Dr. Kevin Urichko — Past, Present, Future

Chandler Bazemore

A journey from Intern to Executive Pastor

Recently, we sat down with Kevin Urichko, Northland’s Executive Pastor, over a cup of coffee and talked with him about his journey at Northland from intern to full-time ministry.

As many of you probably know from talking with Pastor Kevin, his love and passion for God, his family and Northland are clearly apparent. After more than 27 years of serving at Northland, he has seen Christ move in unique ways, and wouldn’t trade his journey for the world.

We hear you were Pastor Vernon’s intern. Did he make you get his coffee? Tell us about those early days at Northland.

Haha! Yes, indeed, my first role here was as Pastor Vernon’s intern. But no - he is such a coffee connoisseur; I would never even try to get his coffee. We still joke about that: I oftentimes say he was—and is—my mentor in both ministry and in coffee.

One of my early jobs as a youth intern was to fill up Northland’s Coke machine. We had a Coke machine that was basically a fundraiser for Student Ministries. I would fill it up, collect the change and count it—sounds like a lot of responsibility, doesn’t it?

But that’s not all I did as an intern. I was also our designated bus driver. Early in my internship, I obtained a commercial driver’s license with passenger certification. During the summer, we would load up a donated school bus with a bunch of middle and high schoolers, and take them  on all sorts of adventures — to the beach, canoeing, water parks, etc. I distinctly remember making a tight U-turn on the 436 overpass at I-4 with a bus full of students during a Youth for Christ scavenger hunt.

Student ministries back then was a wild ride!

So you’ve been a Coke machine restocker and a bus driver. Any other out-of-the-ordinary jobs you’ve held?

In my early 20s, I worked part time as a Youth Pastor and part time as a baggage handler at Delta Airlines. I wanted to get flight benefits so I could visit seminaries that I was thinking about attending. But, I paid the price for all that heavy lifting, and had to have back surgery. It turns out I wasn’t a very good bag handler.

In the end, I ended up deciding to stay close to home for seminary because RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary) met all of my criteria and was right in my backyard.

Now you and Pastor Matt went to school together. We’re all wondering: Who was the better student?

Definitely Matt. He was — and still is — quite the scholar. Matt’s last year at RTS was my first.

It’s actually ironic — I wanted to go to seminary to become a counselor, but at that time, RTS was just beginning to formulate that specific program. I enrolled anyway, taking all of the counseling courses offered, assuming I would just transfer over to that degree once it became available. Well, it launched three years later — right after I graduated with a Master of Divinity degree.

As I look back, God’s hand was evident. My call to serve Northland has included counseling and pastoral care, but it has been broad enough to include many other projects and ministries over the years.

How did your experience at RTS shape your calling?

Oh, seminary was such a journey for me. I could tell that most of my classmates, if not all of them, wanted to be preachers. But not me. I was sitting there thinking, “I’ll do it if I have to...” because I just didn’t feel that clear calling or, honestly, the desire to be a preacher.

In God’s perfect plan, he put a number of people in my life, including professors and other leaders here at Northland, who helped me solidify my pastoral call. I began to realize that “pastor” and “preacher” didn’t have to be synonymous. I started hearing about other churches with “executive pastors,” and as we learned more about those positions and responsibilities, it was clear that I was on the right path.

When did you feel the call to pastoral ministry?

I preached my first sermon in high school, which is when I realized how hard it could be!

I looked around for a career that involved some aspects of ministry without public speaking and thought about becoming a psychologist, counselor or something like that — they help people, and that’s ultimately what I wanted to do.

I started down that road in college, sort of running away from ministry, thinking that it wasn’t for me. But God orchestrates our lives in interesting ways, and by the end of college, I actually encountered Jesus and began a personal relationship with Him.

You see, like so many people, I had grown up in a Christian family, was baptized and was attending church regularly, but kept trying to please God through my own efforts. I had this mindset that Jesus sets a good example, and I needed to try and be as much like Him as possible. That didn't work out so well, especially in college as I realized that I was messing up all over the place.

Like many of us who have grown up in the church, I found myself in a crisis of faith — I thought I knew a lot about the Bible, but only knew it as a set of rules to follow without the overflowing grace and peace that comes from trusting in the finished work of Christ.

But, by the end of college, I began to experience the gospel. I began to feel God’s grace through a relationship with Christ. And I began to turn from trying to do it on my own by surrendering everything to Him daily.

