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Justin Juntunen

Justin Juntunen

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One thing I love about reading and editing these stories, is that every church and every church planter is unique. In this case, Dave Garrett has quite the story of God’s leading—dreams, visions, the whole works. You can see God at work through the whole timeline, even from the first moments of discovering the Vineyard. Read on—there are some amazing stories below.


Name: Dave Garrett

Church Plant: Twin Rivers Vineyard Church

Location: New Bern, NC


How did you decide where to plant your church?

This is a really cool story, and it gives me goose bumps every time I tell it!!! Not because it is about me, but because it reminds me the lengths to which God goes to accomplish His plans in and through each of us.

The paragraph below is from a journal I have been keeping that narrates my life story.

For a number of years, my parents invited us to visit them at their timeshare unit in New Bern, North Carolina. At that time they lived in Pennsylvania in the summer months and Florida in the winter months, and New Bern was a good stopping point about halfway between PA and FL. Robyn and I knew nothing about New Bern other than that my parents had a timeshare there. We declined their offer several times, but in 2007, we decided to accept their invitation.

They took us around the area, and we began to fall in love with eastern North Carolina. We visited several towns and we just felt a “strange excitement” the whole time we were there. Driving home from that little vacation, I think we both knew God had taken us there for a reason.

We have prayed over the past year, and we sense that eastern North Carolina is where God is calling us to. In April 2009, Robyn and I spent a week in eastern North Carolina listening to all that God might have for us, as well as “investigating” the area. Since that trip in 2007 I have sensed New Bern was to be the epicenter of our plans. Prior to our trip, we planned out an itinerary to check out a number of other areas in the region. I collected census and demographic data for much of the region. That sounded like to prudent thing to do. We arrived in New Bern on Easter night, and were excited to begin our whirlwind tour the next day. Our timeshare unit was very nice, and each morning we worked out at the recreation center and spent about 1-1⁄2 hour in devotions, quiet time, and prayer. (Sad commentary, I cannot remember the last time I just spent that much time with God without being distracted and planning what was next.) For the first three days we traveled to a number of areas (Beaufort, Crystal Coast beach resorts, Harkers Island near the lower tip of the Outer Banks, Topsail Island beach resorts, Jacksonville, and through the rural counties of Jones and Onslow), each day sensing the same thing – nice places, but nothing more than that. By Wednesday, I was very discouraged and feeling as if I had totally missed the mark. I was really questioning why we were even there. In addition, there were several moments of tension between Robyn and me over really insignificant stuff. We then spent Thursday and Friday in and around New Bern and we had a calming peace the entire time. We really did have two wonderful days, and—not surprising—the weather was absolutely beautiful.

It does seem as if God is pointing us toward New Bern. We spent time in the downtown and historical district walking the streets, we found Union Point Park (a whole story in itself), we checked out a number of local restaurants, and we drove around to various residential communities and found some that “felt good” to us. On the trip home, Robyn made an observation that struck me right between the eyes. She said, “Your original inclination was for New Bern and as soon as we stepped out of that area the whole thing began to fall apart.”

While the paragraph above on its own might not necessarily cause anyone of sound mind to move from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, these next two paragraphs taken from my journal are not so easy to dismiss. The following two paragraphs are eleven years apart, but they are two bookends of the same dream. The first paragraph takes place in 1998 as we were contemplating a job offer that would require us to move from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Columbus, Ohio. The second paragraph takes place eleven years later, in 2009.

After some time we began to feel God’s presence and I accepted the chief financial officer job at the egg producer in Ohio, and we looked to relocate to Columbus (from Lancaster) in the summer (1998). We felt that maybe in some small way I could instill some godly influence and stability into a company struggling to find its way. I had two very clear dreams before accepting the job. In the first dream God spoke to me and said that “Dave, you are not going to Columbus because of the job but the job is a way to get you to Columbus.” In the second dream I saw myself leading a group of people through a foggy valley and up and over a mountain that led to a wooden park bench on a brick pathway overlooking a river. I saw the park bench clearly, down to the blue color of the frame and the wooden lattice making up the seats and back.

