Not too far into the letter I received from a fellow Pastor: "These 'churches' (like Trailside) are popping out of the woodwork, "reaching millennials" and "preaching" a false Gospel that will send people unknowingly into the eternal fires and damnation of hell." Woah.
I was blown away. Confused. Frustrated and angry, yet saddened and empathetic. I hadn't asked for a call to ministry 16 years ago, and I hadn't asked to plant a church. I sure didn't ask for a response like that. The letter went on and on, but the content is not necessary to share here- perhaps in due time- but you can imagine that the rest of the letter was incredibly encouraging, filled with joy, and loving.
There were two things I told my wife Lane I was never going to do: Plant a church, and become a Lead Pastor. I was convinced of these because of multiple reasons: there were already approximately somewhere between 8 and 9 million churches in South Carolina; many of those churches were barely surviving and keeping the doors open, and the last thing I thought people needed was a chance to listen to me in my own depravity preach about how good God is.
Allow me to be clear on the final point: as much as I am a continuous sinner in need of grace every moment, I am forever thankful for the season I have been in for the last 15 years where God has allowed me to preach the Gospel, and if I were to falter there would be thousands ready to take my place. It is a great honor to communicate God's love story to His people and those who would become His.
The moment I read this letter, everything changed. Planting a church no longer became a clear call from God; it became that and so much more. It defined a group of people that we feel so passionately about including: Those who have given up on God because they were told they were too messy for them. Those who had left the church because although they love Jesus, follow Him, study His Word, and pray daily, they grew tired of searching for a place they could come and not have all the answers. Those who gave so much of themselves, their hearts, their time, and their money all to just see it burn down to the ground. Those who grew tired of the moralism that taught following Jesus = blind partisanship. Those whose private struggles taught them that they had no place in church because God had no place for them. Those who left the church not because they were mad at God, but because there was no true community of people to fight through every day alongside them.
So that's who we strive to be. We are a young church. We have learned valuable lessons. Everything isn't perfect. Heck, we started out in a crossfit gym without any heat or A/C, and spent one of our prelaunch weeks inside at 55 degrees. But we have a place for those people. We have a place for the disenfranchised. We have a place for the confused, angry, apathetic. We have a place for those who are tired of not only church politics, but American politics within the church. We have a place for those who gave up on God because they feel like He couldn't love them.
And we have a place for those who also feel passionate about walking alongside those of you who have identified with any of those categorically frustrating stories. We didn't start Trailside because TR and Greenville needed another church. We started TSC because we believe that God wants us to be one of a few great churches who aren't scared of big questions, and aren't comfortable enough to act like they don't exist.
So if you're considering checking us out, do. I'd love to buy you a coffee at Indigo Ridge Cafe, or a slice of pizza at Sidewall. I can't promise we are perfect, that there isn't room for us to grow, but I believe that's the story of the church today anyways.
As for the letter? Its printed and framed, hanging in my home. For as long as Trailside is fulfilling its call and mission, it will hang as a consistent reminder: One angry letter has given us a mission field, and we won't stop reaching out until our mission has been fulfilled.
See you Sunday.