Twelve Years and Counting. Grace.

Tri-County Bible Church is officially a pre-teen. Sunday marked 12 years since the church was founded. I remember the first service like it was yesterday. I stayed up almost all night working on the message, the bulletin, visitor cards, and some silly bookmarks that seemed really important at the time. Afterwards, I went to lunch (BBQ ribs!) with Granny and Mary, the two Matriarchs of our new church family. Granny (now with her Savior) is the one who greeted me at our first Bible study with the unsettling exclamation, “He’s too young to be a pastor!” (She was probably right.) I especially remember praying with those dear ladies and the others in attendance at the first service, pleading with the Lord to build His church in Madison, Ohio—to do what we knew we could not. He has done so, unmistakably, and one of His great kindnesses to me is letting me participate.

So Sunday, for the 600th time (or thereabouts) we moved our stuff into the local high school, the church’s equivalent of a homeless shelter. We set up the nursery in a filthy classroom, where we pushed the desks out of the way as much as possible. Again. We used a bathroom that doesn’t even have doors on the stalls. Again. We had no microphone, as our soundboard should have been retired about 11 and a half years ago. We looked at familiar and profane graffiti on the backs of our seats. Again. We carried in hymnals, nursery supplies, a coffee maker, and an offering box. Again. Ah, church planting.

Nevertheless, for the last 12 years the Lord has answered our prayer from the first service in remarkable ways—at the high school, the YMCA, four different community centers, two park pavilions, a coffee shop, a tent, multiple homes, and a pond and several pools that served as baptismals. Along the way, we’ve learned a vital lesson: The Lord’s promise in Matthew 16:18 that He will build His church and triumph over the gates of hell has nothing to do with brick and mortar.

Due entirely to the grace of God, TCBC is one of the most vibrant bodies of believers I know, building or no building. Something like 20-25% of our body has come to Christ through the proclamation of the gospel at TCBC. Some of our leaders are included in that number. Our membership consists of singles (despite our conservative music), young families (despite our horrific nursery facilities), and seasoned saints (despite our lack of roots in the community). People are coming to Christ out of false religions, addictions, and Pharisaical morality. We have a solid team of elders and deacons. One of our former deacons is now pastoring in a church a couple hours to our south. Several of our younger men are in seminary programs. Any number of godly men could have preached yesterday. I’m completely expendable.

The whole thing is a testimony of gospel power and a trophy of God’s grace. Thus, none but God deserves glory (Psalm 115:1; Eph 3:20-21).

Seminarians, pastors, church planters, missionaries—Christians!—I urge you to be encouraged. God is doing a great work in our day. We’re seeing it in a tiny town in Northeast Ohio, but it’s happening all over the world. The gospel of Christ is as powerful as ever. Resist the unbelief that says changed lives and growing churches are merely memories of times gone by. Nonsense.

And write this on your conscience: never, ever confuse the building up of a spiritual house of faith (1 Peter 2:4-10) with big budgets, fancy nurseries, and spacious restrooms. There are countless examples of churches that have beautiful buildings but dying assemblies. I’ll take a vibrant and homeless church any day.

Ironically, we’re just weeks away from moving into a state-of-the-art building. We’re understandably excited. But as we joined hands around the auditorium on Sunday, concluding what will likely be our last Communion service in the high school, it occurred to me that I’m going to miss the place. I’m going to miss the days when we had no building to worry about and could focus entirely on the needs of people. I’m going to miss the days when our facilities served as a sieve rather than a magnet, which was good for us.

Our new challenge, then, will be to get into our fancy new digs and do the exact same thing we’ve been doing for 12 years. Nothing’s changed. Nothing should. So we start the second dozen years like we did the first, praying for God to do what we cannot as we publish His gospel, by His grace, for His glory.

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4 Responses

  1. Great post! Thanks for this glimpse into what God is doing in Ohio. However, if your new building proves to be a magnet, I’ll be surprised. That’s what we thought when we moved into our first building, and we were disappointed. All the people who told us they would come after we got our own building never showed up. Our building was just another tool to help us keep doing God’s work God’s way, as best we understood that, and it still took the faithful preaching of the Word, and the hard work of evangelism and discipling to grow the congregation. And that’s the way it should be!

  2. Amen Pastor Chris. We are privileged to have been a part of that work for a little while. We were blessed. God is amazing as He continues to work in the souls of men ! Carry the banner Tri-County…we love you guys !

  3. It was a blessing visiting with you all this past Sunday. When I walked in, I was greeted and made to feel quite welcome. Praying the Lord continues to bless the work you are doing for Christ Jesus.

  4. It was great to see you again, Frances. Grace!

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