Several months before our trip to North Carolina (April 2009) I re-dreamed the “park bench” dream from when God spoke to me as we looked to move to Columbus (in 1998). This time I had an even clearer picture of a wooden bench on a brick pathway overlooking a river. I had no idea as to the location of that particular bench, nor did I know we would soon find ourselves sitting on that bench. While we were in New Bern during our visit in April 2009, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at a downtown restaurant and it was a beautiful evening, so we decided to walk around town. A few blocks from the restaurant we came upon Union Point Park, which overlooks the point at which the Neuse and Trent rivers converge. As we walked through the park, I stopped dead in my tracks, and just stared at what I saw. The “wooden bench on a brick pathway overlooking a river” is in Union Point Park. We had never been in that park, nor had I ever seen that bench before. And in 1998, that park was not even in existence. Back then in 1998, no benches, no brick pathway, and no gazebo. Okay God, I’m listening!

If God is willing to go to those extremes to pursue me (and you), then just think of the ways in which He will provide as we walk the path He sets before us.

What’s the biggest fear you overcame when planting a church?

The most daunting thing for us has been that we are responsible for all that goes into planting a church.

But there is also another fear that I had to confront long before I was ready to plant. It is not a fear of church planting, but a huge fear from when I sensed God calling me into some sort of public speaking years ago. I have a speech impediment, and for about the first 35 years of my life I hid behind that speech impediment, until one day God called me out from behind that wall. Here is that story:

God had big plans for me – He knew it, and was about to let me know it, too. Early in 1995 several men in the congregation invited me to attend a Promise Keepers Conference to be held in Washington D.C. that May. After some nudging from Robyn, I decided to attend. I believe to this day that the watershed event in starting me on a journey of turning my heart toward Christ was me attending that conference.

For the first time I found myself truly enjoying the presence of God. The sights and sounds of 80,000 men singing “Amazing Grace” will forever be emblazoned in my memory. On the bus ride home from that conference, I sensed God calling me to step out in faith. I talked this out with our pastor and another trusted friend, and soon found myself volunteering to become a lay leader at church. Lay leaders assisted the pastor during the worship service with things like the greeting, tithes and offerings, reading of Scripture, praying, etc. “No big deal,” you might say, but remember that I had hidden behind my speech impediment all my life, so to me this was a huge leap of faith.

Funny how God works – the very next morning, the scheduled lay leader broke his glasses and was unable to do the job. As I arrived at church that morning, the pastor looked at me and said, “Dave, you are today’s lay leader!” So here I was, less than twelve hours later, standing in front of the congregation with a microphone. I felt like I was jumping in with both feet—well, at least like I was testing the waters—and I was very scared. But after that, I organized bus trips to the 1996, 1997, and 1998 Promise Keepers stadium events, as well as the Stand in the Gap rally held on The Mall in Washington in October, 1997. God was starting to use me in wonderful, sometimes scary, ways. Little did I know what was to come!

What’s one thing you wish you had known before planting?

We have all heard how hard church planting is, but it is also fun and rewarding.

What’s has been the best experience of the first year?

1) I have been privileged to officiate two beach weddings and also to baptize a long time friend from Pennsylvania in the Atlantic Ocean.

2) The connections and relationships that are forming; with people joining up with us, other local pastors, and the community at large.

3) One of our core values is “relationships, not rules.” We try to model that in everything we do and say, and in the process we want people to see “church” as a verb (who we are, what we do) and not simply as a noun (a place to go).

4) I hang out at a local coffee shop where all kinds of people and beliefs hang out, and I engage in discussions on a wide range of topics. A number of times in the midst of conversations someone has said to me, “You are not the typical pastor.” Thank you Jesus for showing that “church people” can be about relationships and not simply checking off boxes on a do and don’t list.

Do you have a cool story of ministry or healing that you’d like to share?

We have a booth at the local street fair held every year here in New Bern, and we have a sign hanging from our canopy tent that asks, “What can we pray for?” What a privilege it has been to have total strangers come up to us and ask for prayer. We have heard several comments along the lines of, “Wow, you mean you will really pray for me?” Our answer is always, “You bet we will!”

What’s something you were told about church planting that you have found to be true?

We were told that church planting is not for the faint of heart or for anyone who is easily discouraged.

What are one or two big things that you’ve learned along the way?

Here are a number of things we did (do) that we see as critical to church planting.

