very hard, didn’t go the way that I thought it was going to go, so I didn’t stay with that job. Jumped into another job. That job didn’t go the way I thought it was going to go and before you knew it, I was doing what I did before I even got an education. I was landscaping.
Rich: Yep. Before you knew it I was cutting lawns and landscaping people’s yards and I thought, how did I end up here? How did this happen to me? I have a college degree. At one point I even contemplated, well, maybe I should start a landscaping company. If this is something I’m good at, if this is my gifting, I guess I should think about doing this. But I never gave up on the dream. The jobs that I had were always in sales, and I always had this idea that it would be better to have a relationship sales job. I didn’t want to just cold call. I just didn’t want to knock on people’s doors, and I wasn’t interested in route sales. I was looking for something that was really a combination, or a hybrid of that that would get me relationships, but at the same time keep me cutting edge with new products, and I ended up in the auto industry. Low and behold, I ended up in the auto industry, just not doing what my dad did.
Charles: In a different facet.
Rich: Yeah. I worked for an electronics company, and I loved it. I worked there for five years, a little over five years, and was very successful. In my opinion, I guess. My managers seemed to like me too. Turned around a lot of programs that needed to get turned around, and became known as that guy that could just fix things and worked well with people and I just loved that era. I mean, it was a fun era of my life. But boy, coming out of school, I could never piece that I was going to be in that position or that person. It just seemed to get further and further away, especially every day that I was out there doing landscaping or cutting grass. It just seemed like I was never going to get to that spot.
Then one day a door opened up through someone that I had met, and I went in for an interview and they said, “You’re our guy. We want you.” They had me come in at the very bottom. I mean, I was everyone’s dumping post. Someone had something, they just dumped it on my desk and said, “You got to work on this.” I just worked on everyone’s individual things to help all the other salespeople, and eventually my boss gave me a crack at my own accounts and said, “Well hey, I need you to work on this one. No one wants to work on this account.”
I took the accounts no one wanted. I took the accounts that were in trouble. I took the accounts that were way behind in payments or took the accounts that the service programs, you know, you got to deal with service buyers. I just started with the things that no one wanted and I fixed them. I fixed all the problems. I turned everything around. I took everything that wasn’t profitable and at least made it break even or profitable when it came to the service business, and they said, “Hey, this guy can do stuff. Let’s get him out there and actually interact with real customers and see what he can do.”
I’ve also found that even in my career here in the church and in the ministry, I’m the guy that things always still, to this day, still things land on my desk. Someone comes in and says, “Hey, can you work on this?” “Hey, can you take this?” “Can you do this responsibility?” I’m just the guy that says, “Yes.” I don’t say no to opportunities. I might need to work a little bit harder, I might need to find a few extra hours, but I just keep saying yes to the opportunities and it’s one more job accomplished, one more thing that I got to do.
Charles: Yeah. Yeah. Do you feel that you have a sense of inner drive to get things done?
Rich: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, almost every day I wake up and I go for a run, and that’s just part of my normal routine that I want to get out and get exercised and feel good. Sense of accomplishment right at the start of my day. I don’t do it at the end of the day. I do it at the start of the day. Get my brain going, get my thoughts thinking, processed. What am I going to think about today? How am I going to process this? I pray. I take some time to pray. I take some time to think about my family, take some time to think about my marriage and my relationship with my spouse.
It’s amazing what you can do in 45 minutes to an hour. You can process and inventory a lot of things. You can think about your job, what you’re going to do that day, the responsibilities that you got, things you got to get done this week. It’s your private time, or it’s my private time, to really think about. I don’t listen to music. I literally, it’s just me, my watch and my shoes, well, and my clothes …
Charles: Yeah, and your thoughts.
Rich: And my thoughts. I take that opportunity to just really think about what do I want to accomplish today? What’s on the agenda? What’s my priority list? If I don’t have anything pressing or anything hot, I take that time to pray and just try and center myself that way.
Charles: That’s awesome. Well Rich, I mean, it’s definitely apparent that your career has blossomed in both the natural and even getting into ministry. Can you kind of elaborate a little bit about how does somebody make that kind of a transition?
Rich: You know Charlie, to be honest with you, I’m not sure how everyone would do it, but I can tell you how it worked for me. I was involved in the auto industry, I was an account manager, and I was very involved. I was interviewing, looking at making a career change. I was looking at making an employer change, someone that would create some opportunities that I kind of didn’t see. I kind of saw a ceiling where I was at and thought I needed to look for a new place to go and hang my hat that would create some new opportunities for me.
While I was in the midst of that, the senior pastor at the church that I was attending at the time approached me and he just offered me the opportunity to come on staff and be his young adult pastor. The other thing that he said to me is he said, “And I need someone to do my marketing, my advertising.”
