By the summer of 2017 things had really begun moving forward. We had our very first worship services to lead at the Cascades. Our Tuesday evening Bible studies had grown into a consistently sized group each week. And I received a brand new question I had not heard before – “What does it take to become a member?”
It probably shouldn’t have, but the question caught me off guard. We had been running informational meetings on Sunday nights, and a few people had already begun plugging into different aspects of our budding church plant. But still, there was something about the question that I wasn’t quite prepared for. And then I realized it. Our next major step is actually having a church! In our very first blog, I described the analogy that has guided me since this journey began in 2015.
Imagine being on a road, at night, on your way to a destination. You are certain what that destination is, although you are unsure what it might specifically look like. And you are certain that the road you are on is the right road, but you are unsure how the road will wind and curve up ahead. You are moving down the road at night, and the only thing lighting you way is a series of street lights. But the street lights seem to only come on one at a time. You have just enough light to get from one street light to the next. And just as you arrive at the next street light you find that it turns on and provides enough light to see the next street light down the road.
Now, in the summer of 2017, I realized that the street light God had just turned on shed enough light for me to see that our next step was to actually have this church. It was truly a special moment for me. And one that got my attention!
The first thing for me to do was to plan and organize a way for people to become members of our church. Even before worship services began, we could still have members. But what did they need to know? How could I communicate things in a way for everyone to have their questions answered, and yet, put all of our members on the same page? And to not require an additional master’s degree in order to do it all!
The solution we came up with is what has become our Inquirer’s Class, and its design is simple. We aim to take people from what is common to all Christians at all times – our belief in the gospel – and narrow it all the way down to what is unique about Verdae Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC in 2017. We do this through six “narrowing” movements that take us from the universal gospel message to VPC’s specific mission.
First, our class looks at the gospel message and how God calls us to respond to it. This connects us to all Christians at all times. And in fact, this is all you have to believe in order to be a member at VPC! But it is important to go through the rest of the class because I want everyone to know exactly what they are getting into – from what we will teach to what our leaders all believe.
So the next thing we look at is our theology, which breaks down into two sections: our Reformation heritage which narrows us into the Protestant camp, and then our Reformed heritage which connects us broadly to Reformed churches across a number of different denominations. From there we take a look at our ARP History which, of course, narrows us into our own denomination. But we do this by looking at some significant events in our denomination’s history which still characterizes the way our denomination looks today. These include things like the empowerment of the laity and the free offer of the gospel.
Next, we narrow once more by laying out our church’s specific convictions about issues that are important today. Usually we get questions here about homosexuality, role of women in the church, and baptism. It is always interesting to me what people want to hear about!
Finally, we narrow one last time as we lay forth Verdae Presbyterian Church’s mission statement and eight core values. We have taken three groups through this course so far, and in the end people have a better idea of what we are about. But our Inquirer’s Class is only a first step towards membership – not a final step. That final step occurs in a one-on- one setting where each person can take their time figuring out if they are called to be a part of our church. For some this is just one meeting after our Inquirer’s Class. For others it has been a series of meetings! But the end result, I believe, is that everyone who joins is on the same page with our mission.
I thought it was important this week to tell the story of how this Inquirer’s Class came about and which “street light” it was in our path towards becoming a church. And as I look back on all of the other stories I have told in this blog series I realize that this class couldn’t have become what it is today were it not for every other light that went before. It was truly the perfect timing from our perfect God – even if it did catch me off guard!
“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” –Ecclesiastes 3:11