Growing Pains

(The following is a continuation of my journey from the life as a Southern Baptist pastor to life as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.) As I sunk my teeth deeper into God’s Word, I began to desire to be a part of a more open expression of the Reformed theology that had become the warp and woof of my life. While some at the Shreveport church openly accepted my theology, others only patiently tolerated them because I worked so diligently at being a caring pastor to the flock of God there. When a small group of families back in my hometown in southeast Texas began to show an interest in starting a distinctively Reformed Baptist work, I jumped at the opportunity. I was convinced that there would be a large group of people in that area who would desire a church with a God-centered theology, reverent God-centered worship, and a desire to not be shackled to the program-driven mania that was a part of so many contemporary churches (Needless to say, that group turned out to be not nearly as large as I thought it would be).

Starting with a group of five families, Providence Baptist Church was born. We met in our home which had a large living room and dining room together, and hoped to move to a larger facility as soon as possible. Looking back, I see many things that could have been done differently (I am at fault for most of them), but it was a great four years of learning and growing, and I will always appreciate those families who were willing to take part in that grand experiment.

Because I had been a pastor of a growing Southern Baptist Church in that area in the past, the rumors about us began to swirl. One particularly aggravating falsehood that was circulating was that one was required to have an invitation to worship with us (That story made my blood boil!). Another pastor actually preached a series of messages against Calvinism in a church where I once was the pastor, and after listening, I discovered that the only thing that he “got right” about the doctrine was when he began by saying, “Now, I don’t know much about Calvinism….” We were also confused by some with the “house church movement” and others just simply thought that we were some kind of cult.

To quote the opening line of the Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities, it was the “best of times, it was the worst of times….” On the one hand, I had time to think, to pray, to study, to learn, and to discover how much I really didn’t know (It is always good to discover that one is not nearly as smart as one thinks one is!) On the other hand, “failure” had become a new word in my vocabulary. Little did I know how God was graciously working behind the scenes to change the direction of my life.

After limping along for several years, God in His providence, saw fit to bring that work to an end. The original families began to depart for different reasons, until we finally came to the point where we felt that we could not in good conscience call the group that met in that place a congregation. We disbanded in February of 2005 and on that Sunday afternoon I turned to my wife and said, “Now what? Where are we going to go to worship next week?” (To be continued)

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6 Comments

  1. Charlotte said,

    July 24, 2009 at 7:12 PM

    Amazing how rumors work. I learned a lot about rumors–more than I want to know, and I learned that some people just make up something to tell when they don’t know anything. I guess they want to be seen as “in the know” or something. I was so naive, and I probably still am. But I thought of Gandhi–“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” To this day, I am very leery of church.

    • cliftonr said,

      July 24, 2009 at 9:57 PM

      Charlotte,

      Your comment gave me much food for thought. First of all, I think if Gandhi would have looked a little closer at what Christ had said, he would not have liked Him at all. (All that stuff about Christ being the only way, God’s wrath, our sin coming from within us, goodness being more than just externals, etc., would not have fit in to his worldview.) ;^)

      On the other hand, the part about Christians being “so unlike Christ” is very true. We are nothing like Christ, although, through His grace I pray that I am more like him now than I was last year, and the year before that, etc. The more I see my sin (and I guess the more Gandhi sees it) the more I realize I need Christ. I need His grace and His righteousness, and even (gulp) His church. I can see why you would be “leery” of church. Some who go there are not Christians at all so we shouldn’t expect them to live as Christ. Some who go there are brand new to the Christian life, and are like two year olds who haven’t yet learned that there are other words in their vocabulary than, “MINE!” Some go there who are those who have been Christians for a long time and are making progress, but from time to time that remaining sin in their lives jumps up within them, and they live un-converted-ly (is that a word?). However, in every church I have ever belonged to there are those who love the Lord, who hate their sin, who battle it tooth and nail, and who rest only in what Christ has done for them through His obedient life, and sacrificial death. (I hope I fall into the last category, but, sadly, sometimes I revert back to spiritual adolescence.)

      I didn’t mean to preach a sermon (Send $20 and a self-addressed stamped envelope and get a copy of this message), but I would never want anything I have written to cast aspersions on Christ’s church. It (even with all its faults) is the safest and secure place to which sinners can run. (Although I agree with you that rumors are some of the most insidious things on the face of the earth.)
      [Please, forgive my “preach-y-ness.”]

  2. Charlotte said,

    July 24, 2009 at 11:54 PM

    Well, Gandhi also claimed to be Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. all in one, which is contrary to the Abrahamic tradition. 😉 But his point about Christians not imitating Christ rang true.

    My comment was very brief and focused on only one aspect of your post–rumors–of course. And the Christian life is an individual journey, a process of growing, some steps forward and some back for everyone, no doubt. Christ being the only way is the difficult part for many to grasp, eh? It’s just hard to find the good fruit in the crowd sometimes. Maybe I’m too much the idealist. I suppose growing up around folks who fed the hungry, tended to the sick, and clothed the poor made it truly shocking to find many Christians did not do that. I had good models in my young life.

    I am very much interested in this discussion of yours. I’m curious about my nephew’s changing views also. I have found mine changing as well. The mega-church, entertainment view of worship, unvarying diets of God’s blessings in sermons, etc. have very much turned me off.

    I’m not expressing myself well here, but I am highly interested to see your next post.

    • cliftonr said,

      July 25, 2009 at 2:08 AM

      I had Dixie read my reply to your comment…she said I was a little preachy…Caleb (my 12 year old stated), “Hers (yours) was short and to the point, and yours is written like poetry. Maybe you need to shorten it.” [A prophet is without honor in his own country]
      I agree with you about Kareoke worship (I don’t know what else to call it) It is certainly not my cup of tea, either. I will now choose to listen to Caleb and lighten up! ;^)

      • Charlotte said,

        July 27, 2009 at 5:03 AM

        That made me laugh, but I think you were more articulate than I.

        :-0

  3. Jarrot Garza said,

    July 25, 2009 at 3:21 PM

    All the Reformed SBC church’s I’ve ever been to and had any dealings with have always had a Pastor who through much time spent holding the line and out living the stubborn has preached the word of God faithfully. They’ve also had a influential group who themselves are Reformed who are able to encourage, exhort, and defend the truth about Reformed theology and the pastor. Both attributes in great number have always been necessary for reformation to take place in a SBC church. Crazy though…these church’s, once the stubborn have died off or left by way of their feet, have always been healthy but quite large churches.


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