At the end of the summer of 2014, thirty disciples began the Ocean State Church of Christ. Sent out from an inspiring New England Christian Conference with 3,000+ participants, our team knew that God would do amazing things. And he did. But not exactly how we thought he would.
In year one, plus a little of the church's history, fourteen of the original members moved away. First, we are so grateful for the hearts, sacrifice and service of each of those. Seven of them came on a One Year Challenge. They gave up their first year out of college to help a new planting. Others had job changes or life situations that called them other places. Again, we totally and completely love them all. But to imply it wasn't a bit discouraging to say goodbye so often would be a lie. All churches desire to grow and it was challenging for that to take place during a large exodus in a small church.
It is easy to feel sorry for ourselves in lots of ways. Why am I consistently sick more than others? Why doesn't my job pay a larger salary? Why is it so cold in New England (or hot in Arizona)? Why haven't I found a spouse? Why do people move away from our already tiny congregation?
In Judges 7, Gideon was set to go to battle against the Midianites. Verse 12 tells us that Israel's enemies were as thick as locusts and that their camels could no more be counted than the sands on the seashore. And in verse 2, God told Gideon, "You have too many men." What? In fact, our Lord added that if Israel defeated Midian in their present state they would boast, "My own strength has saved me." Jehovah whittled them down to 300 men and then won a mighty victory for his own honor.
Apparently, in Rhode Island, God believed we had too many men and women. If we'd had more money and staff and better facilities, would we have boasted or at least looked at our own spiritual strength? Jesus wouldn't let that happen. Now, if anything good would happen, it would have to be said, "HE DID IT." And he did.
In a congregation that began with zero undergraduate, college students – now we have 14. In a ministry that didn't even think about teenagers being added to the kingdom – we have four. Though we haven't hardly studied the Bible with any marrieds, somehow a wave of couples living together has flowed through our church. They are seeing God's way to love Him and each other, repenting and getting married. Lives and families are being transformed. By God's grace, as we look back over the past three years, we are blessed to presently have 66 disciples in the Ocean State church. Of course, we would always like it to be more souls saved. But the best part is that we can only say, "God has done it."
Our staff is a bit on the older side. We have no staff for the youth. We don't have a lot of money or . . . . But we do have a God – just as you do – who loves people more than we do. He is not stopped by anything if it is in his will to act. We like to be set up to succeed. Sometimes he wants us set up to fail, so he can save us. That's one reason we call him, and not ourselves, the Savior.