“There and Back Again; a Christian’s Journey” by Nelson W. Lee
This will be a little longer than a page, OK, a lot longer than a page. I feel, however, it is important to include my philosophy (albeit an abbreviated insight) along with my personal testimony. After all, the road to what I am today, the philosophy that is found within my core being, is an important part of my testimony. Therefore, I wish to share the left and right turns, and the curves, that have brought me here.
The journey I took to Christ was not a rare one. I was born to parents who were raised in the church…but had spent a good part of their adult life backslidden (mother) or lost (father). My maternal grandmother (Mabel) owned a “honky-tonk” called “Mabel’s Place” and a good part of my youth was spent there…playing outside with the other “honky-tonk” children or stacking beer bottles in the storage room. I spent the rest of my time at the pool table; learning the game from my dad. He was the 1979 Coors Invitation Champion.
Being around this lifestyle allowed me insight into the world that most Christians condemn…AND ignore in ignorance. I’ve been around drunks. I’ve seen bar-room brawls (and watch my 5’9”, 300 lb grandmother END a few of them by tossing the offenders out of her bar…literally). I watched my paternal grandmother, who lived next-door, as she struggled with alcoholism. I watched her DT’s when she tried to stop. I watched her drink vanilla extract because she was cut off from every liquor store in the county by my dad. I eventually watched her die of sclerosis of the liver due to her alcoholism.
It was her death, in 1981, that led me to Christ. A week after the funeral, I began cleaning out my closet. I looked up at the suit my parents had bought me for the funeral and had a desire to wear it again. I liked how I looked in a suit. So, I thought about “where” can I wear this suit? And I remembered the neighborhood church my great-grandfather had taken me to on occasion when I was a child. I told my parents that I would be going to church on Sunday. My mom felt guilty and decided to take me. She would rededicate her life the following week.
It was there, at the First Baptist Church in Old Ocean, where I heard the Gospel preached for the first time. The preaching intrigued me and I decided to return that evening for the 7 p.m. service.
I showed up at the church early, knocking on the pastor’s study at 6:30. I entered and simply said, “I want to become a Christian.” Pastor Bobby Good shared the Gospel with me and led me to faith in Christ. He told me the next step was to make a public profession of faith and I did so that evening, walking the aisle to the tune of “One, Somebody, You.” I remember him distinctly remarking: “I wish it was always this easy…that they would just show up at your door.” I was baptized the following Sunday, February 1st, 1981.
I became a dedicated Christian. I attended Sunday School and Training Union; I was there whenever the doors were open. I took an immediate interest in eschatology when I found a copy of Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth.” I read it over and over…and studied the scriptures. Because of this, a sensing of the urgency of time, I became outspoken about my faith and the need for all to follow Christ for salvation. I led my first person to Christ when I was 12.
But I wasn’t discipled, at least not in a manner that I would deem thorough. If anything, I discipled myself. As I matured, both spiritually and physically, I watched hypocrisy in the church. I saw a faux-church. In a church of 400, occasionally 500, I saw very few genuine followers of Christ. It wasn’t that people would drink or dance. That didn’t bother me. I grew up with that. It was that I had experienced and seen more genuine love and friendship in the beer-joint than I did in the church. I had watched my lost father treat strangers more generously and kindly than those deacons in the church. Don’t get me wrong, there were true passionate believers there: Paula Smith, one of my earliest teachers and mentors; Scott Benefield, my youth pastor, and Bobby Good a genuine man of God who would rival “Old Camel Knees” for the amount of time he spent in prayer. There were others. These weren’t the issue. It was those in positions of power, the deacons, the Sunday School leaders, who demonstrated their lack of compassion and had an apathy for Christ’s love for the lost. It was truly a “Country-Club for Christians” mentality.
Slowly, over a couple of years in high school, this lack of discipleship and hypocrisy took its toll on me spiritually and I backslid. I rarely missed church…but I gained nothing when I was there. The “Christians” had turned me off to Christ and people would only hypocritically preach AT me…instead of coming alongside and loving me back into fellowship with God.
So, at 18, I joined the military for the education benefits (I came from the blue-collar home of a pipefitter and needed money for college). I enrolled at Texas A&M and was a member of the Corps of Cadets. It was there, during my senior year, that Christ did a work in me (and on me). I was mopping the dining hall one evening and an acquaintance began to talk about eschatology. He was Catholic and had questions. I knew the answers. We began studying the Bible together and made a weekly ritual out of watching Jack Van Impe and Peter and Paul LaLonde. I realized I was in bad shape, backslidden and was under conviction. So, I rededicated my life. My Catholic Friend received Christ. He is now my best friend and a good Southern Baptist himself.
