It is a great joy to see how congregations grow and mature in the grace of God. I have ministered as an itinerant speaker and encourager (since 1992) in churches of all sizes, types and styles, all across North America. There are strengths and weaknesses in every type of congregation that I encounter. Some are better at one aspect of life and ministry than others. All need of them need improvement. Some need major spiritual renewal if they are to recover their witness to the grace of Christ. Others are vibrant and alive.
I find that Reformed evangelicals too easily judge the local church by its doctrinal standards alone. This causes them to often feel very good about themselves if they “believe” the right doctrines and strongly teach them. Non-Reformed evangelicals tend to judge themselves by outward, less obviously doctrinal, appearances; e.g., music, style, excitement among their leadership, numerical growth, etc. Quite honestly all evangelicals struggle to keep a truly healthy ecclesiology before their people, since both the leaders and the people generally reflect the culture’s preoccupation with self.
This past weekend (March 4-5) I enjoyed a wonderful teaching time in a healthy younger church, Grace Christian Fellowship, located in Largo, Florida. Grace just moved into its first building, a lovely facility that was well-conceived and well-built, on December 24, 2005. I previously spoke there in March of 2005.
Grace Christian Fellowship was begun about twelve years ago by Pastor Randy Evans and his wife Becky, who uses her obvious management skills to administrate the church office. Randy, a native of New Jersey, originally studied gerontology and moved to Florida to work in that field. After seven years as an assistant pastor in a charismatic assembly, where he became a minister from within the congregation, Randy had seen enough to know that he had to move on in his spiritual and pastoral journey. What he lacked in formal preparation for pastoral ministry he more than made up for with life experience and by learning “what not to do.” He loved to study and teach and thus became a solid expositor, a strong pastoral leader and a warm and caring shepherd. He clearly loves his people, a trait common to all truly good pastors. And they respond well to his love for them and his self-effacing sense of humor. Randy has no pretense about him, knows his own strengths and weaknesses well, and truly loves what he does. He celebrated his fifty-first birthday on March 3 and the family included me in their special evening at a lovely private celebration. He is currently working on a degree in theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.
Randy Evans continues to have a deep desire to learn, to grow personally and to lead this maturing church as they develop missionally and reach out to the Clearwater-Largo area. The pastor and people of Grace Christian Fellowship demonstrate that there is no one way to develop and grow a local church. Where pastor and people humbly seek God, and cultivate a vision for mission that is Christ-centered, the blessing of the Lord upon the local church is usually apparent. I am blest to serve such a pastor and congregation and believe this is a major part of my own call in ministry.