If my memory is correct it was in January or February of 1986. Julia and I were involved in almost every aspect of ministry that First Methodist had going. From EE to Youth and we were there. The previous fall we had heard a pastor from Bedford Texas talk about the “home groups” they were experimenting with. We were so excited, we went to Charles, our senior pastor, and asked him if we could go out to see what they were doing and then start a home group. We got his blessing and flew out to Texas for a long weekend. We learned everything that we could and were so excited to come back to Marietta and start a Home group ministry. While we were out in Texas I heard the Holy Spirit for one of the first times. His voice was so strong and clear that I had no doubt. He said, “Home groups are going to help change the face of the church in America”. I have believed that since. That is the primary reason that we have continued to be involved in small groups. So we came back and started the first home group in our church. We had no clue what we were doing or where we were going, but that was about to change.
That January, or whenever it was, Charles asked me, Bucky Smith, Lynn Sanders and I think Mark Nyswander, but I’m not sure, to come with him to a Healing Conference that was being put on by Metro church. It was being held downtown in FUMC Atlanta. The conference was being put on by a church in California called “The Vineyard”. We went ,not knowing what to expect, and really not expecting too much. Boy were we in for a shock. All the people leading it were in jeans and Hawaiian shirts. They were all so young. We saw people being prayed for by other people and actually being healed. It was all so real and so new. They were doing what the bible said to do. They weren’t just reading about it, they were doing it. Did I say they were all so young. I knew right then that I was not going to be left behind. These kids had something I wanted, and I was willing to do anything to get it. Whatever it was. But the thing that really changed everything for me forever was this. They spoke about their home groups. They called them kinship groups and they used these groups to practice praying for the sick and prophesying over each other. In fact they used their groups as an incubator to nurture and grow all the gifts of the Spirit. Up until then, I thought that if God wanted me to have a gift, He would just give it to me, fully developed. They talked about the gifts and how they had to be practiced, like practicing the piano, in order to get proficient at them. It all made perfect sense. Now I knew what home groups were really about. They were about ministry, ministry to each other and then, ministry to others. This night totally changed my life and focus in ministry. As I explained it to Julia, she “caught it” and we were off to the races.
So as far as we were concerned, we knew the focus of our home group. I started buying every cassette tape I could find from John Wimber. I started with his series on leading “kinship groups”. This early training so defined us that if we were not leading a small group; we had a hard time finding one that we wanted to go to. I guess that is why we always led. We led because we knew where we wanted to go. The problem was getting other people on board. I know that some of our friends wandered what we were doing, and where this all was leading. We had no clue where it was leading, only that we knew what God wanted us to do. Some people in our group “got it”, but they still weren’t willing to push the limit as fare as we wanted to go. We started going to Metro church on Sunday nights. They met at Oglethorpe University on the other side of town. We connected with the pastor and his wife, Johnny and Anne Crist. We loved it, even better than Mt Paran. It was giving us life and pushing us into wanting more.
In June of 87, I believe it was, Mark Nysewander, Thor Colburg and Myself went out to Anaheim California. We went for a week long “Signs and Wonders” conference put on by the Vineyard and John Wimber did most all of the teaching. That week cemented everything I had been going after. He spoke of the Kingdom of God. I had never thought about the Kingdom of God invading earth before. It was a total paradigm shift. That week I went from loving the church, to seeking the Kingdom. That week changed all three of our lives. Mark wound up leaving the Methodist Church. Thor was a Methodist pastor in Augusta Ga, left the church and planted a Vineyard. Julia and I were about to leave at the end of the summer. We had already decided to go to Metro Church. Johnny wanted to become a Vineyard church, and we wanted to help him. All we had left was to complete or obligation to the youth by going to Youth Camp. We knew it was going to be good because the preacher had been there last year. Camp back then was OK as far as the preaching went, but worship left a lot to be desired.
Anyway, at camp I got a big Holy Spirit surprise. Tom Tanner asked me to be director of the 1988 camp, along with Angela Erhmann. I really didn’t want to do it. We were ready to leave and had all our plans made. But as I prayed and sought God, Julia and I both felt that we should stay another year and do the camp. It was the least we could do for a ministry that had given so much to us. So we did. I was camp director in 1988. We introduced new vineyard music, at least as much as we could. We out words up on the screen for the first time. There were no “camp songs”. We finally had worship. Jeff and Kibbie led the music and it was definitely a transition into the type of worship we had today.
Camp was awesome, and my time working with Tom Tanner would sit the stage for later. We were right to stay, and God blessed us. After camp, in the fall of 1988 and with the blessing of our Senior Pastor, we left first Methodist and all of our friends to go to Metro church, clear across town. It was exciting, but it was also one of the hardest things we ever had to do. I’ll end with this quote by John Wimber. I think it has in many ways defined Julia and my life together as we pressed into more of Him. I may have used part of it before, but here it is in its entirety. Take a while and meditate on it. I believe you will find it true. I know that I am willing to press forward. I hope that you are too.
The Next Step
The economy of the kingdom of God is quite simple. Every new step in the kingdom costs us everything we have gained to date. Every time we cross a new threshold, it costs us everything we now have. Every new step may cost us all the reputation and security we have accumulated up to that point. It costs us our life.
A disciple is always ready to take the next step. If there is anything that characterizes Christian maturity, it is the willingness to become a beginner again for Jesus Christ. It is the willingness to put our hand in his hand and say, "I'm scared to death, but I'll go with you. You're the Pearl of great price."