The Assembly Interview: A Pastor with a Church in Need

I met a couple of pastors, Charlie Scalf and Adam Fann, at the Southern Baptist Building Bridges Conference a few weeks ago. They pastor a church called The Assembly Baptist Church in downtown Johnson City, TN. I met them through my good friends John and Shannon Jordan who I have known for several years. I also got to meet the Jordans’ pastor, Reggie, who you will read about below. Reggie was nice enough to buy us all Tom Schreiner’s newest book on baptism.

After spending a few days with sitting with and eating with these guys I got to know them a little better. They don’t “look” like your typical Southern Baptist and this intrigued me somewhat, basically, because of the label “Southern Baptist” being attached. I was encouraged to learn of the type of ministry they were doing, but discouraged to learn that their funding is basically gone.

I had an idea about reaching out for them through blogging. I prayed about it, asked John what he thought and then approached Charlie and Adam with the idea on the final morning of the conference. The idea is somewhat similar to Timmy Brister’s post on another way to support Southern Baptist churches. Needless to say, we were all on board with having an interview and asking that if anyone felt led to help this church out to please do so. What follows is an interview with Pastor Charlie giving more insight to their ministry at The Assembly.

Briefly describe your call to ministry and the call to plant this church in particular.

My call to the ministry came when I was 25 and had only been a Christian for 3 years. I was Biblically uneducated for the most part, but I did have a solid discipleship mentor; who is now my father-in-law, Reggie Weems. God called me to start giving my testimony at a run down church building in downtown Johnson City that was being used as a homeless shelter. The Pastor that was in charge of that ministry asked if I wanted to use it for concerts so we did. We would hire some punk bands and in between the two bands I would grab the mic and give my testimony. Immediately people were responding and mostly good responses though some were not so nice. I began inviting people to my house on Wednesdays and in only two weeks, my house was too crowded. My dad owned a shopping center in the outskirts of town and allowed us to use an empty suite and that is how the Assemble began. Our first meeting in the shopping center had 51 people. After meeting there for 2 years we then moved to the downtown area. We have been downtown now for 3 years in Feb.

How would the culture of The Assembly be described? Would you say it’s the typical church that most are familiar with?

We are definitely not like other churches. Our congregation is so eclectic, but the one common factor is that they are not the typical church goers. We range from 14-65 years of age (infants and toddlers also). We are made up of college students to stand up comedians to school teachers. After going through our theological and doctrinal change a couple of years ago there is one thing we know for sure about our congregation; we are serious about it. In our early years we were known as the “cool” church. After we began preaching the reformed doctrines many people split. I guess we were not so “cool” anymore. We now know that those who are at the Assembly have no confusions on our Biblical interpretations.

What does a typical day at The Assembly look like?

A typical day at the Assembly is unpredictable. For the most part Adam and I are upstairs studying and trying to take care of business and a few die hard Assemblians are downstairs hanging out, talking theology. Every few hours or so people will wonder in from the street. Sometimes homeless people will come by and hang out or sometimes just everyday people. Wednesday nights we have an addiction recovery meeting called the Fight Club where we get a lot of interesting people. God has worked amazingly through that ministry. Tuesday nights there is another Bible study going on. Monday nights is our prayer meeting, and sometimes on Friday nights we play movies on our projector. There is a lot of coffee drinking that goes on.

As I understand you are both still in seminary. How do you balance your lives between family, church and school, etc.?

Adam, my wife and I along with a couple others of our members are going to Graham Bible College in Bristol. It is an Orthodox Presbyterian school. They have taught and encouraged us in the reformed tradition and it has been wonderful. That is also where a lot of the strain comes in. Trying to balance Pastoral duties, husband duties, and student responsibilities have become a strain since we had to recently sacrifice pay. Neither Adam nor I get paid from the church anymore. For the last 3 years we were getting financial support from The TN Baptist Convention. That money runs out in Dec. They do not have any further support available to us. We will be on our own with exception of Heritage Baptist Church’s small contribution (that is my father-in-laws church). Our monthly bills total around 2500.00 a month which is really not much. That is bare necessities like power, heat, water, cell phone and insurance. We don’t even have a budget for anything else. We are grateful to be making it still, but our heart and vision is much bigger than just paying bills.

Adam mentioned that you all recently had a change in theological perspective. What was this and how has it impacted your ministry?

When we began the church we were very “emerging” and it all started with me. I was a very prototypical emerging personality and would preach whatever felt right. God began revealing Calvinism and the reformed doctrines to me through a friend and my Father in Law through conversation. I hated the notion of God who would not leave salvation up to the person. I fought the Spirit with everything in me to the point of tears, but eventually I folded. I surrendered and now say with Job, “Salvation is of the Lord”; so much so that I got it tattooed across my back.

