Part IV - Where we settled
by Phil and Genny DavisThough I ended my last installment with a description of events in September 2001, I’d like to return to the first week of July, 2001, just two months after we made our decision to withdraw from CFCMI. We’d been in San Diego for one week when we started to look for a church. We couldn’t really settle on much from the Internet, so we used the phone book. When we arrived at the church we had decided upon we realized we were late and, in addition, something about it just didn’t feel right when we drove up in the parking lot. However, about three blocks away was another church we had considered attending, Horizon Christian Fellowship, and it had an 1100 service. So, that’s where we decided to go.
The church itself was actually a public junior high school campus that had been converted into a “church campus” with the main services being held in the gymnasium. Right away, there were several things we liked:
- There was a very active, well-equipped (play yards, etc.), fun-looking Children’s Church/Sunday School for the kids – it was obvious that children were a priority.
- The church had a “California casual” feel with a very diverse group of people wearing everything from flip-flops to sport coats. Even though we were in CFCMI “casual” dress, we were almost over-dressed. This made us feel very relaxed immediately and we realized how OVERFOCUSED we had been so long at CFCMI about how people were dressed. Instead, we could focus exclusively on the worship and sermon.
- There were no seats for the pastor(s) on the platform. The minister just stood in the back until the 30 minutes of worship, announcements and offering were complete. The singers also left the stage. Basically, no one “presided” on the platform. It was obvious that this church was not about “The Man”.
- The size of the congregation was somewhere over 1,000 people. We could easily just be a face in the crowd and not worry about being focused on too much as a visitor.
The most amazing thing about the church was the way in which the message ministered to us. I don’t recall a lot of the specifics at the moment, but I remember that it was a study in the book of Exodus and discussed Moses’ leadership style and his relationship with Jethro, his father-in-law. One of the big points was how Moses benefited from listening to the advice of his father-in-law, despite the fact that he was not an Israelite. The real message from the pastor was something like:
“Hey, I’m not lord over God’s inheritance. I’m just a man whose particular job is to be a messenger. Nothing in that job description makes me any more or any less spiritual than any of you. In fact, I know many, many members of this congregation that are much more spiritual people than I. It’s up to you to work out your own salvation. You are accountable to God for your own decisions…I can’t make them for you, nor would I want to try.”
As you can imagine, fresh from the chains of CFCMI, this was a particularly refreshing message. In fact, as we sat in that service, we couldn’t believe the degree to which the message spoke to us individually. Several times we just sat there looking at each other, smiling and saying, “that’s amazing”.
We left that service VERY refreshed and somewhat relieved, as we felt we had found a place that, if God didn’t lead us elsewhere, seemed as if it had a lot of promise at fulfilling the things we were looking for. Still, though, we decided that we needed to look elsewhere and seek more to make sure we gave God an opportunity to lead us.
The next week we went to another independent church, but it turned out to be almost the opposite experience of the previous week. We decided we’d go back to Horizon Christian Fellowship, the next week and see how it went.
We knew a couple of things about Horizon’s pastor, Mike MacIntosh, already from reading their web site. He was a founding member of “Maranatha! Ministries”, a group that had a major influence on the development of contemporary Christian music during the 70’s and 80’s. He also was an understudy of Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel, a non-denominational church that had it’s origin as a “hippie church” during the Jesus movement of the late 60’s/early 70’s and now has pretty much developed into it’s own denomination.
We enjoyed the next service almost as much as the first and decided to give Horizon a go. Some of the other things we liked (in addition to the things listed above) were:
- The approach to studying the Bible. The methodology they use is “expository teaching”. Basically, going through the Bible book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter, instead of topical study. This was what we had done in our studies the past year at Leavenworth (studying Mark and Acts over a 9 month period). We found that we learned a TON of stuff this way and a lot of the pieces/parts we’d picked up at CFCMI fit together in a whole new way.
- The philosophy toward evangelism. Their motto is “Win-Disciple-Send”, with a REAL focus on sending people out into mission fields, literally all over the world. These missionaries are not sent out necessarily to start new Horizon churches (though that happens), but simply to minister to the needy and share the gospel.
