Growth

A "Recovering" House Church Shepherd

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Being a leader can be very wounding.  You are dealing with people and there are high expectations on you.  After that experience I didn’t want anything to do. apex anthologies

“Imagine taking a vibrant healthy house church that builds into people's lives and under my leadership it dwindles to nothing and dissolves.”

Josiah Stroh is a “recovering” house church shepherd.  Recovering, he says, from the inherent challenges associated with being a leader, but also from his false ideas of what leadership truly is.  

It was only a few years ago Josiah began searching for community, for deeper relationships with people than he was exposed to at the Sunday gatherings.  A family invited him into their house church; however, almost immediately, the house church had grown too big and went through a multiplication that left Josiah still struggling to connect with other people.

He visited a different house church.  He was instantly impressed with the leadership team and how sincerely the people really cared about each other.  Josiah jumped in and even joined a quad for accountability.  “Unfortunately,” he said, “that house church dissolved when the leadership couple moved out of town and the second leader couldn’t take on the responsibility alone.”

Josiah transplanted to yet another  house church. “The tendency of these house churches is that they split a lot.  You can see where we are going with this - more splitting.”  However, at the same time, he was encouraged to shepherd his own house church and completed training under the instruction of an Elder.

It was perfect timing since shortly thereafter his house church at the time had a three way multiplication.  Josiah became the co-shepherd of one of them.

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“I know I went into leadership with preconceived notions. Growing up in the church I had a certain bias of what a house church shepherd was.  I thought I had to come up with a sermon and be in charge of content every week.  And there is some of that, but there is also a lot of pastoring, investing in people’s lives, and taking time to disciple people.”

“It went well for awhile.  I had two other couples leading, until the host family moved out of town.  The second couple in leadership also moved a few months later.  Our leadership team had been so good at sharing the load of responsibility, balancing strengths and weaknesses, but then it boiled down to one person:  Me.”

As the sole host and shepherd of the house church he watched as attendance dwindled.  “One person essentially being responsible for a whole bunch of people is not healthy and not the way a house church is supposed to be.  Because of that, people weren’t comfortable and they left. I felt burnt out, frustrated, and wasted, like a complete failure.”

“Being a leader can be very wounding.  You are dealing with people and there are high expectations on you.  After that experience I didn’t want anything to do. I joined the other house church that had split out from my previous one as a safe place to process through my failure.”

Josiah began healing by serving his new house church in little ways, not being in charge or responsible for anything, just taking care of people. “I had entered leadership as if I were leading bible study as an academic endeavor.  I didn’t get the family concept or the service aspect.  Leadership in the kingdom of God is not leadership as the world sees it. The leader’s job is to be the first server, not the one in front.  For me especially, it’s always a fight to be reliant on Christ, to let God be God and not try to be in charge. It was a good lesson to simply care about the people around me, to find out their needs and meet them.”

“Because who really leads a house church?  The true leader is Christ.  It’s God who brings people together, builds their gifts, and causes them to pour those gifts out.  It’s also God’s decision of who comes and goes.  Jason Wing likes to say that all organic things die, so there are house churches that are raised up, they grow, and sometimes they die, and that’s a good and healthy thing -- it’s not anybody’s fault.  I mean, there were some things that we could have done differently, but it’s really a freeing thing to realize that that’s what it means to be a house shepherd.  It’s not necessarily being in charge of everything, it’s being available and willing to serve as God calls you to serve.

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Three months later, Josiah was drafted, as he calls it, into leadership again.  This time, he said, was different.  He’d joined a team. “There wasn’t this expectation that I was the main man. My attitude was no longer I have to figure all this out, or I need to make this work.  It’s not on me or us; we’re relying on Christ, and loving each other like family.  A family who fights but also plays together. God showed me that we don’t do house church as small group, but as family, and when we approach it that way we lead, serve, and care for each other better.”

Josiah’s house church has attracted, served, and discipled many people and has grown to the point where they will need to … you guessed it, multiply.  It happens.  He admits that ideally a healthy house church that’s discipling people should plant seeds and multiply. It’s a chance to nurture another group of people building into each other’s lives and watch them grow.  Jesus’ words in Luke 8:15 seem to summarize Josiah’s journey of growth as a house church shepherd: “The seed that fell on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering, produce a crop.”