Building on that answer, is there anything from the Building Bridges Conference that will help you all going forward?

The biggest thing that we took away from the Building Bridges Conference was the encouragement of knowing that we are not alone. We are the only “openly” Reformed Baptist Church in what we call the tri-Cities (Our city of Johnson City, Kingsport, and Bristol; Bristol is best known for the Bristol Motor Speedway).

We were also very encouraged to focus more on our evangelism. Everyone seems to be attacking Reformed Baptist in the area evangelism; confusing us with Hyper-Calvinist. We are motivated to prove them wrong by our actions instead of arguing.

What are some of the biggest challenges faced in ministering to the people in your flock?

One of our biggest challenges besides money is the lack of maturity. Adam & I are diligently seeking growth, but we are not that old in the faith. As far as mature leadership we are it. We are in need of elders. We need people who can teach and lead others. We also need a music leader. I have been filling in for that position for several years and it is exhausting. We have had others do it, but the same results keep happening, the worship turns into a rock concert. Obviously, that is not what worship should be.

What has God taught you all from pastoring the people at The Assembly?

God has revealed His sovereignty and mercy through the Assembly. There is really no logical reason why we should still be open. We are preaching the scriptures and that is a contrary message to what this culture wants to hear. People want to hear pretty stories about buddy Jesus, but we preach Jesus as LORD and SAVIOR, not just hippie friend. , but by God’s grace He continues to open eyes and give hearts of flesh to some.

Are there any needs in particular that people can be praying about?

We have a café in the church that we used to open 7 days a week, but we had to stop because of the lack of funds. We have a vision to convert it to a Study Center packed with great Biblical study materials and resources. We are located right next to East TN State University so we see a lot of students. This project would only require a couple thousand bucks.

We also need some renovations to our offices. We are using the unfinished loft upstairs. It has no heating or cooling or even walls or electricity or water. It is kind of funny, but we are ready to move on.

I will list our needs:

– Money for (bills, pastor salary, renovations to sanctuary and offices, pastor study materials, study center renovations and missions)

– People can donate used books to our study center (preferably sound reformed books. Like Calvin’s commentaries, anything Spurgeon, you get the picture)

– Major prayer (God sent leaders and helpers, God fearing Music leader, spiritual growth. Endurance and purity)

– People (mature leaders, willing and faithful servants, people with hearts to see the body reformed and purified, children’s ministry workers)

– Encouragement (in a land of a million churches we feel like we are on an island. Go figure!)

Is there anything additional either of you would like to say to the readers out there?

We have a huge heart for missions. This past summer we took a group of 6 to Niksic, Montenegro (pop. 90,000) where we put on a basketball camp and ministered to the only church there. It’s a reformed Baptist church of about 15 members. There are only 120 Christians in the entire country. We also like to minister to our surrounding community. We are involved in a place called the John Sevier Center with a couple that started the ministry named Rich and Dori Gormon. It is an apartment complex for people with disabilities.

We have a bigger vision for this ministry than just paying bills. We want to reach out, but we have been limited to what we are able to do because of finances. We do take advantage of the multitude of ways to minister and evangelize at no cost, but we truly desire to reach the ends of the earth. Please pray that God will continue this desire within us and that He will supply the resources necessary to accomplish His purposes.

Folks, I appreciate any help in any way you can give and I know they will appreciate it even more so. I know blogs can be a good way to communicate the needs and prayers the brethren we may never get to actually meet this side of Heaven. I’m thankful for the ministry the Lord has given these men. I ask on behalf of them that you pray about supporting them in any of their needs and hopefully doing so if you’re led to.

Thanks for the interview Charlie and also thanks to Adam for the support. I pray the Lord will see fit to bless your ministry and allow it to grow and continue.

If there are any resources you’d like to contribute they may be reached through the contact link at their website. They will have a Paypal account set-up very soon and you may also ask questions here.

Blessings,

Mark

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in Church Issues,Culture,need,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 F. Turk December 22, 2007 at 11:32 am

Well, except for the tat, I’m with him I think. I hope he spelled it right.

😉

2 johnMark December 22, 2007 at 11:42 pm

I believed he used spell check.

Thanks,

Mark 🙂

3 redgoatee December 24, 2007 at 12:00 pm

I see everything you slackers.

I’m getting the errors corrected here shortly, you two dolts.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Red

4 Micah L. December 24, 2007 at 1:37 pm

Hey, quit picking on Red. Isn’t it hard enough that he has to go through life as a Cubs fan?

5 johnMark December 24, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Yeah, Micah’s right!

🙂

.

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