Eighteen months later I was called from my then home Church, Southern Oaks Baptist (Pastor Joe Dennis), to be the youth and associate pastor at United Freewill Baptist Church. In spite of my theology being an Arminian/Calvinist blend, I answered the call. What’s the fun in being where everyone agrees with you theologically?
This opened the door to the pulpit and I made the decision to become an evangelist. However, this passion competed with my deep desire, instilled in me through experience, which was to reform the Church, much like Martin Luther had done. I had a passion for the church. My zeal for eschatology was replaced with a greater zeal for ecclesiology. I loved (and still do) the Body of Christ. I wanted (and still do) nothing more than to restore it.
And then “IT” happened: The night that changed my life; the night that altered my course. An eight-year-old girl stepped out into the aisle and changed my life forever. To this day I will often refer to this as: “the eight-year-old girl who changed my life.” Her name is lost to me now, but this is her story:
I was preaching two youth camps in the summer of ’95. We had had about 22 salvations in this small camp, and I was feeling all right about that. On the second to the last night, a little girl walked the aisle and gave her heart to Christ. Afterward, I went back to my RV (which traveled with me); praised God for the harvest and went about my work on the last two messages. The evening message was especially difficult. It would be the first time I preached an entire “scripture” sermon from memory. It was entitled: “Jesus, the Son of God: Sevenfold Proof of Christ” (I know…long title…cut me some slack…I was young).
It was the 23rd of June…and I preached that message in an open-air arena with all the passion I could muster. I offered an invitation. Immediately, on the first note of “Just As I am,” ten children stepped out. They swarmed me. All were crying. They pulled on my coat. “I want to be SAVED!”; “Tell me about JESUS!” they cried. I was elated….and a little proud. I searched for other pastors in the audience to help me with the throng of kids that had swamped me and as I looked around, there she was: the eight-year-old girl from the night before. “I want to be saved,” she said. “I want to do it again!”
I was floored. It hit me square in the eyes. I pawned the other children onto other counselors and I dealt with her. I explained to her that once was enough. She refused to relent. She was confused…and I shared in that confusion. In an instant, I had gone from being on top of the world to a shattered mess. I dismissed her; introduced the rest and retired to my RV.
What had I done wrong? I just followed the example from every service I had ever been in. I led them in “the prayer” that I was taught in a class of leading people to Christ (The Roman Road to salvation. The verses are still written in a bible at home). This was the same thing I had seen other evangelists doing. “WHAT IS GOING ON…GOD!?!” I tearfully shouted…half prayerfully and half exacerbated. And then God spoke in a still, small voice: “You’ve always wanted to know what is wrong with the Church: Why is it broken? What’s wrong with these people? Why are they so cold? Why is there division in the body of Christ? Tonight I showed you!”
It was a revelation. I needed no further clarification from the Almighty for I knew what He was saying: The Church is full of lost people; half-hearted people; people that are not changed…but think they are because they said a prayer when they were 6…7…8…and had no idea what they were doing. They walked that aisle for whatever reason…but it wasn’t for Me…or to Me. The Church is full of them today; they play church like they play sports: Some are there for the team experience…and some are playing to win the game of life. My past memories came flooding back. It made perfect sense. Being the problem solver that I am, I immediately asked: “So Lord, how do we fix it?” The reply was instant: “You’ll have to learn that on your own.”
I knew what that meant. It meant “Go to seminary.” I had sworn off seminary. I wouldn’t go…I didn’t need to go. Christ didn’t go to seminary. The Apostles didn’t go to seminary. Paul did…and he went to the WRONG seminary. Why do I need to go there? In my mind, they were full of the same, cold, hypocritical people that the church was full of…only smarter. Nevertheless, I relented. After a delay due to falling in love and marrying the most wonderful wife and mom ever, I finally took the plunge. My wife was supportive. We were excited. This would be a new chapter for us and who knew where God would lead us. Initially, that was to Liberty University and Sagemont Church, where my wife was the assistant to the Senior Pastor, Dr. John Morgan.
But, I’m a rebel. Even though I had decided to go to seminary and be a member of a rather large church…there was NO WAY I was going to be turned into that which I detested: A preacher who played church…played the congregation…and fiddled while Rome burned. So I went to seminary with a different attitude. I was there to steal knowledge, rather than be indoctrinated. Knowing that man is fallible, I went with the attitude of not caring about opinions or traditions…or the beliefs of any professor. I wanted to know the facts: Chiefly, when and why did it all go wrong? Where did the church go off the rails? I used seminary, and its resources, to learn what went wrong over the centuries. Had this happened years later, I could have got what I sought on the internet…but at this time…seminaries were the “Keepers of the Knowledge.” They had the books and papers I needed to study to figure out Why the church was broken. So I studied systematic theology and Church History…focusing my doctoral work on “Ante-Nicene Polemics” entitling my dissertation; “in ea quae desunt corrigas” or “The Things that are Lacking,” borrowed from Titus 1:5.
