The plan was simple. We would grow our core group and equip them with the fundamentals of what a church is. Our little group of about 12 grew to about 14 or 15. It was not very amazing. The buildup, to what is called “the launch,” was unspectacular. The launch date was March 6, 1994. We had a mailer printed up (we sure could have used Martin’s and Mark’s help in those days!). I got a few calls. One guy called and asked my views on polygamy. Strange. But we became friends. The big day approached, and we had some folks from Sierra Community Church in South Lake Tahoe come down. Some of those dear people would stick around for six months or so. Sierra Community Church was always very supportive. We had some others who wanted to help make the day special and so they joined us. We also had the “worship team” from another CBA church offer to come down and help with sound and music. We had rented the Carson Valley Middle School multipurpose room. We had a banner made. We were ready.
The day came and we had 77 souls showed up. It was exciting. The music was way, way too loud. The guy who led worship couldn’t play a hymn to save his life. The sermon was OK, as far as I remember. But we were out of the gate, off the block. That day an older gentleman and his wife came to check things out. Come to find out, they lived right across the street from us on Waterloo. Ernie and Flo Keuhnel quickly became regulars, with Ernie offering to help at every turn. Those were the early days. Each week was filled with anxiety and anticipation. Would new people come? Would I scare them off? New people did come. Sometimes it was a blessing. Sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes God brought servants. Sometimes the devil brought wish-dreamers. (OK, I know God brought them too, but it is easier to think the devil brought them).
There we were, the Borgmans, Grabows, Keosababians, Winans, Keuhnels, Janis, Dottie, Aguileras, and some others. Those others, who straggled in during those early days, were people like Steve and Connie Schoonmaker their kids, Sean and Chanelle, Don and Jean Strachan and their seven children (some of whom you might know!), and John and Suzanne Wilber and their six children, Brent and Fran Guddat and their three darling little ones (not so little anymore). But there were others who were demanding, critical, and harsh. They had an idea of what the church should be and since they viewed themselves as big fish in a little pond, they would try to take control. Most of that stuff happened behind the scenes, in the small groups, or in the confines of a phone call. The ones who were loudest in their praise of the church on their first Sunday were the ones who left louder. There were others, who the more they got involved, the more I realized that they weren’t there to help, but they needed help. Efforts to help became consuming and yet were never enough. There were allegations that I didn’t know what I was doing (which was probably true), that Ariel was a shoplifter (which wasn’t true), that one of elders was a womanizer (which wasn’t true), that we weren’t pre-trib (which was true). I remember with crystal clarity the first time I got a phone call from a couple I had spent hours with, trying to help. They let me have it up one side and down the other. I got off the phone, sat down next to the bed and wept. Ariel sat down and wept with me, and then said, “Honey, blessed subtraction.” It didn’t help that much.
Everything that happened in those days seemed huge. When a family came, it was very noticeable. When the left, it was even more noticeable. Every Sunday felt like it could be the best or the last. The music was terrible. We had to bring our own scrapers to get gum off the floor before we could set chairs up. I hauled the fake trees to CVMS every Sunday in the back of my little Toyota and they would lose more leaves every time they were transported. Soon they looked like trees that belonged in Nevada. But we had a church. We had a group of people who loved the Lord, loved His Word, and were committed. But sometimes that was eclipsed by the harsh words of critics and my thin skin. My own insecurities as a young (26 years old), overweight Reformed guy didn’t help. It seemed like the fight for encouragement was a constant fight.
Where did encouragement come from? First, I believed that each week as I labored in the Word to prepare the sermon, that God had given me a privilege. I never felt once like I didn’t want to preach. Studying and preaching the Word kept me revived. Second, God brought people who were committed to the church and who loved me. That may sound strange, but it is apostolic (2 Cor. 12;15; Phil. 4:10, to name just two). That’s a risky thing because not all love proves to be true love, but God was faithful through faithful people. Third, Ariel helped me keep things in perspective. She’s more pragmatic than I am, and sometimes I needed to hear things from a realist’s perspective. Fourth, God gave me friends, both inside and outside the church. Friends who prayed for me, friends who sought to encourage me. He gave me friends like Ernie, who was unwavering in his love and loyalty. Finally, the church graciously let me go to Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and later the Trinity Pastors Conference, where I would hear preaching and make some life-long friends (like Robert Elliott and Robert Briggs).
Did I ever contemplate quitting on a Monday? No. God made me stubborn. God gave me a sense of calling. God was knitting together a body of Christ. It’s was I lived for. No amount of discouragement could get the upper-hand over “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail.”