A Memoir by Pastor Joel Tetreau
Discomfort with Movements on the “Right” and “Left”
Historically speaking, all churches that are orthodox in their faith and militant about the gospel are in a sense fundamentalist churches. Fundamentalism has been right about many important things over the years. In its struggle with liberalism, it was right about a pure gospel. In its struggle with New Evangelicalism, it was right about the clear gospel. SVBC has an apreciation for its separatist heritage. From the very beginning we have been a bit different than your typical fundamental church. We are excited about historic Fundamentalism as an idea; however, we have not been nor continue to be as equally excited about Fundamentalism as a movement.
Too much modern-day Fundamentalism is riddled with leadership abuse, ecclesiastical politics, schisms over nonessentials, and the problem of equating men’s standards with the doctrines of God. So in a sense we find ourselves between two worlds. On the one hand we are uncomfortable with the main of Evangelicalism (especially New Evangelicalism) with its ecumenicalism and adoption of the world. On the other hand, we are uncomfortable with much of the fundamentalist movement and its propensity toward self-righteousness.
We have found that as we follow after Christ, we make more friends with those who are walking in the same direction we are. We are grateful for those relationships and frankly find real “koinonia” with those sister ministries. That is far superior in our opinion than making ourselves “fit” within a movement that dishonors God in one form or another.
My Personal Planner
I’ve been using a Franklin-style day planner since 1993, and I carry it with me wherever I go. My friends have tried to get me to use those little hand-held computers (I think they’re called “PDA’s”). I’ve been given a few of them over the years. Please, friends … no more. When Y2K really hits, you people are going to be coming to those of us who still know how to use paper and ink (amen and amen!). I have tabbed five-by-eight calendar sheets of each month that go all the way back to my first ministry in Michigan. The great thing about this type of planner is that I can tell you what I was doing on Tuesday, February 2, 1994, at 3 p.m.
So as I sit here thinking about the last ten years, I’m reviewing all my bundled years of tabbed day planners going back to the beginning. As I thumb my way through the months and years that have represented this fourth of my life here in Gilbert, Arizona, it’s really hard to verbalize what’s in my heart. I’m amazed … I’m dumbfounded at what the Lord has accomplished through so many of us who are so broken, so imperfect.
Effectively using a planner requires discipline and planning. I know of an individual who doesn’t like me, and because of that he tells people who will listen that I am clueless about planning. Well … he’s right. When I look at my notes, it’s clear that the Lord does use “the foolish” and “the poor” and “the clueless” to accomplish His work. I’m convinced that He does that so at the end of the day we all will say, “God and God alone did it all to His glory!”
Four Stages of Ministry
As I think over the last ten years, I believe I can identify four different stages of life as a church. The first stage is a Foundational Stage. In a sense that stage was started by Dr. Singleton and those early families at TCB in late 1997 and early 1998. It continued for the first half of 1999 until we constituted the first Sunday of June 1999.
The second stage was a Discovery Stage. This includes the later half of the first year with the merger with Maranatha Baptist in January 2000 and continued on to the end of 2002. In this section of the life of our church, we not only crystalized our “big ideas” of ministry (including our mission, vision, philosophy, and so on), but also cycled through a number of core families as we identified not only who we were but also where we were headed.
The third stage was a Building Stage. This was from 2003 through 2005. In these nearly three years of ministry, we completed three building projects. First, we modified our present education building to receive an occupancy permit. Second, we took the roof off an old barn and modified the downstairs into a beautiful bathroom/storage building that serves as the new auditorium. Third, we constructed a new auditorium made of steel (raised by use of a stem wall) that will seat a little less than 300.
The fourth and final Stage (thus far) is a kind of Growing Stage. Not only have we grown numerically, but we have also grown our numbers of leaders exponentially. At the same time we are also growing in an expanding network of likeminded friends and ministry partners.
First Year back to Arizona—Wow!—The Foundational Stage (1999)
In January of 1999, we landed home. Mom and Dad (Jerry and Kit Tetreau) allowed Toni and I to stay in the prophet’s wing of their house. The boys slept in my old room and my sister’s old room. Finding myself back where I had grown up left me excited and scared at the same time! I had been gone from the Valley for about eight years. So much had happened in the years I was gone. I couldn’t wait to jump into the stream of ministry in the East Valley. We lived with Mom and Dad for about six weeks. The Lord then provided a wonderful four-bedroom house in Chandler that would end up being just three miles from our future property (which is another story all by itself).
The first year at SVBC was a blur. I don’t remember much. To be honest the first year of ministry at SVBC was brutal: long days, long weeks, endless meetings, and hours of working with different individuals. The load was so full that I essentially had to halt my work on my doctoral thesis project for nearly two years. My office moved multiple times in the first year. Frankly, much of the time my office was at a supermarket café, a coffee shop, or a McDonald’s (where I could let my little ones play in the play land, do planning, make phone calls, study for sermons, and give my wife an occasional ‘break”—that’s what you call multitasking!). We were our own church, but I was painfully aware that until we wrote our own constitution and constituted with membership, we would be viewed as an extension of TCB. I was appreciative of TCB, but our philosophy and approach were different enough that I was desperate for us to be on our own. The local church is most healthy when it is truly autonomous.