What was intriguing to me about that was again, looking at the steps are ordered, when I was in college, I didn’t pick marketing for any other reason other than someone said, “Hey, I’m getting into marketing.” I thought, well if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. Low and behold, in the ministry, I became the advertising guy. All of our contracts, all of our promotions. At one point I was over our television ministry, our radio ministry, all of our publications ministry. I took my marketing degree and I used it every single day for the ministry, but when I answered that call, I literally was just, I was at a point where I was ready to do something and I just wanted to have an impact. I guess looking back at my life, I just always wanted to have an impact. I wanted to make a difference.
Yeah, I was making a difference I guess selling widgets, this part for a car, but there was an opportunity to do something more, and that really became apparent to me. We had a party at my house and I had all these young people over. Mind you now, I was about 30 years of age at the time, and I had a bunch of 17, 18, 19, 20 year olds at my house, my wife and I. They set up instruments in one room and we kind of pushed the furniture out and it just turned into a worship night and we were just enjoying the Lord and singing songs and someone had prepared a message. I didn’t even prepare a message. I was just the home that we were just going to let these people have this in.
It was in that meeting that I kind of sat back on the couch and I said, “God, I know this is for me. You’ve called me to make a difference in this generation.” It was that simple. It wasn’t a burning bush. I didn’t get the Moses experience, and it certainly wasn’t someone walking up to me or feeling like I had some great call, like I was going to be the next Billy Graham or Joel Osteen or someone like that. I just thought I could make a difference in the lives of those young people that were in my house that day. They looked to me and had questions about their lives, what they were going to do, and where they were going to go. It wasn’t but just a few months after that that Pastor Loren approached me and said, “Hey, I’m looking for someone that could lead my young adult ministry. Would you be interested in doing that?” I said, “Yes.”
I don’t know why I said yes, because it wasn’t for the pay. It wasn’t for the benefits. I mean, the first year I didn’t even have an office. The church didn’t have email. It didn’t have voicemail. It just didn’t have any technology at the time. I was kind of a nomad. I had to literally bring my briefcase and I would literally move from office to office to office to office. When people would vacate, I’d go sit in there and squat for an hour, and then they’d come back and I’d have to move to the next office. It was a very strange era, but I said yes because I just really believed it was what God called me to do, to make a difference in the lives of those young people.
The one thing that I know is what was difficult, if I could answer a question, if I could create my own question, what would be difficult about the ministry and all these years later, I’ve been in the ministry for 17 years, and all the people that I’ve worked with, I think the hardest part about being in ministry is that not everyone makes it. It’s kind of the hardest part of really anything, I would guess, if you’re dealing with someone in drugs and alcohol or people that are struggling in different parts of their lives, is that they just don’t all make it. I think that’s the hardest part as a minister is you aspire to help so many people, to make a difference in the lives of as many people as you possibly can, but there’s this power of choice that you can’t overcome.
I think my goal is still to help people find their identity. The identity that is in Christ, that we’re hidden in Him and that we have this identity in Him and when we identify with Him, whether we’re a young person, whether we’re in our youth, I think if we identify and have that right identity, then that can shape our choices and can help us make better choices. I’m convinced that Jesus Christ is the answer and although I don’t have it all figured out, I know He’s the best choice for everybody. When you have that identity in Him, you have such a greater confidence to answer the calls that come to you every day. What are you going to choose about this, and what are you going to choose about that? What choice are you going to make about who you’re going to marry or what choice are you going to make about the significance of God in your life? What are you going to do about your purpose?
We each have been given an opportunity to live a life of purpose. What are you going to do about your purpose? What kind of choices are you making to activate your purpose? I believe in Jesus Christ that we have the greatest opportunity to fulfill our purpose, our destiny, our call, to have the greatest impact in the world that we live. It’s not to belittle people or to put people in their place. It’s to liberate people. I genuinely believe that in Jesus Christ we’re liberated to be better than we could ever be in our own strength and our own abilities.
In This Episode
- The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord
- Preparing and stepping into an unknown future
- Developing a sense of accomplishment for yourself
- How finding our identity can shape our choices
Rich Nowik is a pioneer, leader, counselor & associate pastor at Mt. Zion in Clarkston, Michigan. He’s a pioneer that helped lay the foundations for the young adult ministries GenerationOne and 412 Exposed
He’s managed a popular venue named Club 5529 featuring popular christian bands from all over the country. Designed and oversaw the construction of The District as an outreach facility to the community, and managed Call from the Mountain Media Ministry before transitioning to staff oversight.
Rich is known by others as a disciplined man of integrity. Characterized by being an exceptional husband and father of 3 children. He enjoys his time with his family, fishing & the Michigan State Spartans. Connecting with his wife is a big part of his life by participating in grueling distance running competitions all over the state of Michigan.