The following blogpost is written by Gregg Eargle. Gregg has been a great friend for many years and is part of the Clemson house church. Gregg shares his journey below and how the house church experience has been very refreshing for him. His presence for all of us has been equally refreshing!
I started reading the bible for the first time as a freshman at Clemson University. I started following the Bible during my senior year. I had gone to church pretty much my whole life, but I never read the Bible. My father had died of a heart attack four years prior and so the concepts of God and death and heaven and hell were very pertinent issues to me. I believed in God. I was too mindful of God to say “no” to the guys in my dorm who invited me to their church functions where they introduced me to the bible. I saw things that I didn’t know were in the Bible and the things I read prevented me from being at peace.
I wanted to be forgiven of my sins and to know for sure I would go to heaven if I died, but there was one problem. In Acts 2:36, the apostle Peter wrapped up his first recorded sermon with these words, “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Christ means Savior… the one who can forgive me of my sins. Lord means Master … the one who tells me what to do. Jesus is both! He does not settle for one or the other. My problem was that I wanted a Savior, but I didn’t want a Master. If Jesus was going to be my Master I would need to repent of a lot of sin and that was going to be painful. The religious, goody-two-shoes guys didn’t seem to have anything to change. I had a girlfriend and party-animal friends and a general reputation of being “cool” that didn’t fit in with being a “Jesus freak”. At the same time, I believed Jesus was real and that he expected me to follow him. I was torn. I am ashamed to say that I wrestled with Jesus for four years (my entire college career) racked with an incredible amount of guilt the whole time.
During my senior year a friend from one of my engineering classes started inviting me to a Bible discussion he was leading. After blowing him off for several weeks I finally went, hoping he would stop asking me. I was amazed by what I experienced. So, I went to church with him. I was even more astounded. What was it that was so different about these people? “Red and yellow, black and white” were all mixing and mingling together. That was strange, but fascinating! Everyone (literally everyone) was singing … with a smile on their face like they really believed what they were saying. That was unusual, but fascinating! Everyone had a Bible and they took notes during the sermon. Fascinating! The preacher laid out a very challenging, but inspirational sermon. I was sad when he finished, I wanted to hear more. I had never experienced that before! When the service was over, everyone (literally everyone) stayed around and talked with one another. I had never seen anything like that after a church service. They spoke to me. They were genuinely interested in getting to know me. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was seeing Jesus. I fell in love with Jesus (the body of Christ) that day. It was love at first sight. I began to study the Bible with my friend and finally did what I had resisted for four years… I surrendered to Jesus. I wanted to. I was compelled to! I was in love! Jesus was really the “cool” one. So, on a Wednesday night, August 24, 1983 (33 years ago today as I type) I was baptized in Lake Hartwell. I was clean! All the guilt was gone! I couldn’t keep it to myself. I had discovered the “words of eternal life”. Everyone needed to know what I now knew. Everyone needed what I had!
Fast Forward Twenty-Five Years:
One day my wife made an alarming comment to me. “You don’t enjoy studying the bible with people”, she said. I had been in the full-time Christian ministry for twenty years. I had been leading a church for about five years at the time. I had studied the Bible with hundreds of people. But, she was right! Her words made me truly begin to evaluate what was going on in my heart.
There was nothing scandalous. I was not being unfaithful to my wife. I was not embroiled in internet pornography. I was not drinking or doing drugs on the side. I was just TIRED. I still loved people, I just didn’t want to deal with anymore problems people were having. It felt as though every person who was added to the church was one more stone I had to carry. I got to the point where I didn’t even want to check emails or answer the phone. I definitely did not have the same feelings about Jesus’ body that I had at first (Rev 2:4). I still thought Jesus was the answer to everyone’s problems – even to my problems, but I needed time to regroup, to reconnect to Jesus and to get back on the right track.
Fast Forward Six Years:
The Holy Spirit has done things I never would have expected.
Ultimately, I resigned from the full-time “paid” ministry. That was scary at the age of fifty. But, I trusted that God would provide for us and he has. Taking that step allowed the healing to begin.
I moved my family back to Clemson, SC. I never imagined we would move back to Clemson. Being a part of the Clemson Foothills Church was very therapeutic for me. It was so encouraging to see many college students study the Bible and become disciples. It reminded me of the early days.
God blessed us with great jobs. I work with Norfolk Southern Railroad and my wife is a realtor with Keller Williams.
The friend who invited me out to his Bible discussion and studied the Bible with me all those years ago was John Porter. For years (while he was leading the South Florida church and I was leading the Tampa Bay Church) we had discussed how to restore the church back to what it was when we were baby Christians, a close-knit family. Well, the Holy Spirit moved him and his wife, Barbara, back to Clemson as well. Together we are experimenting with this concept of “house churches” and it is very exciting to see what the Holy Spirit is doing through that ministry.
The most amazing thing that has happened is I can honestly say I FOUND IT!!! The Holy Spirit has helped me to recapture the heart I had at first, to remember the height from which I had fallen.
I am just as excited about Jesus now as I was when I first became a Christian. I love and appreciate His body, the church, as much now as I did when I first became a Christian. I share my faith now more than when I was a baby Christian. I can’t keep it to myself. I share with the guys on the railroad every chance I get because I know that what I have can help them. A number of friends have come to church with us. My wife and I just baptized two friends of ours (more on that in my next article). It was a joy to study the Bible with them and to teach them about Jesus. And an old friend of mine who left the church years ago has come back.
Stepping back for six years has been very helpful and therapeutic for me. I have come to the conclusion that Jesus intended the process of making disciples and therefore building His church to be relatively simple and sustainable with each disciple using his/her gifts to meet the needs of the church members. In my case I had taken personal responsibility for three hundred people. That was overwhelming to me and I got burned out. Sharing my life and my faith with a group of ten people and those people sharing their lives and their faith with me … I can do that! In my experience with our house church it feels both healthy and sustainable.
I pray that anyone reading this article who finds themselves where I was will find comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit can lead you back as He did me. It may require some bold steps of faith. I would encourage you to begin your journey by reading John Porter’s paper entitled The Wild Goose. See if it rings true to you.
Your way back may very well be different than my way back. In Isaiah 40:11 the bible says…
He (Jesus) tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
Take comfort that Jesus will lead you back to the love you had at first.
Love to all!