 

 

Author: Carrie Kempisty

Photographer: Sarah Maigur

 

Trust and Obey

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It won't always be easy and being a follower of Jesus doesn't mean I am problem free. I have made so much progress over the last year, but I still struggle. The difference now is I am learning to turn to Him when I have my hard days.

There was a hymn I grew up singing in church called Trust and Obey. The chorus goes, "Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  Sounds easy enough. Yet as I look back at what has happened in my life over the last eight years, the words have such a different meaning for me now. Now I really understand what they mean. Sometimes trusting and obeying can be easy. Sometimes it's hard and painful and tiresome.  We live in a society where you can have just about anything that our heart desires, but what if what our heart’s desire is not what God desires for us?  What happens then? Do we still trust? Do we still obey?

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In May of 2008, in a span of four days, my father passed away suddenly with no warning, and my mother-in-law who was suffering from terminal cancer also passed away. Their funerals were three days apart. Everything was different; our lives had been shattered and I started to spiral out of control. My mom had died when I was 21, just two months shy of my first wedding anniversary and now this. God had taken away too much and I was mad.  There was no more trust; all I felt was anger and despair. I tried to put on a brave face, but inside I was a mess.  Depression, anxiety and anger -so much anger.  I was on so much medication to cope with my emotions I could barely function. Did I still trust? Did I still believe in the things I had learned growing up in a Christian family and in the church?  Did I still want to obey?  That frame of mind caused me to be addicted to some of the medications I had been prescribed to help me deal with all that was going on in my life. I just wanted to stop hurting. I was a mess and all the medications only made things worse.  I could only focus on my pain and how I felt.

I had been attending Apex for a while. Even though I was mad at God, I knew deep down in my heart  I needed to be there. I would come and sit in the balcony, listen to the sermons, feel convicted for a while and then fall back into living a life filled with fear and anxiety and anger. Despite not knowing what I really believed, something kept drawing me there. I even got involved in a house church and got to the point where I managed to stop taking the medications on a full time basis. I just used them as a crutch when I felt like I really needed it. Why deal with all of the pain and hurt, if you can just pop a pill and forget about it.

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Early last year I learned about a summer mission trip to Cancun that Apex was leading. I had spoken with Rita Haworth and soon my daughter and I were signed up to go on the trip. After we paid our deposits, I started to panic.  What had I done? How would I manage my anxiety? What if I had a total meltdown in front of people I didn't know?  I didn't want anyone to know what was going on in my life. I decided it was not such a good idea to go on the trip and I told this to Rita. She looked at me and smiled and said, "Well you already paid your deposit, so it's too late. Guess you will just have to go."  I didn't know how to respond. I said, “OK” and walked away. Looking back, I now know Rita was the push that I needed.  She believed in me, but most importantly God believed in me and knew what I needed.

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We left for Mexico on July 19th and I didn't know Rita well at all, but we soon became great friends. She was such an encouragement to me when I would get nervous or wonder what the heck I had gotten myself into. It was hard and painful and emotionally draining being there, but the difference was I was crying about the things I was seeing and experiencing. It wasn't about me and my pain, I was thinking about something other than myself.  At the end of the week, I was so thankful for the experience and through God's grace and mercy, I not only made it through the week in Cancun, but my daughter and I ended up going the very next week to Monterrey because of some spots on that trip opening up at the last minute.  When I got home, I realized I had been able to do something I thought was impossible.  I spent two weeks way out of my comfort zone and I had done it without medication. My heart was beginning to heal. I came back with such an appreciation for all the things God had given me, instead of what had been taken away.

This summer I served in India and went back to serve another week in Cancun.  I know there will always be challenges and struggles, but I feel I am finally going in the right direction. Now, when I sing Trust and Obey, I know I have to trust God’s plan for my life. I must continually trust God’s plan is what's best for me. It won't always be easy and being a follower of Jesus doesn't mean I am problem free.  I have made so much progress over the last year, but I still struggle.  The difference now is I am learning to turn to Him when I have my hard days. With God's help I have learned to deal with things for the most part without any medication.

I would trade all the hard times for the life I have now, because I know it's my story; it's how things are supposed to be and I'm ok with it.