1) Carve out time to regularly pray for your church plant. Commit to being in His presence. Sounds like basic stuff, but we sometimes found ourselves so “busy” trying to do church planting that we failed to take time to soak into the jacuzzi with God.

2) Find a group of people willing to pray for you on a daily basis. We have a prayer team of over 50 people, one of more people pray for us every day of the month. We give them a monthly update and also new praises and prayer requests.

3) Work on the administrative, business, legal, and financial side of church planting. Get those things in place early on.

4) Surround yourself with other Vineyard pastors who can provide you valuable wisdom, support, accountability, cheerleading and encouragement. Currently our board of directors consists of ourselves (Dave & Robyn Garrett) and three other Vineyard pastors. They have been invaluable to us is so many ways.

5) Figure out what your particular DNA is and build that into the foundation of everything you do and say.

6) The ups and downs of life still go on in the midst of church planting. For us that has been things like the death of a parent, unemployment, all that comes with settling into a new community, moving away from family and friends, being far away from our grown daughters and not being able to always be there for them as we were in the past.

7) Invest in relationships!

8) Take time away from church planting to rest and relax. For us, it is regular trips to the beach! If you allow it, church planting will consume you. I think back to Phil Strout’s emphasis on “soul care.”

9) Persevere. Church planting is a marathon not a sprint.

Is there a question we didn’t ask that you would love to answer?

How did you find The Vineyard? In 1998 I had moved from Lancaster, PA to Columbus, Ohio in May and my family (wife and two young daughters) would be joining me after the school year ended in June. They ended up coming in August. Here is the story of how God led me to the Vineyard.

Before my family moved to Columbus I stayed in a hotel for two weeks and then moved into an extended stay hotel. I visited several churches those first few weeks, all the while sensing God had more. I began to ask God where He wanted me to attend church. I was drawn to a billboard near my hotel, if for no other reason because I had not seen churches “advertise” before. After three weeks of driving by the billboard I sensed God telling me to call the number on the billboard. I wrestled with Him saying that I did not know Columbus well enough to drive all over the metro area to find this church. And besides, what is a Vineyard Church? I called the number and you can imagine how surprised I was to find out that the church (Vineyard Church of Columbus) was only a few blocks from my hotel. Okay, God you win this round.

That Sunday I attended a service … apprehensively I must admit. The church was bigger than I was accustomed to. I sat in the back so I could make a quick getaway. I had a million questions. Where was the altar? Where was the pulpit? A praise band and not a choir? The people were dressed differently than I was used to as well. The music was different too. In fact, nothing about the building or the service was in my comfort zone of what a church should look like.

God grabbed hold of me before I could put up a bunch of fences. For some reason it felt like home and I had never been there before. Right out of the gate the first worship song was “Arms of Love.” It seemed like the song went on forever as we sang the chorus, “In your arms of love, In your arms of love, Holding me still, Holding me near, In your arms of love” over and over again. Finally, God said to me very clearly, “Dave, crawl into my arms and make these words the desire of your heart.” He pricked my heart and I found myself saying, “Okay.” The song ended, and once again, my heart felt strangely warmed. Today I can say they “I’m grateful for the things you’ve done, my loving Savior, my precious Jesus, My heart is glad you’ve called me your own, There’s no place I’d rather be, In your arms of love.” In the mid 80’s I committed my life to Christ, but that moment was really the moment at which it moved from my mind to my heart. Okay, God you won this round too. Later that afternoon, after lunch at Skyline Chili, I called home to Pennsylvania and said to Robyn, “Let me tell you what happened today at a church called Vineyard.”

How can we be praying for you?

  1. I am currently unemployed and looking for a job that fits well with church planting. We believe God “took away” my accounting job so I could focus more fully on church planting, as if to say to me, “Dave, you moved to North Carolina to plant Twin Rivers Vineyard Church, right?”
  2. We are making plans to begin weekly services later this summer, so prayers for us to be obedient to God (Luke 5:5), for a worship leader, for us to be attractive to those looking in the door, and for us to allow room for the Holy Spirit to ooze all over people.

I love the story of how Dave and his family found the Vineyard. How about you? What brought you to the Vineyard and maybe even got you interested in planting a new Vineyard church?

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