After my graduation from seminary, I served in a local church in Brazoria as a Sunday School director and focused much of my time on writing. In 2002, my wife and I prayed for guidance in starting a new church plant. While sitting on the bed one night praying, God simultaneously (and I mean at the exact same time) gave us a passage of scripture; 1 Corinthians 3:10, 11 – “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, Jesus Christ.”
We didn’t really know what this meant at the time, other than it was God’s approval for us to plant a church. We would find out later that God meant it for something else and we had misunderstood. We proceeded with planting our church, and during this process, I was re-exposed to the harsh realities of the modern Church, its traditional, dogmatic views, and its myopic vision. Through a series of events too long to list, we realized God’s plan for us was not planting a church. He has something else in mind and in 2004 I was called to be the executive pastor and small group leader of Living Word Church in Angleton. I was there for three years and in that time God allowed me to implement my vision for discipleship and Church Polity. It was a wonderful time and the church grew.
But with God, always be prepared to change. We felt called to move to Pearland, Texas, away from our church and home in Angleton. I had spoken with Dr. Morgan about my vision for the Church in 2003 at a “Wild Game Dinner,” and three years later, I was sharing my vision again. Only this time I needed a place to serve. He shared with me the details of a new ministry, “The Transition Churches” ministry and that I needed to speak to Roy Guel. We apparently had the same passion for churches.
During this time at Sagemont, God showed my wife and me what He meant when He gave us 1 Corinthians 3:10, 11: We weren’t the builders. He had gifted us to be the layers of the foundations. His plan for us all along was to come alongside churches, as experts, and help them lay a solid foundation on Jesus Christ and then leave so THEY could build upon it in an Apostolic-Like ministry. This we have done. And on this journey, He has shaved off some of my sharp edges, finely honed by gift with experience (some of which has been glorious and some of which has been brutal) and the help of a friend: Roy Guel. Roy helped me see that not every foundation requires a sledgehammer or an ax, but that some require a lot of grace and patience. I won’t lie, I find this approach less appealing (and less enjoyable), but it’s effective nonetheless.
Through it all, my “Mission Statement,” the one I developed after I graduated seminary, still guides my every action:
“I want to place modern Christianity back onto its New Testament Foundation and in the framework of Apostolic Christianity while still remaining culturally relevant.”
My purpose is equally unchanged:
“To have a Great Commission ministry; one that is true to the Words of Christ: To Make Disciples; to teach them to observe all things; and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
I still have a longing desire to teach every church that will listen how to: Exalt the King; Evangelize the Lost; Equip the Saints; Edify each other in ministry; Encourage each other in Love and Encounter a Holy God through prayer.
My passion for making disciples is deep. I seek every opportunity to disciple; whether its individuals or churches. To satisfy this hunger I have written four discipleship courses: “So That We May Know;” “So That We May Grow;” “So That We May Go” and “So That We May Lead.” They take an individual on a six-month discipleship journey…from basic salvation through personal growth (So That We May Know; So That We May Grow ) and then lead the disciple on a journey to sharing the Gospel (So That We May Go) to finally becoming a mentor to those they have led to Christ (So That We May Lead). Because I also love systematic theology, I have written extensively on the fundamentals of essential Christian beliefs and have taught Systematic Theology.
In terms of ministry, I am an ordained and licensed minister of the Gospel of Christ. I have served as a Sunday School Director (at two different churches), an Executive Pastor, Associate Pastor, Youth Pastor and have also assisted over 20 churches by acting as an Interim Pastor or Church Consultant. As part of my interim and consulting ministry, I developed a thorough Spiritual Gifts Test which has been used by the leadership of many churches to place members in their areas of giftedness (and to take some out of areas they were not suited for).
In April 2016, we founded Agape Home Fellowship (AHF). We began as a small house church in Angleton, Texas. By the end of 2016, we had branched out to India. In 2017, we saw amazing growth and became Agape Home Fellowship-International (AHF-I). Today, there are more than 350 AHF-I churches in eight countries on three continents (North America, Africa, and Asia). Our sights are now set on Central and South America, Europe, and Australia. We are taking the six-month discipleship journey and translating it into new languages. We are training church planters in multiple countries; taking the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations.
Vanessa and I want to give all praise to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In 2002 it was He who gave us the scriptures from 1 Corinthians 3:10, 11 and showed us that we would be foundation layers. It took a while, but by His grace, we are seeing this come to pass. For this, we are so thankful.
Thanks for your time,
Nelson W. Lee