Derek: I grew up in a very conservative, legalistic environment. I knew how to check the boxes of my faith but couldn’t connect the dots between a good doctrinal statement and practical theology. I’m thankful for my upbringing because it allowed me to memorize lots of Scripture and learn much about God. When I was six years old, I made a profession of faith but didn’t fully understand and couldn’t comprehend that decision. It wasn’t until I turned 13 that God reached my heart, and my relationship with him became real and not just a show. As I grew in the knowledge of God’s great grace, I was met with a great undoing that I couldn’t keep living my faith from the outside in. Because of this, I experienced a crisis of belief crossroads where my actions did not match my beliefs. I doubted the existence of God, and my marriage suffered, which led to some pretty intense counseling sessions.
God was so faithful in drawing us near to him during that time, and we decided to stop checking boxes and just grow together by studying Scripture as a couple. In doing this, our relationship strengthened as we pursued growth at a local church in Kentucky. Our path was then directed to Fellowship Greenville by recommendation from that same church in Kentucky, and after attending, we didn’t want to miss the next Sunday service because the grace of God was so evident, and that resonated with us. As we continued to grow in this community, I was introduced to the Upstate Church Collective, where I was able to truly connect the dots on the life and ministry of Christ and how that translates to our competencies and how we do ministry. God is inviting me into his story, and through this journey, he has led me to serve on the Redemption Life Fellowship pastoral team with Sam Jones right here in Greenville. Our running theme has been “bringing God’s redemption story to life,” and that’s our prayer as we pursue what God has in store for us.
Sam: I became a believer when I was seven at Vacation Bible School in Martinsville, VA, where my family attended church. I remember my grandmother listening to evangelical sermons on the radio, and I heard messages on salvation regularly, so when I attended VBS, I knew exactly what I needed to do. When I went to college, I was surrounded by a very legalistic faith, where I was led to believe I had to meet specific standards to be a “perfect believer.” This idea became very taxing, and I frequently wanted to give up. After college, I worked at a church in Harlingen, TX, where that legalistic mindset followed me. After years of serving in that church, my family moved to Greenville, where I worked as the assistant pastor at a local baptist church. Through a mutual connection, I was introduced to Fellowship Greenville’s long-time pastor, Walt Handford, and his wife, Libby. The Handfords helped me and my family walk through what it looked like to live a grace-based life, and Walt helped me find my exit strategy out of fundamentalism.
God brought us to Fellowship Greenville in 2013. While attending, serving, and growing here for nearly a decade, I decided to join the Upstate Church Collective, which prepared my heart for what the Lord would lead me into as I now serve on the Redemption Life Fellowship pastoral team with Derek Harm. Because I’d experienced a lot of church hurt, I was hesitant and didn’t think my heart was ready, but I felt God comforting me through genuine discipleship. God’s faithfulness is never in question, and through my journey, I want to always remember those times when he’s been faithful.