Grace Christian Fellowship, of Largo, Florida, is twelve years old, a young church as congregations go. It was begun by Pastor Randy Evans, and his wife Becky, after Randy had served in a much larger charismatic church in the Clearwater area as a youth pastor and associate minister. I was introduced to Randy when he came to several of our conferences in Chicago, about eight to ten years ago. When he invited me to visit, and told me that I could come in the spring, I noted that I should take him up on this invitation in March of 2005. I wrote and Randy kindly invited me to come to Largo that year. (I do like to be in Florida for spring training baseball games so why not speak at the same time, I reasoned with a measure of obvious calculation.)
Today marked my third consecutive annual visit to this growing missional church. Randy, and his associate Heath Watson, are doing a great job of pointing this church, now in its new building for a little over two years, toward advancing the kingdom of God as their primary goal. This is why I spoke from John 20:21 today, stressing that the church is to be sent, not just sending. As the Father sent the Son, incarnationally, so he sent his disciples, and through them us, into the world. The church is not to be about survival, advancing its own program, or finding its comfort level but rather about taking risks for the kingdom so that Christ’s name be known and his gospel loved. Grace is intentionally learning this way of life and I am blest to have served such a congregation again.
Last evening I spoke on election at a seminar at Grace and the two messages should soon be available at the Grace Web site at www.gracechristian.com. I hope to also have these messsages on our ACT 3 Web site soon, as well as the sermon from today.
Because I get to see the church in so many styles and forms I am always encourged to see how the truth of Jesus is pressed upon people by the Holy Spirit in ways that both far exceed our human conceptions and in ways that also defy an easy description of how things ought to be. Grace is not a typical church, whatever the term "typical" means. It is composed of both older retirees and young and emerging sorts. I believe the future of this church will be exciting and I am honored to know such faithful leaders as Randy and Heath and to share in the labors they give to Christ and his kingdom. I sense God’s smile when I encourage churches in this way and thus I enjoyed my time in Largo immensely. I told the people today that we have entered a "post-denominational" era and I believe that to be a good thing, even though I am happy to work from within a denominational connection myself. People do not much care about your label as they do about whether you know and love them. I believe that the congregations that learn this incarnational principle, regarldess of the sign out front, will be those that make a huge difference in the years ahead.