We are rapidly approaching our 25th anniversary as a church. We will have Bruce Ware and Joel Beeke help us celebrate. Our theme is going to be “Loving the Body of Christ,” which is close to my heart and eminently appropriate for our 25th year as a church.
I am going to try to write some blog posts between now and then that cover our history and some personal reflections. I don’t know how many pastors plant a church and make it 25 years, but I know I am unbelievably privileged and blessed to be in that tribe. This reminiscence will cover how we got to Nevada.
I attended Western Conservative Baptist Seminary from 1990-1993. Ariel, Ashley and I moved to Portland, OR in Dec. 1989 and I started classes in January 1990. There I met men and took classes that would change my life. Three men stand out and deserve special mention. The first is my theology professor, Bruce Ware. God used Bruce to instill in my heart a passion for theology. God also used him to shake me from my Arminianism, which I euphemistically called “moderate Calvinism” (I believed in eternal security). Bruce is a dear friend to this day. The second was my hermeneutics and homiletics professor, Jim Andrews. Jim would also become our pastor. God used Jim to form in me convictions about preaching God’s Word, as well as a passion to preach God’s Word. Jim still is a powerful preacher and a dear friend. Finally, God used Dr. Duane Dunham. He was my Greek teacher. I had more classes from Dr. Dunham than from anyone else. God used Dr. Dunham to instill in me a love for the Greek New Testament and passion to dig into the Word. Dr. Dunham remains a beloved professor and friend.
In the course of seminary, I came to Reformed theology and had views of preaching that would have put me out of the mainstream of evangelicalism in the early 90s. If you can remember back, Bill Hybels was still a major influence, and Rick Warren was a rising leader on “how to do church.” Our association was heavily influenced by both men, and I knew God had shaped me into a different person. I had been listening to Pastor Albert Martin’s pastoral theology, and I began to think I may not last long in the typical evangelical church. Church planting became a serious consideration.
Our pastor, Jim Andrews, was a great help in thinking through this process, assessing my gifts, and preparing me for the possibility of planting a church. After much prayer, Ariel and I began thinking of areas where we could possibly go. One of those areas was the Carson Valley. At that time, I was presented with three ministry options. I could stay on at Lake Baptist Church, which offered the most security. I was recommended for an internship in a church in Little Rock, which would have led to a church plant in the southeast. Or we could proceed with the Carson Valley church plant. Although we would have loved to stay at Lake Baptist (now Bible) Church, I knew that was the safe thing to do and that God wanted me to do something that required a lot of faith. The Little Rock venture sounded good to me, but Ariel said I would have to move to Arkansas by myself. So, the Carson Valley it was!
Through a contact with the Conservative Baptist Association, we met Andrew and Cathy Winans. It seemed that God was opening a door for us in Nevada. Early in 1993 I was approved by the Northern California and Nevada Conservative Baptist Association (called Vision 2000) to be a church planter. We then drove from the bay area to Minden, to meet Andrew and Cathy and a small handful of believers who were interested in a church plant. Tom and Barb Keosababian were a part of that little group.
I graduated the following May with an M. Div. and was making preparations for a big move. It was scary and exciting. We had another meeting in Nevada in July with the families. At that time something happened that seemed to jeopardize the whole venture. We prayed, our friends in Portland prayed, and God cleared the obstacle in a miraculous way. But perhaps that story is for another time.
During that July meeting I told the little group that we needed about $2,000 month for me to support my family. We had support from our home church, Lake Baptist, and some other support from a few other churches and individuals, and I was going to work part-time at Sierra Community Church in South Lake Tahoe. We needed about $1,000 per month from the core group to get to $2,000. I asked everyone to write down what they thought they would be able to give and put it in an envelope. We had a great meeting, I presented certain aspects of how we would start the planting efforts, we prayed and then started the long drive home back to Portland. I asked Ariel to look at the envelopes. My heart was filled with faith that God would do exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ask or think. She started reading the numbers. $150. Good! $100. OK. $50. $5. $25. $70. Gulp! $400 per month! I felt dejected. It wasn’t supremely about the money, it was that we were uprooting, leaving our home, leaving opportunities, to serve the Lord with all our hearts. I felt that maybe people didn’t understand the level of our commitment. Ariel said, “Don’t worry, the Lord will provide for us. Give them time.”
In September of 1993 we packed up a moving truck and moved to Gardnerville. Kary and Cindy Grabow had just moved to Nevada and Kary heard through the Corvair grapevine about a new church. They were interested, showed up to our rental house when we pulled up in the moving truck and helped us unload. Little did we know that God poured out a huge blessing on our lives that day with Kary and Cindy. Not only would they become among the first members of Grace Community Church, but God gave us some great friends. Their kids and ours would grow up together. God did do exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ask or think.