Greenleaf Vineyard Church
Chapel Hill, NC
In 2001 my wife (and now co-pastor) Angela and I were married, and like many newlyweds, found ourselves in need of a church that fit us. By way of some of Angela’s childhood friends, the first church we found ourselves visiting was a Vineyard. Our experience was that of many people we’ve heard over the years: “We were home!”
It wasn’t long before the pastor of that church, Hanson, asked us a profoundly prophetic question: “Have you guys ever considered church planting?” My response, if I remember correctly, was neither “yes” nor “no,” but rather “What the heck is church planting?” As he explained, we had a strong hunch we were hearing God. Within a year we joined Angela’s family at another Vineyard in town. Our pastor there, Jeff, listened to our interest in church planting and took us under his wing. We interned. We poured ourselves into the church. We enrolled in VLI. All while both of us were working as full-time high school teachers. We were making plans to plant. It was an exciting time!
Then it all went haywire.
Not entirely, but the beginning of the first year I found myself in the midst of serious family issues. Events that transpired left me broken and hurting. There would prove to be years of healing ahead of me. But we kept plugging along. Then, the beginning of my second year of VLI another family tragedy struck: my closest grandmother was overcome by years of depression and took her own life. I was crushed. And yet still, we stayed the course.
I managed to finish VLI within the usual two years…even if only barely at times! Upon graduation, many celebrated with us. And then began the questions: “Hey, weren’t you guys going to plant a church?” We knew we were called. We’d geared every major decision toward that goal. We’d visited a number of cities and towns, but we didn’t yet know where to plant, nor when. And I was still so beat up that I eventually told Angela, “I’m tired of talking about this. I’m done dreaming until God steps in and just makes it clear when and where he wants us to go.” And I set about just working hard at my day job, serving in the church, and trying to enjoy life. I simply didn’t have much more to give beyond that. And I’d be lying if I didn’t have moments of asking myself if this whole endeavor hadn’t just been one big cosmic misunderstanding.
In 2006 we went to the Vineyard Southeast Regional conference in Cape Coral, Florida. During one of the evening sessions I found myself down front for the ministry time. I don’t at all recall what prompted me to go down, but I know that I went down with zero expectation. That was a big deal, too, because I’m almost always the guy down front begging, “Please, Lord, send the most prophetically gifted person here straight to me. Put a big blinking arrow over my head or something.” Of course, that pretty much never happens. But this time was different–I wasn’t at all anxious. And he was speaking to me. Good stuff. But I wasn’t at all prepared for what happened.
As the crowd down front began to clear out, I stayed, just enjoying God’s presence. As I was in a lovely sort of transcendent state, I suddenly sensed someone walk up beside me, and that someone interrupted my communion with the Spirit with a simple statement: “Uh, sorry, I don’t know you at all, but I feel like God wants me to tell you that ‘you’re healed enough to heal others.'” I instantly became a sobbing mess. I turned and buried my face into the chest of some strange man, crying like I hadn’t cried in years. I could barely stand. I’m sure he wasn’t at all expecting this, and was probably looking over my shoulder as he held me upright trying to find out who this basket case belonged to! I walked away from that moment not only feeling deeply healed, but also knowing as clearly had ever known anything where and when we were to plant! After years of patiently (and not-so-patiently) waiting, it was go time.
I can’t be certain, but I think this guy’s name was Matthew. Or something like that. So, Matthew, or whoever you are:
I owe you a huge thanks. The lost who have found Jesus through our church owe you much honor. In those moments, the healing of God went deeper than I can even now express. The change that is coming in this town has roots in your simple obedience and risk. I left those moments healed, knowing when and where were to plant. So we did. We still are. This church plant is yours, too, brother! You are forever our partner in the Kingdom.