Chapter Three: My first 40 years in the church
(Note: to read earlier chapters in this book, go here. )
In order to understand how I came to the idea of “vibrant families of Jesus”, you need to know a bit about my first 40 years in the church.
Growing up, I was part of a church-going family in Charleston, WV. Almost every Sunday I was in Sunday School and in the church service for my first 14 years. I wasn’t a Christian in any personal way but I was in church regularly.
At about the age of 15, my family moved to Bethesda, MD where we began attending a large evangelical Presbyterian church near our home. In that church, I became a follower of Jesus and part of a remarkable youth group that grew from 15 to over 200 during my high school years. This is where I was discipled through both high school and college years. I learned how to study the Bible, how to pray, how to make disciples and many other things. And, it was in this context, while in college, that I felt “called” into “full time” ministry. In those days, this meant going to seminary.
I spent four years in Pasadena, CA being trained for “the ministry”. The underlying belief in my seminary seemed to be that academic learning was the best way to prepare Christian leaders. I had some doubts about that assumption even back then but, nonetheless, I took courses like church history, systematic theology, Greek, Hebrew, hermeneutics and homiletics. I managed to cram three years into four and graduated with a Master of Divinity degree. (I remember thinking what a strange name for a degree!)
During this time in Pasadena, my heart was much more involved with my local church than with seminary. I loved discipling high school students in a large youth group that was part of a mega church. Overall, this was another positive church experience for me.
After seminary, I was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor in the old UPCUSA denomination and called to a church in Denver, CO. I spend 13 years there as youth pastor, singles pastor and small groups pastor. We were considered a “successful” church, which grew from 250 to 750 during this time. Once again, my experience in this church was largely positive.
Next, I spent three years on staff with a mega church in Denver as the director of adult ministries (small groups, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, singles). In some ways, being on the staff of this church was like drinking from a fire hose. We had a 900-seat sanctuary that was filled four times every weekend. We were always running to try and keep up.
I share my history with you to simply say that, for forty years, I was deeply committed to and involved in church. By the late 1980s, I had spent literally tens of thousands of hours in activities related to church… Sunday worship service, Sunday School, youth meetings, conferences and retreats, prayer meetings, elders’ meetings, presbytery meetings, small groups of every kind. The list goes on and on.
The point of this is that, if anyone knew what church was, it was me. I knew church inside and out. In my head, I had a very clear and detailed picture of what church was and how it worked. The puzzle called “church” was completely assembled. Every piece of the picture was in place. It’s important for this story that you know what that picture was. I’ll describe it in the next chapter.
Question to talk about with the Lord and other friends: What has been your experience of church up to this point in your life?
 United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.