Robert S. Arendale
I can vividly remember the phone call from a friend and fellow pastor in which he asked me, “Would you have any interest in a church plant in Houston, Texas?” That call prompted a several-month period of prayer, conversation, interviews, and more prayer, more conversation, and more interviews. In the Lord’s good providence, six months later (in October 2012) we were packed in the moving van and on the road from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Houston, Texas, where I would begin my labors as an evangelist with Cornerstone OPC in the northwest part of the city. As I reflect back on the transition and God’s leading of us to a new ministry, there are four things that stand out:
1. A spirit of camaraderie among the leadership. As a mission work, we did not have installed officers. However, there was a natural leadership structure that had begun to develop. In particular, two men who had served as elders in other Reformed churches were already exercising leadership and shepherding roles in the body. As I spent time with these men, their humility, wisdom, and gracious spirit were evident. These were men with whom I could joyfully and boldly serve. And, more importantly, these were men from whom this young pastor could learn.
2. A spirit of sweet unity among the members of the body. From our first “candidating weekend” with the group, which included dinners, men’s breakfasts, and of course Lord’s Day worship, the group displayed a love for the Lord, a love for one another, and a love for my family. In other words, we felt welcomed. We felt loved. And, of utmost importance, my wife felt the same love and affection from the core group.
3. A spirit of unity with Adam York. Rev. York has served for several years as the minister of Providence OPC in Kingwood (a Houston suburb). He is a gracious and wise pastor, and we “clicked” from the beginning. Before I arrived in Houston, we had hatched plans for conferences, retreats, and regular meetings for prayer and fellowship. That is to say, we had already begun to work as a team. We were friends and coworkers in ministry.
4. A need for confessionally Reformed churches in Houston. Houston is massive. As the fourth-largest city in the country, one would expect to find many, many churches. And indeed there are. However, quantity of churches does not equate to quality of churches. Simply put, Houston needs more solid, Reformed, confessional churches committed to the faithful proclamation of God’s word and committed to reaching the lost with the good news of Christ.
Camaraderie and wisdom among the leadership, unity within the body, unity with other OP ministers in the area, and the need for faithful Reformed churches made it clear that the Lord’s will was for us to become Houstonians.
Upon arriving in Houston, we hit the ground running. The foundation of all we do is the Word, specifically the regular preaching of the Word, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day. But we also began prayer meetings, Bible studies, men’s breakfasts, church retreats, theology conferences, women’s gatherings, and officer training—and the Lord used such means to build and grow his church. From the beginning, our focus has been twofold, the word of Christ and the love of Christ.
Our prayer is that the word of Christ would be proclaimed and heard, and that the love of Christ would be demonstrated and felt. Two years after arriving in Houston, Cornerstone was organized as a local congregation of the Presbytery of the Southwest, and two elders and one deacon were installed. And one year later we moved from a day care to a nearby elementary school for Lord’s Day worship.
Where do we go from here? In our recent congregational meeting, I told the flock that we will keep doing what we have been doing. We will preach the Word of God. We will go before the Lord in prayer. We will engage with one another in personal relationships. Preaching, prayer, and personal relationships! At the same time, however, we must continue to be zealous and burdened for the lost around us: our neighbors, our coworkers, our family members. Engage your neighbors. Befriend your neighbors. Invite them to church. Invite them for dinner. We must also pray for other churches to be established in Houston. There is excitement surrounding what the Lord is doing! Our presbytery and our denomination are focusing on the Houston area. What a need there is: a great number of people are not being fed or are being underfed. As I write this, the Home Missions Committee of our presbytery is going before the Lord in prayer and seeking his wisdom as we put together a plan for the next five to ten years.
During the past few years, I have often had the words of William Carey echoing in my ear: “Attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God.” Dear friends, the Lord is at work. The fields are white for harvest. He gives the increase. The work is hard and slow, but it is good. May we be faithful in planting and watering. Indeed, unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain. Pray for the Lord to build his house.