By Gonzalo Venegas
The Restoration Movement is an inviting movement—that’s something I’ve learned firsthand.
You see, I didn’t start out in the Restoration Movement. For a long time, my faith experience was limited to having served as an altar boy in the Catholic church. Then I spent time in gangs. (See “My Life Story . . . from Gang Member to Church Planter” from March 2019.)
After coming to faith in Michigan, I was discipled, educated, and ordained by the Reformed Church in America. I developed a seemingly unquenchable desire to study God’s Word. I preached many sermons and did a thorough spiritual self-examination. These things brought about changes in my beliefs concerning salvation, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and even ecclesiology.
I asked some fellow pastors in my denomination about these things, but was surprised by their unenlightened responses. I knew God was calling me to do more, specifically to plant an urban, interlingual, intercultural, and intergenerational church. Further, I felt called to Florida. So, my wife and I labored in prayer asking God to provide the way.
Making the Move
That’s when a friend told me about the Restoration Movement. He introduced me to leaders in the movement, and they, in turn, introduced me to more leaders. I met people like Ken Idleman, Mike Mack, Phil Claycomb, Greg Garcia, Greg Marksberry, Mark Kitts, Jim Book, Steve Larson, Alan Ahlgrim, Mark Flood, Susan McPherson, Doug Fultz, Michael Chambers, and Patrick Lightfoot, to mention just a few. From them, I learned more about the Restoration Movement and independent Christian churches and churches of Christ. It was an emotional time of learning how our convictions lined up. I cried as I shared all that I had learned with my wife. We knew it was time to move to Florida.
I shared my discoveries with the denomination I loved and saw as a family, but was met with rejection. My wife and I left in good standing, but it was clear we were on our own. (One former colleague said I was committing career suicide.) But people of the Restoration Movement took us by the hand and together we talked, prayed, trained, planned, and now are executing what God has called us to do . . . and without man-made barriers.
See, my wife and I were not committing career suicide, and we did not leave alone. We left with God. We left with a renewed vision of what Christ had already instructed his disciples to do and what we witnessed the church doing in Acts.
We know the Restoration Movement is not perfect, but it is free, and it is led by Christ, who is perfect and pure. To me, we’re a movement looking to restore what man derailed. It’s a messy job, but it must be done. In this movement, I see effective ministries, missionaries, churches, networks, conferences, and many more things making huge changes in the world, which are leading to freedom, transformation, and—yes—restoration.
Planting a Christian Church
My wife and I are continuing to be led by the hand and trained. We’re continuing to pray, plan, join together with others, and execute what God is calling us to do. We are now in our greatest and most joyful time in ministry. There is no going back.
We are now planting Encounter Christian Church on the campus of Johnson University Florida in Kissimmee. We plan to launch September 13, 2020. We have a launch team of Hispanics, Caucasians, African-Americans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Asians, and many others (we hope and pray). We have teachers, candidates for city and county government, employees of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, civic and community leaders, Johnson University students and staff, business owners, ex-convicts, and others.
The Restoration Movement is an inviting and autonomous tribe of churches, which is something I’ve learned as we work to launch Encounter. We’ve partnered with and/or received support from Florida churches like Thrive Church in Lake Nona, Journey Christian Church in Apopka, Canoe Creek Christian Church in Saint Cloud, Kissimmee Christian Church, Real Life Christian Church in Hunters Creek, Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland, Texas, and organizations such as Nexus Church Partners, Florida Church Partners, Passion 4 Planting, Christian Financial Resources, Johnson University, The Solomon Foundation, Spire Network, and many more.
We’re still raising funds to reach our goal before we launch (and this COVID-19 situation hasn’t helped at all). But in the Restoration Movement, we know there is unity and groups that will continue to help. In the Restoration Movement, we know God is with us. I look forward to expanding the Restoration Movement and raising up new disciples to make a difference in our community.
Gonzalo Venegas serves as lead pastor and senior pastor at Encounter Christian Church in Kissimmee, Florida.