When we left First Methodist in 1988 we naively thought that others would come with us. All that we were seeing in the Vineyard; the worship, freedom, healing, all this was so new and so exciting to us. We just couldn’t understand whi those who were in our small group were so reluctant to join us. WE really thought that at least 2 or 3 couples would come. But no one did. As I have grown, I have come to realize just how hard it is to give up long standing relationships, even when it looks so exciting on the other side. But back then; we really couldn’t understand why people would settle for the status quo when there was so much more. We weren’t mad or angry, but we were committed to this path. We really felt that God had a plan in all this and we were going after everything we could.
When you go in a different path than your friends, things change. You don’t want them to, it just happens. It’s probably because you only have so much time, and you are busy doing one thing, while they are busy doing another. So it’s predictable that you begin to drift apart. We started a new kinship group in our house with the Atlanta Vineyard. It was a long way from the church, but Johnny and Anne came weekly to help us lead it and hang out with us. I was going over to Johnny’s frequently and helping him through some tough decisions with leadership issues. He was transforming Metro Church to the Atlanta Vineyard, and I was giving him my total support with that. It was a good season of growth and excitement. But at the same time, we didn’t see our old friends very much, and that was very hard.
Also we were concerned about our girls. Jennifer was in High School and Lisa was entering High School. They had their own friends at Marietta. They both would go with us on Sunday morning, and then go to youth group in Marietta on Sunday night. We believed that they liked the worship on Sunday morning, but there was no youth group for them at the Vineyard. We went on like this for over a year and then a new transition came up. A young vineyard pastor from California came to Atlanta and he wanted to start a vineyard in Marietta. That was our heart, so we got Johnny’s blessing to go with him to help start a new Vineyard in Marietta. It was really a struggle. We were a church, really a home group, of about 30 and it seemed like we were not growing at all. After almost a year, we met another pastor who had another struggling church plant, the Roswell Vineyard. They were a little bigger than us, but their pastor was talking about not wanting to pastor anymore. Julia and I were the key leaders of the Marietta Vineyard. Our pastor and us met with the key leadership of the Roswell Vineyard for a couple of months talking about merging churches. How would that look? It was eventually decided that the tow pastors would become co-pastors. I didn’t really like this idea, but everyone else was in agreement. Our pastor would really have ultimate control because the other pastor said he wanted to phase out.
During this time, we got a new building in Roswell and we were finally growing. Jennifer met the other pastor’s son. And they started dating. I think it was the first time that Jennifer really had a steady boyfriend. They were a great couple, and we became good friends with the other pastor as well. All was well for a while. But that did not last. I don’t remember what started it, but there became differences between the two pastors. Each wanted to go in a different direction. I felt that my pastor from Marietta was wrong, but he was stronger and took control of the church. There was a big division and a split. Words can’t describe the pain it caused. We were devastated, and we left with the Roswell pastor. His leaders stayed with our old pastor. We just didn’t feel things were done right. The Vineyard leadership came to mediate the situation, but they sided with the pastor from California (where they were from) and didn’t seem to give a fair hearing. We ere devastated. We didn’t know where to go, so we went to Charles and asked if we could come back to First Methodist. He welcomed us with open arms, like we had never left. We stayed not quite a year, getting healed. We didn’t get involved in anything for a while, and then started going back to our old group that was still meeting.
As Julia and I looked back on this time we saw some clear warnings about what would happen. I would never enter into a church with a co-pastor situation again. Someone has to be in charge. There has to be one senior leader. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in team ministry, but someone has to lead, and everyone has to know who the leader is. Most importantly, we didn’t realize what this was doing to our girls. We were so involved in ministry that we exposed our girls to all the pain and disappointment that comes with a church split. We didn’t realize how much they were affected. We didn’t talk and communicate with them like we should have. I know that both of them were wounded deeply. They reacted differently because they had different personalities. But they were both deeply wounded. For that Julia and I were both very sorry. We were doing the best we knew, but we should have known to do more. Jennifer was probably hurt more, because her boyfriend was hurt so bad.
So we had helped one church transition to becoming a Vineyard and had planted one church that eventually blew up and disappeared. These were not good results, but probably pretty typical of church plants back then. So after all this, we were back at First Methodist with our tail between our legs. We felt like failures, that we had missed God. We hadn’t, and He would use all that happened to us to help other churches, but right then all that we could see was failure. We are so thankful for His goodness. He began a healing work in us and restored our fire. We realized that what we had tasted had changed us. We could never go back, no matter how tough it was. We had to press forward. So in late 92 we began to feel the itch to move out and go back to the Atlanta Vineyard. This time when we left First Methodist, e never went back.