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Labor Pains: Birthing A Church

Here is an article I wrote in 2002 about Church Planting and published in The Christian Standard. For those of you who attend InRoads, it's our history in a nutshell! How fun to read how it all began and see where we are today! Enjoy!

My husband, Jeff, used to say, “I want to live and die as a youth pastor in Yucaipa, California. I can’t see myself as a senior pastor.” And that’s when I knew God had other plans.

After an 8 1/2 year youth ministry in Southern California, God called Jeff and me to plant a church. We would begin this church in a new community just a few miles down the freeway. We wouldn’t even have to move. It seemed so clear to us, and easy to me.

After all, I grew up in a church plant. My parents started a church with four other families 30 years ago, and it currently runs 1,500. How difficult could it be? In fact, my life wouldn’t be affected, really. We’d live in the same house and have the same friends. I’d shop at the same grocery store and sing in the women’s group I loved. My kids would grow up in this safe, small town. My faith was like Peter’s. I had faith to walk on water...while I was standing in the boat.

Faithful to the Call

It was September 2000. I was six months pregnant with our second son, Benjamin, when we received the news that we would not be planting a church locally. As of December 31, Jeff’s youth ministry would end. What were we to do? Initially, our faith stood strong that God would reveal His plans immediately. After all, He didn’t want to stress out a pregnant woman. Pregnant women are big (no pun intended) on stability. We need comfortable homes, financial security, a freezer full of ice cream, and a due date we can count on. Of these four, I was down to one. Peanut butter chocolate was my favorite.

But God’s timing was not ours; neither were His plans. As the countdown began, each day we waited on God. By mid-October, I was praying specifically for God to bring a church opportunity before November. In November, my husband and I were to fly to Northern California to interview with an area church-planting organization. I had already decided that it was too far away from our friends and family, so why interview?

My first mistake: Telling God what I did not want to do. (Or perhaps this was a good way to find out what we would be doing.) Sure enough, my husband and I flew to Northern California. While nothing was decided right away, we both came home with a sense of peace that God was moving. He would take care of us wherever He sent us.

Miraculously, I wasn’t anxious. How could I not be anxious? With a new baby on the way, a toddler, a soon-to-be unemployed husband, and quite possibly a move that would uproot my family and my stable existence, certainly I had a right to be anxious. Why wasn’t I? A guidance counselor told me I was in denial. Perhaps. But it sure felt good.

Perseverance Against All Logic

After Ben’s birth in early December, we still had no confirmation where we would go, but I wrote a Christmas letter to family and friends stating, “If God had a womb, I’d be in it. For over the past several months, I have felt His love and presence wrapped around our family so tightly in what could be an overly stressful time.” While God had chosen not to reveal details about our new ministry yet, He chose to reveal Himself. As a postpartum mother, I had the peace that passes all understanding. So this is what it feels like, I thought.

And then January arrived, and it was not accompanied by a handbook for the Harris household for the year 2001. “This can’t be right!” I complained to God. “You knew we needed a job by January 1st! How in the world will we pay our bills and feed our boys?” It was against all logic to me. Then I pictured Peter in the boat, getting ready to take a step out and walk on water toward Jesus. I’m sure that seemed logical!

“Lord, if it’s You,” I prayed like Peter, “tell me to come to You on the water. Tell me You have a plan to take care of us.” He did. It was time to step out of the boat. For two months, we watched God provide until He would send us to our new ministry.

Obedience and Commitment

In mid-February, we learned of our church plant location in Northern California - Fremont, east of the San Francisco Bay. Two weeks later, we packed up our baby and toddler and a houseful of stuff and moved into an apartment half the size of our house, but costing three times the rent. What were we doing? Stepping out of the boat, I guess.

For six months, we planned and prayed our way through a pregnancy of a different sort. Of course, now that I think about it, I acted in a similar way: I cried daily and ate a lot of ice cream.

Our life was full of so many trials! We were doubting our call to Fremont. We had made assumptions when we stepped out of the boat, and we weren’t prepared for the storms that came. When our house didn’t sell and we couldn’t pay our bills, we thought, Not again. We should have known that God would provide. Hadn’t He brought us this far?

In addition, we didn’t expect to be alone in our calling. We thought we would have instant friends and co-laborers for this new church. We also didn’t know a tiny apartment would change our way of living and cause us to wonder if this was really worth it. All of these storms distracted us and brought doubt to our trip outside the boat. “Lord, save me!” was my sinking cry.

I had to keep returning my eyes to Jesus, and keep focusing on why we were here. God continued to strip away all of our stability and the securities of the way we had once known life. I sobbed to Jeff. “We gave up so much to do this. If I had known it would be like this, I never would have done it.” How many women in labor say that?

Our 3-year-old son, Ethan, was awake in the other room and asked his daddy if he could come and give me a hug. He ran out in his jammies, hugged me, and said, “I love you, Mommy. I love you so much. I’m right here. I will take care of you. It’ll be okay. Don’t be sad, ‘kay? We’ll have fun tomorrow. We’ll go to the pool, play with friends, and watch ‘The Thomas the Tank Engine Show.’ I’ll make you feel better.” God Himself reached down to comfort me through my child. He knew Ethan’s touch would make His presence known. How good is my God!

Church planting wasn’t about what we were going to do, but what God would do. I wasn’t here to work as much as I was here to watch. Just like pregnancy, I could feel the baby move and kick and grow, but there wasn’t a thing I could do but stand in total amazement of God’s work.

During that time, we took a trip back to Southern California. On the drive down, we talked in detail about what the new church would look like. Blue eyes, brown hair...Oh, wrong baby.

What was our vision? Who did we want to reach? What would the service look like? Anything was possible. Over the next six months, we watched that vision come to life.

Joy Through the Trials

InRoads Christian Church became a church that meets in a coffeehouse setting. No pews, organ, or hymnals. While Jeff and I grew up in traditional churches and appreciate these elements, we realized that the lost generation of today has no attachment to them. But they find coffeehouses a comfortable atmosphere. And that is what we are hearing most people say about InRoads. “I feel comfortable here.” Our church sits around coffee tables. The fellowship time is part of the service.

In addition to saying “Good morning” to each other, deeper interaction is encouraged. People are given time to discuss parts of the sermon, read Scripture out loud, or take notes on the chalkboard surface of the tables. Video clips enhance the message of the sermon. Worship is a dominant part of the service, and the Word of God is preached. We don’t label ourselves as “seeker-friendly.” In fact, one of our goals is to reach those who are not seeking Christ - to catch the fish who are not looking for the hook, and reel them in. Paul quotes Isaiah in Romans 10:20: “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (NIV)

InRoads also is attracting mature Christians who bring non-Christian friends not wiling to enter a typical church. As we meet new people each week, we hear their stories of how InRoads is becoming part of them. We are watching God at work.

There are still storms blowing around us, but as He reaches out His hand to catch me, I hear Him ask, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I want to say, “Because I ran out of ice cream!” But I take my cue from Peter and keep my mouth shut while Jesus pulls me back in the boat.

By the way--I overheard my husband say he doesn’t want to church plant again. Guess what we’ll be doing next?

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