"We as the Christian church are educated beyond our level of obedience. We know so much, yet practice so little. If we got back to the simplicity of the gospel, we would be able to turn the world upside down for Christ," says Eldon Stephenson, pastor of Calvary Community Church in Hemet, California.
Stephenson worked in youth ministry for 15 years, and then doors began to close. He became involved in a program called Emerging Leaders. Through that course, Stephenson was invited to speak with the remnants of the congregation at Calvary Community as a youth ministry consultant.
"The first time that I came to Hemet the church was on the edge of a shutdown," Stephenson says. "There were about 40 people left. Most of them were retirees. They were inquiring about starting youth ministry but I told them that they didn't need any new programs. Instead, I challenged them to love and respect one another."
The congregation invited Stephenson to begin serving as their pastor in 2006. "I had a difficult transition from youth ministry to being a lead pastor, but I noticed that the other doors I pushed were definitely closed. Each time I did something for the people of Calvary Community, God filled it with blessing. He was directing everything."
Stephenson says the congregation wanted revitalization in their church, but true revitalization requires radical philosophical change. "We discussed having two separate services, but church members wanted to stay together so we tried a blended service. Blended worship creates angst because it's not traditional or contemporary enough. Eventually, we created a contemporary worship service called The Promise and offered a separate traditional worship time."
Now, nearly 130 people attend The Promise weekly.
In addition, Stephenson is working to create unity between Calvary's congregation and a Hispanic church that uses its facilities. Pastor Santos Gonzalez leads that congregation. "Santos and I meet weekly to discuss how to make that unity a reality," Stephenson says. "We have the blessing of the classis and are in the process of restructuring our church office. We're planning a combined worship service for Palm Sunday."
Gonzalez is equally enthusiastic about bringing the two churches together. "We've been blessed. In the last three weeks, three families have confessed that Jesus Christ is their Savior for the first time. We're trying to build a community of God not only to reach one culture but all of the rich cultures in this area we serve. We pray to be God's presence by combining our ministries and resources. We hope that our friendship, love, and light reflect the grace of God to a community filled with many nationalities," he says.
Rick Mysse works with churches in California Classis, including Calvary Community. He says Stephenson and Gonzalez have developed a co-leadership that's a work in progress. "We have a couple of leaders that have vastly different skill sets, and we've decided to use the best of both," he says. "They share facilities and share leadership."