Confessions of a Small Town Church Planter

Posted: August 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

My fellow leadership team member Justin Clark looked at me and Ryan Rolfe Sunday night after service and said, “You guys realize it has almost been two years since we launched Revolution.”  Wow!  two years.

The Revolution leadership team adopted two sayings early on and the first is, “Well, that has to go in the book one day.”  The reason for the quip is that we have had a series of bizarre events that have made this venture anything but boring.

Revolution Church was birthed out of a series of prayer sessions in late 2007 and early 2008 after I left my law practice behind, gave up on electoral politics and entered full-time ministry.  The Alliance Defense Fund hired me as part of their development team and asked me to consider moving from small town Portsmouth, Ohio (go to the middle of nowhere and take a left) to Philadelphia or Washington, D.C. 

I was excited because I had been wrestling in prayer with the idea of helping to plant a church and Philly or D.C. sounded like a cool place to set up shop and my bro Justin Clark even volunteered to go with me, if I chose Philly, to help out but God kept telling me to slow down.  Then, out of the blue, my brother-in-law, Eron Elswick, asked me to plant in Portsmouth.  I think I literally laughed in his face but he kept at it.  At the time, I was a part-time associate pastor at the church my father leads and had signed a covenant not to begin a ministry within fifty miles of said church (“said church”…man, you can take the lawyer out of the firm but…).  I used that covenant as an excuse to get Eron to go away but he is a persistent little engineer (really, he is little, like a bulimic organic vegitarian) and he proposed asking my father for permission to launch a new church.  I agreed but did so only to get Eron to stop emailing me and because I was certain that my father would say,  “no!”…I was wrong and I had given my word (darn that whole “let your yes be yes and your no be no” stuff from the Bible).

So, in the fall of 2008 we launched Revolution with no advertising at an old high school gym with little parking in a crime ridden area of town…in other words, according to church planting experts anyway, we did everything wrong.

Yet, it grew and has continued to grow largely with college students, twenty-something young professionals and a slew of folks in local rehabs. 

Along the way we continually fought the local school building supervisor who chewed us out for baptizing three people on a gym floor but said nothing to the circus who left elephant poop everywhere!  

We lost heat in the dead of winter and I preached to people who pulled their hoods so tightly across their faces that they looked like a church full of jawas. 

We left the gym and moved into an abandoned J.C. Penney that had toilets that overflowed every time it rained and share the basement with a Playboy playmate who teaches dance to children (again, I’m not kidding…you can’t make this stuff up).  We renovated a tattoo parlor to serve as my office and our children’s area (we washed it!).  We’ve also had to pull drunks who wondered in off the street off the microphones and had our rock lights explode while I was preaching (thank you, Lord!). 

Every time something like this happens, the members of the leadership team look at each other and say, “That has to go in the book.”

But for all the strange (and sometimes deeply frustrating) stuff that has happened, there has also been a series of deeply humbling experiences where we have had the privilege of watching God move in a powerful way. 

We have seen people come to Jesus (some who knew so little about the faith that they didn’t even know how to ask), be baptized into the body of Christ and many, many come back to the church after years away. 

As those of you who have been to Revolution, perhaps the coolest thing God has done is move us to worship in a powerful way.  So many newcomers comment on how amazing it is to see nearly every person present singing to God at the top of their lungs as Ryan Rolfe & The World’s Most Dangerous Praise Band leads us to the throne every Sunday.  

Furthermore, Revolution members have stripped down their lives every Fall in order to give our extra to those in need at our annual “Free Market” and helped feed the homeless and food insecure every Friday night in partnership with folks from the Bikers for Christ.  Soon, we will begin buying homes in the most crime and drug ridden areas of our town in order to reach out in love to those trapped in darkness.

I have personally been amazed at how God has prepared me for this ministry.  I spent two years in Hollywood as a prodigal preacher’s kid, five years in politics as an arrogant, power-hungry agnostic libertarian before coming to Christ via a cancer diagnosis in 1997.  I attended a seminary drifting left and found myself in the midst of the burgeoning emergent church movement in the late ’90’s but then found myself in a crisis of faith during my subsequent years in part-time ministry and full-time law practice.  By way of an accident, I downloaded a series of sermons by Mark Driscoll and eventually left “progressive Christianity” and embraced Reformed evangelicalism.  I became a volunteer lawyer and then fundraiser for a Christian legal organization where I’ve been blessed to become friends and acquaintances with leaders such as Alan Sears, Wayne Grudem, John Guest and many others.

The result is that God hsa crafted a church planter who knows pop culture, politics, law, leadership fundraising  and both ends of the theological spectrum and God has used it all for His purposes here at Revolution.  To quote my friend Alan Sears, “it is amazing how God prepares you for what he wants you to do.”

All the while, I have been blessed with the most awesome wife and son a dude could ask for and two fellow leadership team members who confront me with love when I screw up and pat me on the back when I’m down.  God is good.

I told you that the leadership team has two sayings, the other is, “All we can do is fail!”  We all know that we will do our best but, ultimately, it is up to God to bless it or not.  So far he has…may the Revolution continue for His honor and glory alone.

  1. muzacmercer says:

    I recently wrote a song about the Prodigal Son. This is my testimony of God’s amazing grace in my life. If you have a sec here it is. Thanks for listening

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