by Matthew Raley
Since June, I have nearly abandoned this blog. Apologies to my faithful readers. I am finally able to resume posting.
You may know that this year has been full of personal changes, not least of which are a new ministry in Chico, CA, and a Ph.D. program at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY.
I just finished my first semester of coursework at Southern, and the experience is invigorating. I spent the autumn reading and researching extensively for a seminar on Christianity and film, and then spent eleven days at Southern with my fellow students and professors. The other students are sharp in discussion and debate. The professors are both challenging and supportive. Some of the fruit of this program will find its way into posts here soon.
A Ph.D. program is all-consuming, so I won’t be writing any books for some years. Re-starting a church is all-consuming too, and I find myself doing the two large projects at once.
I moved from the Orland Evangelical Free Church to Grace Brethren Church in April. At the time, the move was seen by many believers in Chico as incomprehensible. The gardeners of gossip around town had pronounced GBC closed. It was in desperate financial shape, with a predominantly elderly congregation of 60-80, a worn-out facility in a poor location, and a record of splits over the last five years.
The situation now is quite different, due to the resilience and tenacity of the original members, who refused to give up even when their situation seemed impossible.
- Attendance is running between 160 and 180 each Sunday.
- Our largest growth consists of young families.
- The junior high ministry is reaching those who haven’t attended church in the past, with 12-15 at each mid-week meeting.
- Children’s ministry is fully staffed, both in Sunday school and children’s church.
- The exterior of our facility has been repainted and the audio-visual system improved.
- Small groups launched in September, and were immediately full. I believe a new group will begin in January.
- The greeting and ushering teams have been reorganized.
- A comprehensive adult discipleship course was designed during the summer. It launched in October.
- The membership has increased substantially, and has made several important decisions quickly, including adding my brother Chris to the staff as director of operations. The tone and quality of the congregational meetings has been excellent.
- The music team has learned new songs and created new arrangements for corporate singing.
- The elders actively lead in key areas, and are forging great working relationships.
- We met our entire 2011 budget by the end of October. Our cash reserves are therefore well supplied, and we are ready for 2012.
I am very pleased with GBC’s new start. What pleases me most is that there has been no division between the original attenders and the new ones. They have decided to work together, in spite of how fast and, at times, confusing all these changes have been. This period has not been easy for anyone, and the joy we’re experiencing now is hard-earned.
This kind of renewal happens when we realize that the Lord Jesus Christ has poured his vast wealth into his people–talent, experience, and the wisdom that comes from suffering. Recognizing this wealth is hard. Christ has stored in it people who don’t always look right, and who seem to have no advantages. If we are to recognize his wealth, we have to associate with the lowly.
No surprise, then, that the glory for every good thing in every church belongs to the Lord alone.