Then it dawned on me: Maybe ministry works the same as this relationship with God. I needed to trust Him to show me how to align my calling with His will. Just as I needed to trust God for my salvation, I also needed to trust Him to use my God-given gifts in ministry. I was beginning to see that being in ministry does not make me any less dependent on the Lord for all things.

So, I figured, “Alright, God, if you want me to be a Pastor, I will.” I finished college in three years and since I had a little bit of extra time, I took a gap year to decide what seminary I wanted to go to. I got a brand new job, met my wife, got married six-and-half months after we met, lost my new job and then got hired on staff here at Northland. Crazy, right? So much happened in that year. Being at Northland, being an intern then eventually being ordained as a pastor was a great journey that confirmed my life’s calling.

Was there anything you learned from that period of transition in your life that has helped you in this period of transition we’re in here at Northland now?

Absolutely. God seems to have an interesting way of preparing us for all of the different seasons in our lives. I’ve always resonated with 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, where God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

When I failed at my first job as a youth pastor at a previous church, I was just a young guy and I was trying to do it all — which obviously doesn’t work. I was trying to court this woman, Linda, who I wanted to marry, trying to work this youth pastor job and trying to figure out life. The failures in my job at my previous church and my inadequacy early in my marriage helped me realize that the more I strive to be self-sufficient, the more I’m going to fail.

Now, looking at our current season of transition at Northland, these experiences have helped me remember that I’m not the solution to the challenges we are facing. I’m not the savior; we have a Savior. Jesus is who we need to depend on, and not just during the hard times. The reality is that our future is in the future, not in the past. There are a lot of good lessons in our past, but I do believe God is leading us into our best days at Northland.

You’ve gone from Intern to Youth Pastor to now Executive Pastor. What exactly does your current role entail? What does your typical week look like?

There’s not a typical week! It all depends on what’s happening here at Northland. But my time is often spent in coaching and counseling sessions — mentoring staff, one-on-one conversations with members of our congregation during our weekend worship services, leading various groups and many other opportunities throughout the week that God puts before me to serve by helping people connect more deeply with Him and each other.

Working at a church really throws off the stereotypical Monday through Friday work week. I tend to think of each week as beginning on Saturdays and running through Thursdays.

Saturday can often include a wedding, funeral or special event. I’m here Saturday evenings for worship. That’s really my starting place for the week. I join the Connect Team pre-service meeting, greet folks in the foyer and am available to pray with anyone after the service.  

Sundays, I’m usually at Longwood but occasionally visit one of our other sites — Lake County and Oviedo. When Belong & Grow meets, I help with some of the sessions. That’s been a great place to connect with newer visitors to Northland. Sometimes, we have baptisms or baby dedications or healing services in the afternoons.

Throughout the typical “work week,” I am here engaging in ministry assessment and planning, pastoral care for the congregation, meeting with our elders and dedicated volunteers, and encouraging the staff. Pastoral care is a word that doesn’t get thrown around often, but includes entering into people’s lives guiding them toward greater maturity in Christ.

Fridays are very sacred as my weekly sabbath to rest, reflect and spend time with family and friends.

During this exciting time of transition, I continue to be engaged in both operational and shepherding leadership, which involves supporting our congregation, staff and pastors in their ministries. I also meet regularly with our department leaders to discuss and confirm various projects to which their teams are called; we evaluate goals, impact, budgets, etc.

Serving as Executive Pastor feels like a perfect role for me — I truly enjoy being a pastor who serves both our congregation and our staff.

This sounds like a great fit for your experience and wiring!

It really is. God has created me to be a nurturer, problem solver, counselor and pastoral care provider at the core. This is an amazing opportunity for me to pay attention to the story Christ is telling in each person and our community as a whole. I am humbled by the role I get to play as an encourager.

You’ve been active in the Northland community for more than 27 years. Why is the Northland community so important to you?

I’ve really fallen in love with this group of people. This community has been very good to me. I have received a great sense of purpose and fulfilment in service to this community.

I think a big part of being at Northland for so long is that I grew up around here. I started on staff at 22 years old, newly married, just wondering what life was all about. I was too young and foolish to even know the gravity of what was about to happen. I’m so glad this community has given me the opportunity to grow into my role and calling.

