A Memoir by Pastor Joel Tetreau
Note: Several months ago (Sunday, February 8, 2009), the congregation at Southeast Valley Baptist Church (SVBC) here in Gilbert, Arizon, surprised Toni and me for ten years of pastoral ministry. The gifts given and more importantly the love behind the gifts were an incredible blessing for both of us. It has been an incredible emotional journey as I reflect on what the Lord has done over the last decade here in Gilbert. In June, we celebrate ten years of official ministry as a congregation. The ministry here in the East Valley has been a blessing to our family, which includes our three sons, Jonathan Charles, Jeremy Austin, and Joshua James.
In light of our first decade of ministry here, I believe it’s good to reflect on what has happened. This article is kind of an autobiography in four parts, a type of memoir, but more importantly a testimonial to the goodness of God to both our family and the SVBC family.
Ten years … Wow! In a sense it seems like we started just yesterday. In another sense, it seems like it was a lifetime ago. So much has happened. So much has been sacrificed. So much has been blessed. It is overwhelming to consider what God has done and continues to do. It is important to note that many churches that start never make it to a ten-year anniversary, and many churches that celebrate a ten-year anniversary never see twenty. Those facts do not mean that congregations who don’t make it to the ten-year mark were a failure. The Lord judges success very differently than the world does. In our case, we recognize that we’ve accomplished what we have because of God’s presence and mercy … period!
It was in late January 1999 when Toni and I began to serve as the first pastor and pastor’s wife of SVBC. Having been planted by Tri-City Baptist Church (TCB) in Tempe by Dr. James Singleton, I was called to be the first “full-time pastor” of the new church plant. The core of the ministry was shouldered by about eight families, most of whom came over from the congregation in Tempe. My heart to this day is touched when I consider the tremendous burden those early families carried. They paid a large price for what we enjoy today. I will also point out that TCB made several “large financial investments” to get the ball rolling here at SVBC. These initial “gifts” were generous, sacrificial, and significant. Frankly, when we launch a church plant in the future, we will (by God’s grace) mirror what TCB did for us by way of investing in the new work. I will always feel a deep sense of love and appreciation not only to the believers associated with TCB but especially toward two of the greatest mentors in my personal life and ministry, namely my father, Dr. Jerry Tetreau (presently serving as chancellor at International Baptist College [IBC]), and Dr. James Singleton (who was the senior pastor and founder of TCB. “Doc” passed on to glory in July 2001). Additionally, I will always have a love in my heart for the congregation at Tri-City and an appreciation for “the fruit which remains” coming from the ministries connected with them.
Chapter One: Maranatha Baptist Church
It was late in 1992. I was in my first year of study at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary (Allen Park, MI). I had just finished my M.A. in Biblical Studies at IBC followed by a missions trip to Europe, a wedding, a honeymoon in Pagosa Springs (Colorado), and a memorable move to metro Detroit to launch into life, seminary, and ministry.
Prior to all this (starting in January 1991), a dear man of God by the name of Pastor Gary Davis began planting a faithful church by the name of Maranatha Baptist Church in Gilbert, Arizona. Maranatha was a small Baptist church associated with the Arizona Association of Regular Baptist Churches. Pastor Davis, a graduate of Faith Baptist Bible College (Ankena, IA), served the congregation for nine years as their selfless shepherd. Gary, always working a secular job to make ends meet, faithfully evangelized, discipled, and led the small congregation.
In January 2000, Maranatha merged with another small congregation, the one I pastored. The result was a strengthened SVBC equipped with a true plurality of elders. Frankly today more members are from the Maranatha congregation than from the original group that founded SVBC. Humanly speaking, we simply would not be where we are today without the leadership, service, and dedication of Pastor Gary Davis and the dear brothers and sisters who merged into our congregation from Maranatha. All I can say is “Maranatha!””
Chapter Two: Planning a New Church
It was late in 1997, and I was busy finishing my final degree while contentedly serving as a senior pastor half way across the country. Little did I know that the Lord was preparing us for our ministry here in Arizona. A small group of believers met with Dr. Singleton after a church service at TCB and began to pray about the launch of a new church … Southeast Valley Baptist Church. In the last phase of his life and ministry, Dr. Singleton had developed a certain approach and philosophy of ministry. The central part of this approach to ministry focused on a church-wide, small-group dynamic. While successfully implementing some of those elements into the flow of ministry at TCB, he wanted to plant a church that could employ this approach from the very beginning. At that point in time, I had served for about a year and a half at Mildred Bible Chapel, my first senior pastorate located in central Minnesota.
