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Taking a stand in Campbell County

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By PETER SAWYER

People of different ages filed into the church from the crowded parking lot. Unlike a Sunday morning crowd, many wore causal clothes such as jeans, t-shirts and sweaters. Volunteers clad in T-shirts identifying them with the Stand greeted guests at the door with smiles, handshakes and hugs. Inside the sanctuary, contemporary music—drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and keyboard—played as people found seats. A row of singers took the stage and began to clap and sing, and those in attendance rose to their feet to join them, “Lord you are good and your mercy endures forever…We worship you Lord.”

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Some people raised their hands, and some raised both.

The Stand is a ministry with the goal of attracting people who don’t attend church.

“We just want to be loving, and we want to accept people,” said Joey St. John, pastor and organizer of the Stand. “Allow people to connect to God and connect to their purpose in life.”

The first service held March 30 at 7 p.m. at LaFollette Church of God.

Ashley Whited, a teenager who attended the service, described it as “denominations getting together and worshiping God, instead of worshipping religion.”

“If everyone will just let go and let God, it’ll be awesome,” Whited said.

From casual clothing, to the lighting to the contemporary music, the Stand’s atmosphere is different from most churches in Campbell County.

“We want church to be fun,” St. John said.

However, St. John has a mission for the Stand that runs deeper than that.

“The heartbeat of the Stand is we believe there’s a loving God who is looking for a group of people who are willing to take a stand in Campbell County,” Joey St. John said during a prayer.

The ultimate stand

St. John preached from Matthew 26, about Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gesthemane the night before he was crucified. Even though St. John encouraged people to use their Bibles, the text he used was displayed on a screen. People were also given sermon notes to help them follow along with his message.

St. John focused his sermon on Jesus’ decision to obey God, which took place in Gethsemane. Before Jesus was able to die on the cross to pay for the world’s sins, he had to take a stand in the Garden of Gethsemane, St. John said.

St. John referenced Jesus words in Matthew 26:39, “My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

St. John asked why Jesus would make “the ultimate stand for God.” He referenced Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfected of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

When Jesus was in Gethsemane, he knew people’s lives would be changed because of His obedience, St. John said. This is what motivated him.

“This is about being someone great for God,” St. John said. “This is talking about laying down those little petty things. We have to lay those things aside.”

People often want to keep things back from God and only give him portions of their lives, St. John said.

“With God it’s all or nothing,” St. John said.

St. John invited those in attendance to take a stand like Jesus did.

“There’s decisions that need to be made in this room tonight,” he said. “Tonight, God wants you to make a decision, and I know it’s hard…The most important decision you can make, is that you have a right relationship with God.”

St. John also spoke to people who felt “hurt” by churches in the past.

“If you’ve been wounded by church, it’s not God,” St. John said. “I want to tell you God loves you. Don’t focus on people, focus on God.”

The band ended the service with the song, “I give myself away.”

During the invitation, St. John had people bow their heads and close their eyes. They raised their hands if they wanted to become a Christian or become more active as a believer. St. John led those who raised their hands in prayer.

“We want everything to be low pressure,” St. John said. “We want everyone to be comfortable.”

St. John hopes to reach people through the Stand and get them involved in leadership by discipling, or training, them in small groups. Small groups are like Sunday school classes, except they are held in homes or parks.

A man with a vision

St. John got the vision to start the Stand about nine to 10 months ago.

“But it’s something that’s been talked about for years,” St. John said. “It’s always been tossed around, but nobody’s put structure to it and said, ‘Hey let’s do it.’”

St. John began looking into it and praying about it.

The name ‘the Stand’ comes from a song by Hillsong, St. John said.

“In the process of this, it kind of touched me and motivated me to take a stand and call this the stand,” St. John said.

About five of St. John’s friends from other churches have helped him start the ministry. However, St. John’s vision doesn’t involve having a church service—it’s bigger.

“Our goal is not to have a service,” St. John said.

Nobody involved in the Stand has been asked to leave their churches, St. John said. St. John hopes to develop a community within the Stand by ministering to people in the community who are disconnected from local churches. He is primarily reaching out 15 to 45 year olds.

“We communicate in a way that a 25-year-old would enjoy,” St. John said.

St. John wants the younger generation he reaches to not only attend the service, but to be discipled, or trained. He intends to accomplish this by getting them involved in small groups. Small groups are like Sunday school class, but meet in parks and people’s homes instead.

St. John also wants those involved in the Stand to have opportunities to serve. Getting people engaged in service is a part of giving them a purpose, St. John said.

Building bridges

There are currently about 50 people who volunteer to help with the Stand. About 30 of them are from LaFollette Church of God and 20 of them are from other churches. Many people from different churches from different denominations attended the Stand March 30.

“When you get a bunch of people from different denominations together to worship God, that’s an awesome thing,” said Krey Carson, youth pastor at New Horizon Baptist Church. “It’s just another night to worship God. Some people can’t get the chance Sundays.”