17 Years and Counting on the Corner of Lincoln and Main
How An Old Mainline Church Became a Church Plant
Ordained on May 8, 1977, a lot of things come to mind; especially as I consider the most significant pastoral call in my life and ministry over the last 17 years and counting.
While I hope God used me to bring salvation to souls by pointing people to Jesus with passion, persistence, precision, and Matthew 10:16 sensitivities, I now know the previous decades were spent preparing for the last two and how many more are left in the tank.
Having served churches as pastor from 100 to 3000, I never planted a church until less than 3 years ago on the Corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere, Illinois.
I always inherited churches planted by predecessors; inheriting traditions that reflected Jesus’ disdain in Matthew 15 and 23, staffs that knew my predecessor’s affections and affirmations while hoping for mine and vice versa, good and bad and no theology, bucolic cultural distinctives, socioeconomic snobbery, ethnic bigotries, jingoistic denominationalism in defiance of John 17, and…
Parenthetically, because I love Jesus by the book as enlightened by the Holy Spirit who never contradicts Jesus by the book and was first mentored by the Rev. Harold F. Mante (RIP) at the Forty Fort United Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, the increasing apostasies of the franchise that holds my credentials concomitant to sister franchises with a connection to pneumatically sealed Biblical Christology that is increasingly coincidental, I have felt like a missionary to the mainline for as long as I can remember; or at least since Dr. Hans Evans of the Coatesville Presbyterian Church in Donegal Presbytery said to me back in 1977 after I asked him if our franchise was guilty in a Matthew 23 especially verse 15 kinda way, “The difference between coal and diamonds is pressure. Besides, if you’ve ever wanted to be a missionary, stay in our denomination because it’s the best mission field open to us today.”
Still, I’ve always broken the 10th when around my buddies Adam and Brian who have planted churches and didn’t have to inherit pejoratives.
Anyway, the most positive inheritance when I arrived on the Corner of Lincoln and Main was the Biblically Christocentric and prayer-filled ministry of Bill. Having just passed him in tenure and only trailing Dr. Turner that I have in my sights, Bill started bringing the church back from its cultic and idolatrous proclivities to personalities, programs, and polity aka ecclesiastical franchises aka denominations that Jesus did not come to establish – and if I have to explain that to you, you wouldn’t understand anyway – to a rekindled passion for prayer, proclamation, and practice with Jesus by the book as enlightened by the Holy Spirit who never contradicts Jesus by the book as the church’s foundation, focus, and filter.
However, while being interviewed by my ecclesiastical superiors more than peers during the vetting process that would have to approve the call on behalf of our judicatory called presbytery, I was told that I should not accept the call unless I could convince the church board aka session to ask for the resignations of everyone on staff.
The reasons, articulated for me so well by two interim pastors and several former and continuing church members that preceded me, became apparent almost immediately.
The particulars are not necessary.
Suffice it to say I spent a lot of time with Jim Turner who explained the politics, Don Norek who explained the ecclesiastical scene, and Jack Funderburg who helped me to navigate the culture. While all three are now in heaven by grace through faith in Jesus, they helped me to understand, endure, and overcome our particular church’s family systems within the context of the city and county so that I am now privileged to be a part of what our Lord has begun on the Corner of Lincoln and Main over the past three years.
In short, I felt like a Republican in Chicago in the church even more than the community because, uh, two or three weren’t always gathered together in the name of Jesus.
So what happened?
First, the CCPC19 hyperbole, hysteria, and histrionics scared the heaven out of people and we lost immediately at least 90% of our regular worship attendance with at least 75% never coming back.
Second, because it never occurred to our leadership - except for two elders that objected and undermined our determination to remain open for anyone that chose to worship in person and both eventually quit coming – to stop worshipping God and keeping the doors open to anyone that wanted to worship in person, people from other churches all over the area from different denominations starting coming, stuck, and moved into leadership to fill the vacuum “created” by those that split; and most of them are deacons, elders, trustees, and other kinda church leaders.
Third, one of the most dutiful, responsible, and task-oriented staff members that I’ve ever experienced in ministry with close family and friends in the church retired “to spend more time with my family” and about 20 people “retired” with her for reasons that have little to do with anything related to Christianity.
What have been the results?
First, with our Lord’s Olivet Discourse in mind (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21), especially the part about eschatological betrayals, defections, divisions, deceptions, lies, and bewitching, I told our elders months before the retirement to expect decreased worship attendance, decreased revenue, and vicious gossip about everyone; especially our new members and, uh, me. I was disappointed to be discerning.
Parenthetically, when it comes to gossip or breaking the 9th, it was worse than Facebook’s hypocritical “like like” hereabouts; and I have confessed to God the sin of my not calling the most notorious to account. I am often tempted to tell people, especially apologists for them, what that “grapevine” said about them so condescendingly and viciously. That gossip network targeted everybody. Everybody. No exceptions. I sinned by not confronting them because I wanted to manage, though I could never exorcise, their gossiping criticism of me. Mindful of God’s judgment in Matthew 25:45, I have mourned and confessed my sin and have begun to repent.
Second, with the departure of distractions, dissonance, and devilishness, our worship is more meaningful and Holy Spirited than ever before a la Matthew 18:20; or as recently uttered, “Well, Jesus said He is wherever two or three are really gathered in His name. That’s not so bad!” Bluntly, worship is sweet when not polluted by people with mixed motives for being there.
Third, it’s like I’ve seen before in so many instances regardless of the franchise, “Revival doesn’t always mean bringing people in. It often means getting the people out that don’t love Jesus and all of His children.”
Fourth, people just “feel” the difference. With mixed motives for “membership” dissipating and increasing focus on Jesus more than previous traditions and idolatries, it’s becoming a happy, joyful, healthy, and safe home for all of the below.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been saying more and more and more over the past three years, “I’ve never been happier in life and ministry than I am right now. I’ve never been with a more faithful group of deacons, elders, members, and staff. I’m just praying that I don’t get in the way of what He is doing that we couldn’t have done without the miracles of this new church plant.”
That’s just a thumbnail sketch of what happened, what’s happening now, and what I know will happen in the future.
Matthew 16:13-19 comes to mind.
If you’re part of a family of faith like ours on the Corner of Lincoln and Main with people that love Jesus by the book as enlightened by the Holy Spirit who never contradicts Jesus by the book, praise God!
If not, we can recommend several churches in Boone and Winnebago Counties to you
Of course, you’re always invited to join us and you will be welcomed, included, and agape-ed.
No one is pure and perfect in every way – which, of course, is why Jesus came to save us from those impurities and imperfections for existential relief and eternal life by grace through faith in Him – and churches praying and trying to be faithful will always have challenges and be attacked by the dark side; however, and we have really experienced this on the Corner of Lincoln and Main over the past three years, light exposes darkness and darkness disappears when the light is turned on brighter in a James 4 kinda way with special notice of verses 7-10.
In short, if you want to stand strong, stand with Jesus!
Wake up, look up, stand up, speak up, and act up for Jesus!
You will be glad you did.
He will be glad you did.
His will join you.
It can even happen in an old mainline church.