I love Damascus Road. I look forward to being with them, enjoy laughing with them, serving them, caring for them, and being loved by them. Damascus Road Church turned four years old this week, on November 4th. We’ve seen this newborn baby church grow into a potty trained toddler. And now, this four-year old is about to do it all over again and launch a new plant in Mt. Vernon. Amazing. Humbling. Crazy. As such, I have spent a lot of time with Jesus this week, listening to him remind me about how wonderful and horrible this journey has been. In the last four years, I have learned more about God than the previous 32 years combined. I have also come face to face with my own depravity. The only way I can even recognize the many GRACES of God is to, at the same time, recognize my own weaknesses, mistakes, and sin that made that grace necessary. Matthew 16.18 has never rung more true for me. God has built his church despite me.
Providentially, Spurgeon’s devotional, Morning and Evening has the following written on the anniversary of Damascus Road Church:
“For my strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12.9…A primary qualification for serving God with any amount of success, and for doing God’s work well and triumphantly, is a sense of our weakness. When God’s warrior marches forth to battle, strong in his own might, when he boasts, “I know I shall conquer my own right arm and my own conquering sword shall get unto me the victory,” defeat is not far distant…Those who serve God must serve him in his own way, and in his strength, or he will never accept their service.”
In four years, I have learned that I am not a savior who can save anything–though I have tried. I have learned to depend on God for his strength, and that His strength often comes through individuals who love Jesus and make sacrifices in service to him. And though there are countless people God has used to build this church, I wanted to thank a few who I believe helped hold the trowel in building a firm foundation the early in the first couple years:
Aaron & Kandice Wartes: Aaron and Kandice were one of the first couples who signed on to the core team. No offense to those who joined the early team, but I was fairly convinced that our group would be a ragamuffin troop of kids who always got picked last on the playground. When Aaron and Kandice’s called and said, “we’re in”, I was filled with a renewed confidence in God’s providence. From there, Aaron and Kandice did a lot–they still do. Aaron volunteered to lead the kid’s ministry when no one else did. Unlike the average Acts 29, college-aged church, our was immediately filled with families. Aaron led a ministry he had never led, and I am grateful to God for him. If I was Paul, he was Barnabas–quieting critics and encouraging me all the way. His bride did music, ran our finances, and challenged me with questions like, “What is the difference between missional and seeker sensitive?” I love them both very much.
Brad & Kim Loomis: Brad and Kim were one of, if not the first couple that signed on for this crazy trip. Brad was, and is, and amazing musician. Having led worship for youth and kids, he was now burdened with the amazing privilege of leading a new church in worship every Sunday. In the early years, we spent many days dreaming together, envisioning what Damascus Road might look like and imagining how music worked into that mission. Brad is an amazing song writer and, as a practice, he would present new songs to the elders by singing them to us. It was awesome. I’ll never forget the time I preached on Psalm 46 and told Brad that it might be cool to write a song using that Psalm some day. He surprised me and played it that week. His bride Kim has the same artistic gift and, though didn’t appreciate my shout out one Sunday, wrote her own songs. We still sing some of them today. Brad and Kim were important builders in the foundation that is Damascus Road. There are all kinds of permanent fingerprints from the Loomis family on the Road, from the music we sing, to the Green Damascus Road Street sign in the commons, to the coffee maker that sits in my kitchen. I love them. I miss them. And though God decided that we take separate roads, I will always be thankful that we began on the same one.
Debbie Quire: Debbie Quire is a good friend that I don’t get to see too often anymore. It has been several years since God moved her into a new community, but her influence in the early years will always be remembered. Debbie was the first one to lead our ministry to women. Debbie Quire was there to be the voice that protected the leadership from the handicap of “manishness”. She knew the women, served the women, and made sure the elders of the church cared for the women. I am forever thankful, not just for the time and energy she put into ministry, but how she ministered to me. She constantly encouraged me to take risks, to lead boldly, and to unapologetically preach the word.
Matt Nickel & Rachel Nickel: The first wedding I ever officiated was for Matt and Rachel Nickel on September 9, 2006. On Sunday, September 10th, Damascus Road Church held its first Sunday morning gathering (a breakfast). September 9th was the first day that I actually felt like a “real” pastor, signing their marriage certificate made me feel “legit”. It was Matt and I, perhaps more than any other, who sat up late at night, drinking too much coffee, and dreamed about a new church. It was Matt who gave me books to read that totally offended me theology, but challenged by missiology. It was Matt who would throw out the hard questions like: “Should we have membership?” or “Can we play secular music on Sundays?” It wasn’t the answers that were necessarily important, but with his encouragement, we made sure we asked the hard questions–and we had some fun. All the creative ads, cool websites, emo style garage services, and edgy events were a part of Matt’s (and Rachel’s) handiwork. My best and most lasting memory, however, is sitting up late at night (or early in the morning 1am), on the night before we launched publicly at the Elementary School on Nov. 4th. We were trying to figure out how to put our “lights” together for the stage…we didn’t have a clue. We laughed, drank coffee, and debated about whether anyone would show up the next day. Little did we know…
I am thankful for all of the “stones”, the people, that God has built into a monument to Himself. I look forward to seeing more stones added to the pile as we grow and take the gospel deeper and farther.