Toni and I (along with Jonathan, who was two at the time, and our infant son, Jeremy) had moved to Backus, Minnesota, in the spring of 1996. I had completed an M.Div. from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary the previous year. I had also completed a few classes toward a Th.M. in the nearly five years of our stay in Michigan. I had studied at the seminary, served as an associate pastor at Tri-Lakes Baptist (Brighton, MI), and served in a few other ministry capacities connected to my seminary as well as to our state association. I was finally placed in a ministry where I would lead the congregation as the senior pastor.
Chapter three: Ministry in Minnesota
The years in Minnesota were blessed years for the Tetreaus. First, I was privileged to lead a great church. Mildred Bible had been established in 1906 as a Sunday school. It had nearly one hundred years of faithful ministry. The congregation that still numbers well over a hundred had been very effective locally and internationally (especially in the mid-twentieth century) at sending servants to the mission field. We saw many conversions, baptisms, new families, numerical growth, and even a remodeling building project within the three years of this “tundra”” ministry. I had the chance to lead and even to test some of my ideas about decision making at Mildred Bible. My final thesis dealt with the decision-making process of the local New Testament church. I started the project under the leadership of Ed Glenny, who at the time oversaw the postgraduate department of study at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Eventually my project fell under the oversight of Kevin Bauder. I was privileged to study under a great variety of thinkers at Central. One class was Biblical Leadership, led by Dr. Russ Lloyd. Russ, who also serves as the director of the Institute of Biblical Leadership (IBL), had his headquarters in Lake Lure, North Carolina. I now serve as a board member of IBL. Little did I know that the project I started on decision making would eventually be tested on a new congregation in Gilbert, Arizona.
Dr. James Singleton
In August 1997, I was invited back to my home church of TCB to preach. I can’t even tell you how excited I was. I received the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream—to preach in the pulpit of my home church. I probably spent fifty hours (if not more) in preparation for that one sermon. Man, was that fun! We had a full house. I preached my heart out. I had served for a year at Mildred Bible at the time. Doc seemed to be thrilled that one of his “preacher boys” was doing well in the ministry. Before and after the service, Doc and I spent hours together. We connected on a new level. In the past he had first been my pastor and then a mentor. For the first time in my life, I sensed that he was now a friend; he treated me with the respect of a co-pastor. I was humbled, elated, and so very encouraged. I can’t even emphasize how much I needed him in those days. I was so very shaken by the rigors of real-life ministry. His was a steady voice of assurance, wisdom, and comfort. Our relationship deepened. (Photo: Dr. Singleton speaking in 2000)
At the same time our friendship grew, Doc also deepened his relationship with my dear friend Rob Krause, who today leads the Sarenissima Bible Church in Sacile, Italy. The three of us developed a close friendship that year as we discussed a variety of issues. A few years later, our friendship deepened even further as Doc; his wife, Mary; my wife; and I enjoyed a week of ministry and rest together on the island of Oahu. The year culminated with the three of us meeting at the National Leadership Conference of Fundamentalism (held at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, Lansdale, PA) in early 1998. Doc and I led different workshops.
Between sessions Doc, Rob, and I spent hours thinking through a variety of philosophical and practical issues impacting ministry. Rob invited Doc to come out to his church in Italy, and I invited him to come to Mildred Bible Chapel. I wanted him to help challenge our people about the small-group philosophy and a more healthy version of Fundamentalism. Not only would he challenge our congregation, but we invited our entire fellowship of churches (Northern Gospel Fellowship, NGF) to attend the pastors’ meeting on the days following.
During those special days we had a great time together. At the end of his time with us, Dr. Singleton said to me, “Joel, I want you to prayerfully consider coming home and leading a new church plant in Gilbert.” I was thrilled and irritated at the same time. I was very happy at Mildred Bible. We had momentum, and my family and I loved the setting. My wife loves the Midwest seasons and hates the heat. I love fishing and hunting and enjoyed living in a kind of “outdoors paradise”! To leave what we had would be a step of faith. Toni had grown fond of our beautiful parsonage. The more we prayed, the more the Lord seemed to be pointing in the direction of coming out West again. We flew out to visit the new work in October ‘98. We accepted the call and moved in January ‘99. We left the Midwest with a great sense of gratitude. The nearly eight years away from “home” were good years. The Lord had taught us much in Michigan and Minnesota, and I sensed a renewed excitement for ministry while at the same time a bit of apprehension about how we would fare in the new church plant. My dear father, Dr. Jerry Tetreau, flew out to help us finish the loading and drove the U-Haul back to Arizona. On the day we left, the windchill in central Minnesota was about thirty below zero. Three days later, when we pulled into Phoenix, the temperature was seventy. What a change!
|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.|