I am doing something a bit different with Dwell & Cultivate this week. The people who are my "family" at Stone Ridge Church will soon face a big decision about our future. We are becoming increasingly overcrowded and must decide if it is time to build the next phase of our campus. Regardless of the decision we make, I think it is time to tell a bit of the story of how we got where we are. The vast majority of our attenders don't know that history...
It was the end of 1997. That year, our church had begun giving to help pay for our future relocation. We didn't yet know where we would move, nor could we accurately calculate the cost. But our people gave.
Foreseeing the need to spend time in rented facilities, we began to research what was available for a church our size. "Not much," was the answer. Consequently, when we discovered that the Shiloh Inn Conference Center was available, we jumped at the opportunity.
As we said goodbye to 1997, we also bid farewell to the place our church called "home" for the previous 45 years. With joy, some fear, and many tears, people in our church celebrated life in a building where many had given their lives to Christ. A large number of our families had grieved at the funerals of their loved ones in that building. They and others had rejoiced at the wedding vows that were spoken there.
Still, we leaped into 1998 in rented space (our campus would not be sold for about a year) and the hope that comes from knowing that God was leading us on this journey. We had no idea the pitfalls we would face before long.
By the end of 1998, we went through one of our great challenges as a church and my greatest challenge as a pastor. A key leader left us and many of our families followed him. We quickly found ourselves much smaller in size and income than just a few months before. Here we were, in rented facilities, taking steps into our future, and it seemed like we were falling apart.
In the midst of the questioning and pain, God amazed us with the faithfulness of the families who stayed. People rolled up their sleeves to work. We prayed, we cried out to God to provide for us and protect us. You know what? He answered!
Our attendance was depressingly low, yet we were learning not to look so much on the outward appearance. We began to study the difference between healthy and unhealthy churches. We then went to work on becoming healthy.
At the end of 1999, our land was purchased -- debt-free -- and God opened the door for us to move into the auditorium at Otondo Elementary School, about 1 1/2 miles from our future campus.
We weren't really growing yet, but we were stabile and healthy.
On a personal note, let me say that I now consider our "train wreck" to be one of God's greatest gifts to me in ministry. I learned lessons that continue to serve me as I seek to honorably serve Him.
Today's blog post is entitled, "Cultivate faithfulness." If you can, you might take a moment to read the story behind this blog. It's in the margin on the right. Psalm 37 -- especially verses 3-6 -- have become my "life passage." I began to learn these lessons in the dark days of 1999.
To be continued...