By Brent Foulke
The kids had to get out of the pool as I climbed in. It had been an unusual series of events that led to this baptism on June 1.
Bert Crabbe, along with his wife, Jen, attended a church planting assessment center in preparation for planting a new church in the Port Jefferson area of Long Island, New York. Several times during the four-day program, the subject of our movement of independent but interrelated Christian churches caught Bert’s attention.
Bert was raised in the Lutheran Brethren tradition. Headquartered in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, the Church of the Lutheran Brethren had a congregation on Staten Island, New York, where Bert first encountered the love of God and the call of following Jesus.
Bert had just completed his master of divinity degree from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and now he was interested in starting a church that would share God’s love in a community on Long Island, not far from where he had served several years as a youth minister. Bert was on a quest to learn about church planting, to build a partnership of support for the new church, and to prepare himself and his leadership team to be the best church planters they could be for God’s glory.
Enter the Christian church movement.
For the last two decades Christian churches across America, often with the help of evangelizing associations, have been on a learning curve about how best to plant healthy new churches. Many models have been used, some producing healthier churches than others. But in the unique way Christian churches tend to cooperate without burdensome political structures, the Christian church movement has been a leader in the science and art of establishing congregations that grow and reproduce. This has contributed to the faster-than-average growth of our movement, when compared to any other in North America.
An Unusual Series of Events
Bert wanted in. Meeting someone else in New York who was committed to church planting provided Bert with an “aha” moment—that someone else was as passionate as he was about connecting lost people to God.
We started talking about how our voluntary cooperative of churches partner together to plant new churches. We talked about the distinctives of our movement, and about some of our history—good and bad. The most amazing thing was, when I shared some of our historic slogans like “Where the Bible speaks, we speak,” and “In matters of essentials, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; and in all things, love,” Bert kept nodding his head and saying things like, “no doubt” and “way cool.” I recognized this language as the ultimate connection on a culturally relevant level! It still makes my heart beat fast thinking about it.
Those conversations led to an unusual series of events. First, Bert requested ordination as part of our movement. Our church planting organization, The Orchard Group, concluded a local church should be the ordaining body—Orchard is just a catalyst for churches who plant churches. So Christ’s Church in Albany, where two Orchard trustees serve, considered Bert’s request.
The elders of our young church in Albany, New York, interviewed Bert about his faith, his life, his judgment, and his vision. They threw him hardball questions like, “How will you share God’s love with same-sex couples who visit and return to your new church? What do you believe about the Bible? To whom are you personally accountable for leading your family?” (It made me glad I was already ordained!)
After studying Scripture together with our staff and elders, Bert was baptized (in that swimming pool I mentioned above), and then he was ordained to the ministry of the gospel as part of the Christian church movement.
His ordination certificate was signed by our elders. He was charged and prayed for by his Lutheran Brethren youth minister, and his current lead pastor read Scripture urging Bert to remain faithful to his calling. It was a memorable event.
I remember hearing a story about the early days of this movement—when the conclusion was reached that baptism by immersion was the normative New Testament experience of all who committed to following Christ.
Because those who reached this conclusion were convinced everyone should experience this, but hadn’t previously practiced immersion, they really didn’t have a good logistical idea for how to baptize folks. As I recall the story, one technique they tried involved the candidate walking into a creek pool until he was up to his neck in the water, then someone else said some words and balanced on a tree root while pushing the candidate’s head under the water with his foot.
As Bert Crabbe has experienced our “tribe” over the last year, I wonder if he feels like someone’s boot is on top of his head! We really don’t have a smooth process for assimilating new leaders who haven’t been to our colleges or served in our churches. Nevertheless, Bert is happy to be one of us now, and our church has accepted the responsibility for nurturing and guiding him.
The kids weren’t out of the pool for long—because in spirit of the family of God, they jumped in hooping and hollering, “Way to go Bert!” and “Yeah God.” High-fives were exchanged all around. I can’t imagine a more exciting—or unpredictable story than the story of following God’s call.
Our kids think stuff like this just happens all the time. Way cool.
Brent Foulke is senior minister with Christ’s Church of the Capital District, Albany, New York.