There is an interesting dynamic when you start a church in a metro area. Word gets out. A new church with adequate facilities can attract a lot of visitors in the opening months and year of ministry. We were no different. The community center where we met was the perfect place to start our ministry. We had plenty of space for Sunday school, worship, fellowship, and so on. In the following paragraph I will talk about the place where we met for worship. The hard thing is that often people come to your new church almost entirely because you are not X, Y, or Z. That is, they like the fact that you aren’t guilty of ‘this,” ‘that” and the ‘other thing”—things they disliked so much about “such-and-such ministry.” The problem with that thinking is that eventually you have to have “common ground” other than that you are not “such-and-such ministry”! The result is that often it takes a while to find a core who substantially agree not only with who you’re not but also with who you are. Looking back on the first phase of our ministry, I think it took a few years to work through to our first solid “core.”
The year was crammed with meetings with the leadership and congregation. I preached several important series concerning ministry philosophy and the kind of a church I believed the Lord wanted us to be. For several weekends we met at a hotel and planned the future of the church while having a couples retreat, or we met somewhere else for hours of planning. During the first few years, our home’s guest room served as the church office, and three volunteers served as my secretary. I was out almost every night of the week. Many weeks I physically crashed at the end of fifty to sixty hours of work. During the last three months of the year, we were busily involved in the details of merging our new congregation with the congregation of Maranatha Baptist Church.
The Early Years at the McQueen Activity Center—The Discovery Stage (2000-2002)
A few months before we moved to Arizona, Dr. Singleton’s brother, Ron, found a great place to meet as a congregation. About eight miles northwest of our present facility is a community center called the McQueen Activity Center. For the first year we shared that building with a Pentecostal congregation. They met in one room while we met in a different room. The scenario was sometimes comical. On more than one occasion believers walked into the wrong room only to be horrified that perhaps something “weird” had happened to ‘their church”! The other pastor and I often laughed together about this.
Unfortunately, that church closed its doors after only a year or so of valiant ministry. That particular church was an Independent Calvinistic Pentecostal church (not too many of those around). I occasionally met with the pastor for prayer and personal fellowship. He told me once that not too many ministries relate to us. Either the Calvinism gets me in trouble, or the ‘holiness roots” gets me in trouble. He was a gentle soul who frankly had the heart of a shepherd. I really enjoyed our personal fellowship.
After constituting in June 1999 and then merging with Maranatha Baptist in January 2000, our congregation went through a transitional period for approximately two years. The first deacon team was comprised of three deacons from SVBC and three from Maranatha. The Lord blessed us with great unity. During those years we also went from an elder team of two to one of five. I served as the senior pastor, Pastor Gary Davis served as the pastor of evangelism, Pastor Garland Miller came on as our pastor of Worship, and Pastor Roger Geiger began his ministry with us as pastor of youth and children’s education. We were also aided in these years by Pastor Chris Melvin, who served for a while as our pastor of fellowship. An IBC graduate, Chris had pastored in Queen Creek. Chris (along with his wife Beth) today serves as a chaplain in the Army Reserve and continues to be a major blessing to our congregation. During those years we also went through a change in the relationship between the congregation, the deacons, and the elders in regard to our approach for decision making. That journey was captured in my doctoral thesis project for my Doctor of Ministry degree from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). I completed the degree in 2004.
Another key factor was the addition of about ten families who came our way as a result of the closing of a few nearby congregations. Those congregations gave us no only important core families; they also graciously gifted our church with hymn books, chairs, tables, pulpits, AV equipment, you name it.
The Corner of Lindsey and Williams Field Road—The Building Stage (2002-2005)
When Maranatha Baptist Church merged with our congregation, they brought with them a beautiful, two-and-a-half-acre lot with a great building that today we call the education building. The building was adequate for our Sunday evening ministry but not large enough for Sunday morning. As a result we met in the McQueen Activity Center for Sunday morning services until our present auditorium was completed in April 2005. We grew from using two rooms at the center to needing to rent the entire community center. A few times we reached nearly 150 in attendance. Those were exciting days.
From 2002 to 2005, the XLT (executive leadership team comprised of all SVBC elders and deacons) formed a building committee. This group of dedicated believers met, planned, and completed three building projects. The first involved the retrofitting of a home that had housed the Maranatha congregation to handle the increase load for the purpose of gaining an occupancy permit from Maricopa County. Concurrent with that project was the completion of two more projects. One was the transformation of an old barn to a new modern bathroom and storage building. The last project was the new auditorium we were able to occupy in April 2005. An amazing fact about the building project is that much was accomplished without burdening the elders. The elders helped, but the deacons and the building committee did the lion share of the work. In fact, I accomplished much of my doctoral project writing during this ministry building phase. Imagine completing your terminal project while putting up a new worship building. Also during this stage (as well as a few others) the SVBC congregation and leadership allowed me to teach one class per semester at a nearby Bible college. That was a great chance to impact young lives. Even though we were putting a lot of work in the building, I’m grateful to say that the congregation never gave up their primary pursuit of ministry to people. That was true even with the work days, planning meetings, cleaning, giving, and so on. The congregation never allowed the pursuit of those physical trappings of ministry to replace the pursuit of “real ministry.”
|Joel Tetreau is senior pastor of Southeast Valley Baptist Church (Gilbert, AZ). He has B.A and M.A. degrees from International Baptist College (Tempe, AZ), an M.Div. (and some Th.M work) from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary (Allen Park, MI), and a D.Min from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He has also studied at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA) and Jerusalem Center of Biblical Studies. He blogs at Straight Ahead.|