- The variety of activities and ministries. The bulletin was FULL of activities and things you could involve yourself with, whether it was for outreach or for personal growth. As an example, I had recently rekindled my love of surfing, and there was a weekly “Surfing Ministry” that met every Saturday. In fact, the senior assistant pastor, Mickey (all the pastoral staff, including Mike, go by their first name), is a dedicated surfer, which made me feel very comfortable.
- The low-stress climate. Genny and I specifically did NOT want to get involved right away in anything that required much of a commitment from us. We felt we were volunteer junkies at this point and needed to reclaim our lives for a little while until we felt very comfortable in supporting a particular ministry. Now, there was no lack of activity and you could be as busy as you wanted, but there also were plenty of people volunteering to do the various things going on and no one ever approached us. We could come and go as we pleased and choose to get involved only if we wanted to…no strings attached.
- The music. We thought we had cornered the market on music in CFCMI. Boy, WERE WE WRONG! Mike (the pastor) has a TON of connections in the Christian music industry and a couple of times a month we would have guest appearances from popular recording artists (such as The Kry, etc.) during the regular service. In addition, the 4 or 5 worship ensembles from the regular congregation made CFCMI worship music pale in comparison.
Within about a month (by early August 2001), we pretty much decided that we would stick to Horizon for the foreseeable future. We did not, however, decide to become members. Neither did we join the backbone of Horizon’s ministry, weekly meetings of local “Home Fellowships”. These groups are Horizon’s principle method of “pastoring”, if you will, and Christian accountability. Again, we didn’t feel quite ready for that, but attending the weekly Sunday morning service was definitely ministering to our needs.
Over the next several months I was gone quite a bit, both with 2.5 months of schools in Newport, RI and with trips associated with the illness and death of my father in Florida. In addition, I deployed for 6.5 months to the Middle East a couple of months later, in early November 2001. All of this meant that Genny really got a much better feel for Horizon’s day-to-day operations. She would let me know how things were going and she became more and more comfortable with the situation at Horizon. If you know Genny at all, you know how sincere she is. I knew if it was good enough for her, it was good enough for me. In addition, I could see she was being ministered to and “fed”. Finally, we had enrolled our sons in a weekly children’s group that met at Horizon on Wednesday evenings, called AWANNA, which was really ministering to them as well.
Overall, we felt the presence of God flourishing in new ways in our lives and we were being ministered to and growing as a family, all at a pace we were comfortable with.
Now, we knew, of course, that we had to consider/address the “issue” of doctrine. We didn’t get a lot of direct doctrinal teaching from the services, since it was more focused on simply studying the Bible in context. We could generally make out that Horizon held to a relatively typical Protestant belief structure. In August of 2001, shortly after we decided to stick with them, they held a baptism service at a beach park and we attended. We were disappointed in their explanation of the meaning of baptism as it is not taught as being essential for salvation.
However, I want to reiterate that we felt is was very important to continue to follow the leadership of the Holy Ghost and not put too much weight on our own expectations for what was right. Again, we KNEW we had the propensity to be VERY wrong about things that we previously thought we had been VERY right about. We also were very comfortable with the “feel” of the ministry as a whole and the level with which we were being ministered to and growing spiritually. At this point, we decided to let divisions over doctrine take a back seat.
Some other things we did was sign up for some pastoral counseling, since we knew we were “recovering” still from having been long-time members of an abusive church. We only attended one session, but it was useful and a big step.
By the time I deployed in November, we had been attending Horizon for 4 months and the children loved AWANNA, where Genny was helping by leading a class of 3-4 year olds. In addition (and very comforting for me on the verge of an extended deployment with my family in a new city), we had already developed a bit of a social support group (mainly other moms from AWANNA that Genny had become friends with), and we were comfortable calling Horizon our church home.
While on cruise, I read up a bit on the history of Horizon and of Calvary Chapel. I also joined a weekly officer Bible study/fellowship group onboard the aircraft carrier where I was stationed. This group was based mainly on each of us sharing our faiths and experiences and I found it enormously beneficial. In addition, Genny sent me a series of tapes of the services at Horizon when they were spending about two months studying the book of Revelations. Since this was a book we never really looked at with any depth at CFCMI, we both learned a TON.
By the time I got home (May 2002), we were well on our way to recovery from CFCMI and were very comfortable in how our walks with God were developing and the spiritual direction of our family in general.