Before he came to Scottsdale Bible Church, Pastor Jamie Rasmussen had already faced the task of “filling the big shoes” of a longtime senior pastor.
In 2001, the church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, which he had grown up in and left 20 years before, called him as senior pastor to succeed the 25-year founding pastor of Fellowship Bible Church.
Last August, the congregation of Scottsdale Bible gave 96 percent approval to issue a call to Rasmussen to lead the 6,000-member, nondenominational Bible church — Scottsdale’s largest Protestant megachurch. He took over for Pastor Darryl DelHousaye, senior pastor since February 1981, who is now full-time president of Phoenix Seminary.
“I am following a guy here 25 years who was deeply loved, who really built this place,” said Rasmussen, 44, who leads a church with two campuses, 24 pastors, more than 100 paid staff members, a $9.6 million budget and support for 83 missionaries on five continents.
The son of a Harvard-trained Cleveland lawyer, Rasmussen said he was “raised in a very irreligious environment” with mostly a Christmas and Easter churchgoing experience at “a liberal church.” As a “fiercely independent and self-made man,” his father gave his children freedom to explore “religion, politics and personal relationships,” he said.
At 17, Rasmussen found himself “thirsty for what the truth really was concerning God and spiritual things.” He found a man with Campus Life youth organization who answered his earnest faith questions. In that man’s apartment, Rasmussen said he accepted Christ. “He changed my life, and I consider that my conversion to Christianity,” Rasmussen said.
The step led him to “places I never imagined possible,” he said.
Rasmussen enrolled in Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he helped start a Campus Crusade for Christ chapter, launched an investigative Bible study in his fraternity and later earned a degree in religion and psychology.
Rasmussen said he was passionate about embarking on a career that was “people-intensive and ministry-oriented,” so he set out for the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in divinity. That included a one-year internship at famed Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., which has been rated as the “most influential church in America” and is regarded as a megachurch model.
“At the time, they had 250 paid staff ... and were running 14,000 to 15,000 people at weekend worship services,” Rasmussen recalls. Each month, he was moved to one of its ministries (totalling more than 100 today), including pastoral care, divorce recovery, singles ministry — and “even cleaning toilets on the midnight shift” because “as a pastor, these are all the things that make a church work.”
“Willow Creek had a passion for lost people,” he said. “They have a passion for those who have been disenfranchised with the church, and that was me.”
His formal work began at Grace Community Church in Grosse Pointe, Mich., where he was associate pastor.
“The church grew from 300 to 1,400 in the eight years I was there,” he said. By the time he left in 1997, Rasmussen had been promoted to head of staff, but felt that the Peter Principle (one rises to a level of ineffectiveness in an organization) had kicked in. “I realized at about 33 years old, I was in charge of all of these other pastors who were older than me and wiser than me,” he said. “I thought I went to seminary to preach and lead, and I was doing neither.” He moved on to Wortley Baptist Church in London, Ontario, as senior pastor for three years, and then came the call to go back to Cleveland and Fellowship Bible Church, which he had joined after becoming an active Christian.
“The prophet is not welcomed in his own hometown is what the Scriptures says, but we argued that I had been gone for 20 years and they had forgotten little Jamie Rasmussen,” he said.
During his nearly six years there, the church grew from a weekend attendance of about 650 to about 1,350, and $4 million in construction was carried out for worship, children and youth centers. It was done in collaboration with the longtime pastor who had remained engaged with the church. “I think the reason why Scottsdale Bible felt comfortable with me here is because, even though this is a much larger place, I had the experience of working with a senior pastor who was very loved and revered,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen had not been looking to move. His Ohio church hosted a guest lecturer, Tim Kimmel, executive director of family matters, author and lecturer on healthy family relationships. An elder at Scottsdale Bible, Kimmel accompanied Rasmussen and his wife, Kim, to lunch after his parenting seminar. “He slipped a brochure across the table and said, 'You know my church is looking for a senior pastor,’ ” recalled Rasmussen, who acknowledged, at that moment, that he was aware of the church and its work. Thus began a 10-month exploratory process. With three children ages 13 to 17, the Rasmussens were ambivalent about another move.
“We thought long and hard whether we wanted to do that to them,” he said. He first preached at three services on April 29. He made numerous candidacy trips to Scottsdale. “It just became very, very clear that this was the right place to bring my family,” he said.
With modesty, Rasmussen said he regularly jokes that he possesses only two of the 22 gifts spelled out for ministry in the Bible — preaching and organizational leadership.
Kimmel said Rasmussen fulfilled their quest: “We were looking for a man with three vital skills. He had to be able to preach the Scriptures with accuracy and passion, frame a large and clear vision for the rank-and-file parishioners and know how to create a tight esprit de corps among the staff,” Kimmel said. “We were also looking for a man with two extremely important qualities for a senior pastor: humility and a clear understanding of what God’s grace looks like lived out in our daily lives. We got all of these skills and qualities in Jamie Rasmussen.”
Rasmussen preaches sermons, each lasting about 40 minutes, at the three morning services at the main campus at 7601 E. Shea Blvd., while the executive pastor, Larry Anderson, handles morning services at the north campus, 15678 N. Greenway-Hayden Loop. For now, Rasmussen is leading Sunday night worship at the main campus, too.
“Every church I’ve been in needed significant change, and this church is not going to be any different,” he said, quoting the late humorist Will Rogers: “Everyone is for progress; it is change they don’t like.”
The average age of those at morning services is more than 50, he said, far older than the Valley’s population. “We know we need to start reaching out to a younger generation.” At the top of his priority list is gaining a “very good sense of the spiritual climate that I am serving within the culture here.”