It was the year 2013 and I was 29 years old. I was about forty pounds overweight, sporting a faux hawk, and babbling about my dream to start a new church that would supposedly change a city. After digesting all the online starter-kit training videos for church planters, I was convinced I needed a launch team and a launch date. I had already set the date, but I still needed to build the team. Somewhere between 10-25 people began showing up for “info meetings” at random times and locations in and around Holly Springs.
I had spent the previous 3 years as the youth pastor at a medium sized church in the peak of good living, Apex, NC. I had some success in youth ministry, baptized a butt-load of teens, and even saw some of them graduate and pursue ministry callings. At the time, I was making a solid 36k per year with some benefits, but no plan for an increase, and no real career aspirations. The senior pastor resigned a few months after I got the job, so the church was thrown into a bit of a tailspin while the pastor “search committee” interviewed dozens of applicants from all around the country. It wasn’t long before they weeded out the weirdos and brought in a few decent people to interview in person. The senior pastor transition brought about some uncertainty and a few challenges for the church leaders, but it was good for me because during this time I was called upon to preach in the “big church” more than I had expected, and it was invigorating – the big stage gave me a lot of confidence I didn’t have previously.
Eventually, the church moved on and a new pastor was selected. The suburban youth pastor life started to feel like an overpaid babysitting job with all the free cheese pizza and fart jokes I could handle. My first wife wasn’t working, she was in school full time racking up student loan debt that I would eventually have to pay down even after our divorce. On top of her debt, I was swimming in regret because I had gotten loans to attend a private out-of-state Christian University, wasting 5 years on a degree in “youth ministry” which included bogus classes about how to plan kayaking and fishing trips for church youth groups. A typical week for me in Bible college included skipping most of my ministry classes, sleeping with my girlfriend, endlessly playing Halo on the Xbox, eating a ton of ritz crackers and cheez whiz, chillin’ with my bros, looking dirty pics in the corner of the computer lab, and shooting some hoops outside of the school cafeteria.
I graduated at the bottom of my class and somehow still thought I was still cool. I was a starfish – a bottom feeder who was kinda fun to be around.
On top of all that bottom feeding coolness, a good friend who served on my ministry team was moving in on my wife while pretending to be my best guy. Things were really looking up, and the odds of starting a new church that would change a city were really in my favor…
What I really needed was a professional psychologist, or maybe just a friend to do a deep dive into my marriage and finances and inform me that there was no hope, no future, and no possible reason to quit my job and start a church. It’s no wonder the church in America is declining, because people like me are allowed to lead it! But…I digress.
Actually, looking back, there was one guy who had the balls to tell me that i was an idiot and shouldn’t be starting a church, but my personality sees comments like that more as a challenge than good advice, so I took his challenge and started building the launch team.
I decided to start a church, mainly, for 2 reasons. First, it was a really sexy thing to do in the 2010’s. It seemed like the very best youth pastors were graduating to church planters. If I wanted to be a super cool starfish, then church planting was the path. Second, God had placed this dream in my heart a long time ago, back when I was a teenager and a new Christian.
In short, my childhood included a bunch of abuse and neglect, which landed me in the care of Child Protective Services. I went to live at a Children’s home by the age of 9 and that became my new normal. By the time I was 13 my Dad had committed suicide and my mom lost her parental rights. I had nowhere to turn. So one night, as an orphan laying in my bed at Falcon Children’s Home, I surrendered my life to Jesus. After a few years, to my surprise, my prayers were answered and I was adopted by a Pentecostal Holiness couple in Eastern North Carolina. They were Pastors of an incredible church that literally rescued me. They took me in and cared for me, raised me, and fed me beans, greens, potatoes and tomatoes. I was sixteen years old and I had never felt so well fed and loved in my entire life.
They also fed my dream. My adopted mother and father often told me that they believed God was gonna do “big things” through my life, and I eventually started to believe that. Serving under the pastoral leadership of my adopted father, I began to catch a vision for starting a new church one day where other people like me could find refuge and be saved by Jesus, too.
So here I was about to step into the very thing I believed I was created to do. It was time for little orphan Bill to start a church, baggage included. Any commentary about my qualifications didn’t matter, because I had already seen God do the impossible. I was confident he was able, I just need to be available.
The months leading up to the launch of Oasis Church were filled with dreaming, goal setting, and goal achieving. Thanks to our home church, Hope Chapel Apex, we managed to pull together a launch team of over 35 adults. Our growing launch team met regularly for most of 2013 in living rooms, dining rooms & coffee shops. By the end of December, we were fully equipped and ready to get this thing off the ground. We had raised about $135,000 in 9 months which gave us the ability to purchase trailers, an old beat up truck and a huge load of church equipment. We had all the ministry teams fully staffed and ready: parking teams, greeters, resource team, the ushers, a worship band, & then of course, a kids ministry team.
Launch Sunday was approaching fast.
We had all the money and people we needed to pull off our first church service, and I can remember feeling all kinds of nervousness, fear, and uncertainty. I was truly stepping into unknown territory with no job, no guaranteed income from the church, and no clue what to do once we got past the launch day. I wasn’t the only one doing this, so was the rest of my team. There were so many others sacrificing a lot of time, money, and energy for this little church plant.