Building the church with no name

By Linda Braden Albert

MARYVILLE, TENN. – The Apostle Paul once came upon an altar in Rome with the inscription "To The Unknown God." On a Sunday morning in Blount County, he might stumble upon the unknown church – or at least, a church with no name.

"Well, it has a name but God has just not told us yet," said the Rev. Jeff Wadley with a chuckle. Wadley is church plant pastor of the new congregation, a multiplication of the ministry of Fairview United Methodist Church.

Wadley said several occurrences worked together over the past two years to show him the need for a new church in Blount County.

"I spent nine years at Fairview as youth director, and at the end of last summer I took two days and went up to Cades Cove," Wadley said. During that time he read through the gospels to gain focus for the coming year, and found the passage where John the Baptist is asked who he might be.

"This is what John the Baptist's response was," Wadley said. "He said 'I am thunder in the desert.'"

Wadley meditated upon the passage, concluding that thunder announced an approaching storm, and that thunder in the desert is an unusual thing.

"I believe what he was trying to say is that 'I am not the storm, I am just announcing that the storm is coming,'" Wadley said. "With that, I spent those two days thinking about what it means to be a Christian pastor following the example of John the Baptist and the thunder. I am not the message, I'm just announcing the message, pointing people to who Jesus is."

Wadley also became involved in a 13-week Bible study, "Experiencing God."

"One of the principles taught is when God reveals himself to you and something he wants you to do, you are supposed to obey," he said. "As I was looking at the thunder in the desert concept, God was putting on my heart that I was about to do something different. And I didn't like that, because I have always wanted to be a youth pastor. But when God placed on my heart a desire and a burden to plant a new church, I couldn't back down."

Wadley and his wife, Joy, decided they had to obey God's leading and Wadley resigned his position as youth pastor at Fairview. They didn't know what the future would hold for them and their three children, Brandon, 10, Phillip, 7, and Erin, 5. Still, they knew that "what God originates, he orchestrates," Wadley said.

"I stepped out on this faith journey, knowing God wanted me to start a new church in Blount County, not having any details, not having the skills or the background or the expertise," he said. "Just holding on to this new work that he put on my heart to do."

Wadley began looking for a group of people to be a part of the church plant team: "They were to be Christians who had a desire to be used of God to do something, and we didn't know exactly what it is we're supposed to do. Now, how in the world do you go to somebody and say ÔWill you join me' in a cause like that?" Wadley said.

About 17 families from Fairview committed themselves to start a new church, a satellite of Fairview, meeting for the first time as a team in September 2001. When the new congregation gets on its feet, the planting member may return to Fairview or stay with the new church.

"Every Wednesday night we gather with no agenda but to just pray for what God wants us to do," Wadley said. "And we pray and wait. Waiting is a strenuous, excruciating thing with a group of people who are doers."

A 2000 survey discovered that of approximately 108,000 Blount County residents, about 60 percent were not associated with a church. The vision of the "church with no name" became clearly to "seek the lost and make new disciples."

Worship services have been held at Smith Funeral Home, William Blount High School and at people's homes. The congregation is currently meeting monthly at West Chevrolet's Mountain View Complex Center on Alcoa Highway.

"These are preview services because we have not really launched yet," Wadley said. One preview service occurred on July 14; the next is scheduled Aug. 4.

Wadley said the group is anxiously waiting for God to show them a name for the church – and the place he wants them to locate a facility.

"When you name a child, you think through what that child's name should be because the child will have that name for the rest of his life," Wadley said. "A name for us is very important because it describes who we are, describes where we are."

The new church may not have a name or location, but the congregation is already at work carrying out God's instructions to make disciples.

A children's ministry, Club Truth, meets at Friendsville Elementary School during the school year. About 100 to 150 children meet each week at 7 a.m. on Fridays, Wadley said.

A youth ministry team has just been formed. An intern, Laura Hopson, is helping to get this ministry going.

"The thing that really drives our church is our small groups," he said. Six cell groups meet in people's homes for prayer, Bible study, fellowship and breaking of bread in accordance with Acts 2:42. The new church will probably not have Sunday school on Sunday mornings. All discipleship will be done in the small groups during the week, leaving Sunday for worship services only.

The worship style is contemporary or non-traditional, Wadley said. The basis of the church is to look for God's vision and then commit to following the vision. "We don't have a long-range planning committee," Wadley said. "We're just waiting to see where God is at work and then join him where he is revealing himself to us."

Holston Conference is providing salary support and some start-up costs for three years. Fairview UMC supports the new church plant as well, providing Wadley office space.

Reprinted with permission, The (Maryville) Daily Times.

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