When I was first ordained as the Pastor of Counseling at 24-years-old, it didn’t take long to realize I was in over my head. I remember my first session with a married couple in their 40s. As the complexity of their struggle and the naivete of my experience began to sink in, I thought, “What am I doing? Why am I here? Who thought this was a good idea?” I have learned so much over the years and love the fact that this community has embraced me. I’ve done more than 400 weddings, at least 200 funerals, baptized hundreds of people and dedicated hundreds of babies. For someone who rarely stands up in front of the congregation and preaches, I have a front row seat to the spiritual journey of thousands of people. Participating in the lives of my church family, knowing each other well and sharing these vital, life connections are very significant to me.

Sounds like quite the journey! Now, how long have you and Linda been married?

Linda and I have been married for 27 years. She is an amazing partner in ministry and in life. God used her beauty, intelligence and wit to captivate me almost 28 years ago. We have learned a lot together and continue to be grateful for God’s grace in our marriage.

As a lifelong teacher (she started using a small chalkboard to teach her dolls as a little girl!), her calling is very evident. Linda currently teaches mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Milwee Middle School pre-engineering magnet program. She prioritizes prayer and leads a monthly prayer time for women the third Saturday of each month in the Hub from 9-10 a.m. I’ve spent most of these past 27 years marveling at how people come alive in her presence!  

Wow, 27 years! What’s the best marriage advice you’ve ever received?

We’ve received a lot of great marriage advice and try to pass on as much as possible. The top one would be to prioritize a weekly date night, making time to have fun together.

Thursday nights are typically our date night. When we were young and didn’t have a lot of money, we would go grocery shopping together and I’d push Linda around in the cart. One time, she was pushing me around in the cart, and, right there in the grocery store, we bump into one of our elders from the church. “How am I going to explain this?”, I thought! He just laughed.

Make time to have fun.

Tell us about your kids.

We have two children: Kristen is 23, and a University of Florida graduate. She’s finishing up some prerequisites for medical school. Her passion for health and wellness is inspiring. Most recently, she completed a Holy Yoga training in order to instruct yoga classes at UF.

Isaac is a Florida State graduate as of last month. He is starting a new job this month in Philadelphia as a financial analyst. As the most extroverted member of our family, he is a winsome young man and a true delight to his Dad!

But, yes — we are a house divided: The UF-FSU thing. I love it, they’re great kids. I’m very proud of both of them.

Your parents are also part of our Northland family, right?

Yes, my parents are also active in the church. Jim and Ginnie usually worship on Sunday at the 9 a.m. service. They are a part of a small group and my mother helps to coordinate communion servers. If you were to come in and sign up to serve communion on Sunday morning, she might be one of the people sitting at the table to sign you in. I’m grateful to be able to serve with them.

I grew up going to Winter Park Christian Church. My parents waited until I had been a pastor here for about three or four years before they began attending Northland, allowing me time to get established as an adult. My dad, especially, is rather vocally proud; he will gladly tell you all about his three sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren anytime he can.

It sounds like finding time to find joy in the midst of life is pretty important. How else do you unwind?

Long-distance running!

I found my running community with my daughter, Kristen, at first. She gets the credit for this. She came home one day from high school saying, “Dad, I really want to make sure you’re healthy and that you can play with your grandkids one of these days. I just want you to live a long life.”

I had never run on purpose in my life and certainly didn’t enjoy it when I had to, but she offered to run with me. Then it really sunk in: My teenage daughter wants to spend time with me. I don’t care what we are doing. I’m in!

We started out by running around the block and it was horrible. A couple days later, I recovered and was beginning to enjoy our time together. Eventually, we ran a 5K together and then a half marathon her freshman year in college.

Kristen is my running coach and inspiration. It was a father-daughter thing at first, but then when she was busy with college, Rebecca Lang and Dan Lacich, who both work here at Northland, started a running group. We would meet on Thursday mornings at 6 a.m. in front of the Northland building and about five or six of us would run together.

For me, it moved from a family thing to a church family thing. Helping Northlander David Saphirstein train for a marathon turned into running one myself, along with Rebecca, my brother Brian, worship team member Maribel Serio, and several other friends. I cannot describe how important this community is to me.

And so, I’ve become what I like to call a “social runner.” I rarely run alone and we talk A LOT while we run. Yet, two or three-hour conversations make the long runs fly by. I also get the chance to build friendships with people who aren’t necessarily part of Northland. Running may have started as a way to get my body in shape, but it has become one of the healthiest things for my soul as well.

Any parting words for our readers?

I count it an honor to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1) as a church family. While it has been tempting to grow weary over this past year with so much change and transition, God’s love and provision through Christ is sustaining us. He continues to give me a great love for this community of Christ-followers and I can’t wait to take hold of our future together.