I was raised in Houghton, NY. Houghton is a small town in western New York State that is home to Houghton College and Houghton Wesleyan Church. In this environment, I met many missionaries serving around the world. Since Houghton College is attended by Christians of almost all evangelical denominations, I was able to talk to many people about why they believe what they believe.
When we moved to Georgia in 1996, we began attending the First Baptist Church of Springfield. This was our first exposure to Southern Baptist doctrine, life, and tradition. After four years at FBC-Springfield, we moved to another local SBC church. That church, Emmanuel Baptist, had a much different worship style (contemporary vs. traditional), but much the same structure and beliefs.
In 2002 we moved to Wake Forest, NC for me to attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. During my four years in school, the Lord provided me with many experiences, usually in the form of conversations, that stretched what I believed about a whole host of things including the church. Alice and I went on a two-week mission trip to Jaipur, India during this time that opened our eyes to the vast lostness in other parts of the world.
When we moved to Wake Forest we needed to find a church. Some new friends of ours attended Richland Creek Community Church, so we decided to visit. This was a fairly large church (700 people on Sunday morning) that was focused on growth. We saw first hand some of the positives and negatives of elevating evangelism to the number one spot in the life of the church.
After about a year and a half at RCCC, we sensed that we just didn't belong. What we believed about church did not mesh with the priorities there. We departed RCCC for a much smaller church in Wake Forest. Glen Royal Baptist Church is a traditional SBC church that operates much like it probably did 50 years ago. Despite this, we were attracted to the spirit of community we felt there. In that setting, we saw the positives of a smaller group of people, but also the dangers of adhering to unquestioned tradition.
After some significant turmoil at Glen Royal, a group of us decided that it was better for all involved if we departed and planted a church close by. We could probably have handled the situation somewhat better, but as they say "Hindsight is 20-20." Anyway, we planted Messiah Baptist Church in Wake Forest. This was when God really began stretching Alice and me in what we believe about the church. When you are involved in a church plant, many decisions have to be made. This forces you to take a hard look at what the bible says about things. You can't default to certain practices (at least not as easily); instead you begin asking many questions. This forced all of us at Messiah Baptist - including my good friend Alan Knox - to ponder what the church is and what it should look like. As is probably no surprise, what I was being taught in seminary class about the church was not always what we found the scriptures to show us about it.
After graduation in 2006, our family headed for the vast mission field of South Asia. Before we departed, we spent six weeks in intensive missions training near Richmond, VA. During this training, we looked to scripture to show us how to plant churches. In particular, we looked at Paul's actions in the book of Acts. What we saw was fascinating because it was so different from what we see in the USA today. Additionally, we were taught to plant churches that would look little like the SBC churches who would be supporting us. For example, church planting involved meeting in homes, local leadership, non-salaried pastors, etc.
Our family then moved to Varanasi, India. In this city, which is the holiest in all Hinduism, we saw both Hindus and Muslims every day going about their worship practices. It was heartbreaking to see so many people enslaved to false gods. It was an exceedingly dark place spiritually. Despite this, we met a small number of both Indian and Western missionaries. Because of our circumstances, we quickly jumped into this small community of believers. We had sweet fellowship together. We saw the church in action, composed of many tribes, nations, and tongues.
After four months in India, we had to return home because my son was diagnosed with a form of Lymphoma. We went from living in India to living in a hospital in Savannah, Georgia. During our time in chemotherapy, Christian brothers and sisters (some we knew and some we didn't) supported us in various ways. We saw during this time that denominational lines really don't matter. It is being in Christ that is important. Christians all over the country were praying for our son Bobby. The Lord heard and mercifully healed him.
In 2008 I began serving as pastor of Chevis Oaks Baptist Church here in Savannah. Chevis Oaks is a traditional SBC church with a loving family. The people were supportive and loving to our family during my 2.5 years there. Serving as pastor showed me very clearly the good, the bad, and the ugly of church life. Additionally, the time I had to study allowed me to delve into what the bible says about the church. I saw what the bible says. I saw what the church in this country looks like. I saw the similarities. I saw the differences. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I could no longer serve in that capacity because I couldn't justify it biblically.
Now we are part of a simple house fellowship. We try to follow the biblical model as much as we can. So far it has been a wonderful experience.
I thank the Lord for providing me these experiences. I don't think I would be here today if I had not had them. God has been gracious in allowing me to see a good chunk of the world. He's given me exposure to many denominations. He's let me see His hand in healing our son. I praise and thank Him for all this, and I look forward to what lies ahead.
Have you had any experiences that have dramatically shaped what you believe about Christ and his church? What are they?