My Story of Planting GraceLife Church

My Story of Planting GraceLife Church

After a year and a half assessment process with Acts 29, I’ll officially be a member this week, making GraceLife Church an Acts 29 church. I wrote this story for the Acts 29 website about planting the church and thought you might enjoy the read.

By the year 2000, I’d been in full-time traveling ministry for six years. Growing up in the charismatic movement, I was a sought-after worship leader and speaker and had a ferocious passion for evangelism. I was the poster boy for spiritual disciplines and “revival,” yet I found my spiritual life strangely distant from the Lord.
 In December of that year, I began experiencing the early signs of spiritual burnout and depression.

By early 2001, it hit me like a head-on collision with a freight train; a soul affliction so severe that all I knew would never be the same. Severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, weight loss, and hopelessness crushed me. I was so debilitated, I had to take six months off from ministry. It was humiliating. I’d spiral daily into such a pathetic emotional state that I’d have to lock myself in a room and weep so my wife and young children wouldn’t have to watch me.

The idea of being restored to ministry seemed ridiculous. First of all, I was useless. Second of all, I felt disqualified. Third, and perhaps most importantly, how could I preach a gospeI that hadn’t changed me?

Thus began a journey with God through a dark wilderness where I would eventually learn what His grace really meant. I began to study Scripture like never before, especially Romans and Galatians. In the end, God gave my wife and me such a revelation of grace that we actually wondered if we were saved before the year 2001! Studying Galatians 5:25, we realized that it’s possible to understand grace at initial salvation, yet not in sanctification. Such was our story.

It was grace that restored me and transformed me.

When I finally began to minister again, it was like everything was new. The message of grace permeated every message, every song, every thought. It truly became the A-Z of my faith, not just the ABC’s. (Within a few years, I also realized that my studies had led me to reformed theology, which made my wife and me very strange animals in the charismatic movement at the time.)

I’d go to churches or conferences and preach the message of grace, and though it would have impact, I watched so many go back to churches or situations or just old mentalities where the leaven of legalism would destroy the seed I’d planted. I began to dream about building a gospel-centered community where we would live “under grace” together, and become a beachhead for the message of grace.

In early 2010, after a time of prayer, my wife and I sensed it was time to pursue our dream. Besides the traveling ministry I was leading (Isaiah 6 Ministries), I was also the worship director at a local church in western NY. Though they didn’t fully understand my vision or theology, they loved my family, and got behind us. They helped us put together a small “launch team” and at my request, helped us narrow down where to plant. In February of 2011, we publicly launched GraceLife Church in Avon, NY.

I don’t mean to paint a rosy picture. The launch season was not without its adversaries and challenges. We’ve had more than one angry head turn our way, but in the end, they did me no harm, only helping me to galvanize my faith that this is the will of God for my life and family.

It has been a delight to gather some good men who share my heart and theology, and begin building together. Oh the joy of seeing so many learning already to live under grace! We look forward to fruitful days ahead.

3 Comments

  • Slim on Aug 17, 2013 Reply

    The glory of God is everything. And God is most canonized through His church. And no matter else happens, he’s canonized through your individual life, your family life, and every one things ought to bring Him glory. however once the church is most really the church, God is most canonized on earth.
    And even within the formed state, the eternal state that is returning, He can still receive glory through His church….

  • Erik Miller on Aug 04, 2013 Reply

    Hi Derek

    My name is Erik Miller from Sugarcreek, OH. You probably don’t remember me but I met you several years ago while attending one of your ‘schools of ‘evangelism’ at Lighthouse Christian Fellowship in Millereburg, OH. I was thinking about the school of evangelism the other day and thought I’d try to look u up online. Cant tell you how excited I am to see that you have hooked up with acts 29. I use a lot of their resources and actually started the application process to plant as well but have not followed through with it to this point. My wife and I were planning on planting last year in Berlin (not sure if you remember that little town) but we had a personal tragedy hit our family right as we were getting ready to leave our current church, where I am the associate pastor, and it really knocked the wind out of me and now a year and a half later I am still on staff their part time but think and dream daily about planting. Your testimony about coming to embrace reformed theology really resonates with me. One of the reasons I like acts 29 is because they don’t make me choose between the doctrines of grace and embracing all the gifts of the Spirit and it’s in those doctrines of grace that I see the biggest God. Anyway I’m glad to hear how God is still using you for His glory. May God richly bless you, your church and your family.

    Erik

  • Suzanne Smith on Jul 30, 2012 Reply

    Love this. Congratulations on completing Acts 29 requirements!

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