 

 

Story Collaboration by  Joanie Wolfe, Emily Ogden, and Jennifer Ward

Photographer: Hilary Tebo

It Stands to Reason

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We’ve all seen it, or have been affected by it one way or another: Faith becoming shipwrecked on the shores of academia thought. Perhaps it’s been in the form of our inability to give a sound defense for our beliefs in the midst of an agnostic culture. Or perhaps it’s simply our own secret nagging doubts, “Is what I believe really real?”

We’ve all seen it, or have been affected by it one way or another: Faith becoming shipwrecked on the shores of academia thought. Perhaps it’s been in the form of our inability to give a sound defense for our beliefs in the midst of an agnostic culture. Or perhaps it’s simply our own secret nagging doubts, “Is what I believe really real?”

These were questions Andrew Wailes wrestled with in spite of being raised in a strong Christian home. Once he went off to college, he found himself in a whole new plateau of thinking—and questioning. His breaking point came while a student at a Christian University.

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“I always felt people weren’t telling me the whole story,” Andrew shared, and those feelings led to doubts. He hoped that at a Christian University he’d find the answers he was searching for, but even there he found disappointment. When Andrew had intellectual questions, he felt they were answered with sterile and unsatisfying responses to just pray or have more faith. But none of those worked for him, and in his Sophomore year, Andrew checked out.

Before I tell you what happened to Andrew, let me introduce you to an organization that seeks to help those who may be in a similar place. Enter, Ratio Christi, a global movement that is not afraid to marry faith and reason. Ratio Christi is Latin for “the reason of Christ” and embodies chapters globally, as well as a local one that meets weekly at Wright State University.

This group takes their cue from 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NASB), and seeks to equip students to have an informed mind, an attractive manner, and an artful method for communicating the truth and relevancy of Christ to others:

“But sanctify Christ as **Lord** in your hearts, _[righteousness]_ always being ready to make a **defense** _[rational]_ for the hope that is in you, yet with **gentleness and reverence** _[relational];_ and keep a **good conscience** _[righteousness]_ so that in the thing in which you were slandered, those who revile **your good behavior in Christ** _[righteousness]_ will be put to shame."

One could say Ratio Christi unapologetically trains students in Apologetics (I apologize for the play on words).

This past fall, Ratio Christi brought in Frank Turek, author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Two hundred people were in attendance for the two night event. They also hosted a Q&A time after taking students to see “God’s Not Dead” movie that released in theaters. The result? People connecting and re-connecting with their faith and the reason for the hope within them. God was moving in hearts and lives.

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Ratio Christi meets weekly on campus at WSU and is open to the community. Last semester they addressed such topics as “Who is the real Jesus?” and “Is the Bible Reliable?” A typical meeting could involve pizza and discussion – and always food for thought. Although a student-focused ministry, Andrew shared it is not uncommon to even have empty nesters join in the meetings--all are welcome.

But wait, where does Andrew come into this picture? He is the current Director of the WSU chapter of Ratio Christi.

And now, the back story: While in his Sophomore year at the Christian University he was attending, Andrew walked away from his faith. “I came back to the Lord my Junior year, but not deeply.” It was then he joined an accountability group to help him wrestle through his doubts and was introduced to Greg Koukl’s book, “Tactics” and an organization called Stand to Reason ([www.str.org](http://www.str.org)). A whole new world of apologetics opened before Andrew and resonated deeply within his heart. “After reading Koukl’s book, a few weeks later I was playing an online game that didn’t need my full attention, and decided to listen to one of his podcasts. He was debating an atheist, and I was fascinated by what he was saying. He seemed to have answers; real answers,” Andrew recounted. It was like water to his thirsty soul.

Through a house church connection, Andrew was then introduced to Dave Nedostup, the director of the WSU chapter of Ratio Christi. He began attending the group, and was later invited to help teach a few lessons. When Dave had life changes that resulted in his need to step down a little over a year ago, Andrew then stepped into his shoes as director over the WSU chapter.

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“My greatest delight is to see that what we’ve done has made a difference in someone’s life,” Andrew shared with me.

Having pursued a Master’s degree in Apologetics through Biola, Andrew’s desire is to provide for others what his own soul had been longing for: a faith that could stand to reason.

 

Author: Jackie Perseghetti

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