Seminary or bust

A few weeks back, my family's life course was radically changed. It was a Sunday morning at First Baptist Church in Springfield. My wife was home with our sick daughter, so I sat alone in the fourth row, right in the middle, so I didn't have to sit with my neck turned to one side for an hour straight. From the stage, it was the same old thing for the most part-- 2 hymns, prayer, choir song, 2 more hymns, greeting, 3 praise songs, special music... nothing new or exciting, let alone revolutionary. But then brother Michael gets up to preach the Word. He starts reading from 1 Peter 3:15 and already the spirit is softening my heart.

The preceding weeks contained a mix of excitement and letdowns. I had applied to Acts 29, an emerging church planting network, to see if they might help The Core get on its feet financially. They had been recommended by a pastor friend, whose church was a part of the Network, who only had positive things to say. So I began the application process, answering all sorts of personal questions, telling my story of God's calling to salvation and to ministry, providing in-depth answers to their theological questionnaire, and so forth. Quite a bit of time and personal study went into this. After submitting my theology answers, I received an email questioning my view of predestination. Apparently, I wasn't "reformed" enough for them, so they rejected my application.

During these last few months, there have been countless times when I wished I had a better grasp on the Bible as a whole. It's one thing not to be able to make sense of all of it, but it's another thing to just flat out not know what it says. So I found myself at least two major steps away from being prepared for pastoral ministry. First, I needed to become much more knowledgeable of God's story as revealed through scripture. For crying out loud, half the time I don't know the difference between Moses and Abraham! Second, I needed to have a thorough Biblical understanding of theology rather than a shallow, proof-text theology.

So... Michael is preaching "Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have..." He explains that our experience is part of it. No one can argue with your testimony. But then, people of other faiths have had their lives changed for the better by their religion as well, whether we Christians choose to admit it or not. Michael expounded upon the fact that most of today's youth and young adults don't know the Bible like their parents and grandparents did. I certainly identified with this, as the Spirit was telling me, "Matt. He's talking about you." The truth God spoke to me is that I do not have a solid enough Biblical and historical foundation to “present myself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of Truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

Looking a little further back, over the past few months, we have been working to plant a new church in downtown Springfield. This has been a trying task with many obstacles. And while we continued to have faith that “with God all things are possible,” the seemingly insurmountable obstacles now appear to be God-given, in order to steer us in a different direction.

My experiences with trying to plant a church have humbled me in that I recognize that I don’t yet have what it takes to be a pastor, let alone to build a church from scratch. God showed me that Sunday morning that I have been trying to do this in my own strength and wisdom, which is why it has not been entirely fruitful. When I say this, I am referring to the fact that, after a year of ministry, we basically have seven adults who regularly meet together once a week. We started with four. No one has come to saving faith in Christ through our ministry. No one has had any incredible breakthroughs from sin in their life. At least three of the seven (myself and my wife included) have felt mostly unfulfilled by what's gone on up to this point.

So why did we stick with it for so long? I guess because we needed each other. After a year of attending First Baptist, my wife and I still haven't developed a close friendship with another couple. I made a few good connections with some guys I really related to, but none of them have become "best friends" whom I hung out with more than once every few months. My Core compadres, on the other hand, have been the best friends we have made since we moved to Springfield. We really have made strides toward being the kind of community on a small scale that I've dreamed of on a large scale. What The Core has been for us is a chance to hold onto real Christian communion by our fingertips. When most Christians these days have given up on authenticity and struggle for plastic smiles and comfortability, I guess this is an accomplishment. But it hasn't been enough for my wife and I to really thrive, as we had in the recent past.

However, The Core is on a new horizon. We just signed a lease on a gutted property in an ideal location downtown. This should go a long way toward getting at some results. The house church thing is nice as a part of something larger, but after a year of doing it, I'm fully convinced that this is not God's stand-alone will for how the Western Church should operate. Maybe I've just been missing the point, but it just doesn't seem very "God-sized". It's not very conducive to exercising a variety of spiritual gifts. Teaching, song-leading, praying, prophecying, and encouraging just about sum it up. I disagree with Barna and others who say that house churches are the next big thing and that they will eventually replace congregations. It won't take people long to burn out on the fad when they realize that it's not as conducive to self-replication in Western culture as it is in the Eastern and Southern parts of the world.

All of this in mind, God is turning over a new page in our lives, moving us on to live under the waterfall of his blessing, which happens to be seminary for us. We hope and pray that our last few weeks in Springfield will allow us to be an inspiration to our friends, neighbors and coworkers. May you continue to look for God's waterfall wherever you are, and follow Him wherever He moves it (and He will!).

Grace and peace.

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