HISTORY OF CLAYTON COMMUNITY CHURCH AND ITS PRESENT MOMENTUM
Adapted from a paper written by Jake Rosen at Fuller Seminary
“The Two Structures of the Church”
Clayton Community Church grew out of a missionary enterprise of the early seventies. The catalyst that the Holy Spirit used was a Godly couple named Wayne and Carolyn Carson, imported from Florida for the task. They were willing to go anywhere and ended up in St. Louis. Their missionary call solidified in Jewish missions, and they were employed by the Midwest Messianic Center.
Moishe Rosen, who later founded Jews for Jesus, happened to be coming through town during the interviewing process and was able to persuade the Director of the Midwest Messianic Center to send the Carson’s up to New York City for a six-month training program. This was during the time that Moishe was experimenting with the new evangelism tactics that would later characterize the “Jews for Jesus” organization. The Carson’s were taught to be cross-cultural in New York. Moishe had them read Jewish books, attend synagogue regularly and hang out with Jewish people. Their zeal for witnessing, that was nurtured at Florida Bible College, found a radical flexibility under the tutelage of Moishe. Many creative alternatives, like passing out broadsides, preaching on the streets, and participating in public demonstrations and parades, were tried. They would do anything to communicate the gospel message.
That bold enthusiasm came to St. Louis with them! A Thursday night youth meeting called “Kibbutz” really took off and became the focal point of their week. At Kibbutz you would find high school age hippies and some straight-laced types all sitting in a room together singing about Jesus. Electric guitars and drums were “in” at the time, and God provided abundantly. The music was excellent and it drew people, but this meeting also offered a concise, clear, and exciting presentation of the gospel message every week. That fact was the real drawing card! Kibbutz was the place that you brought your friends to hear the gospel. Over one hundred people went to Florida Bible College from the Kibbutz ministry in St. Louis. Thousands came through and heard the good news of the Savior. The presupposition underlying the ministry was that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16). As it happened in the first century, many Gentiles were coming to faith as well. Praise God!
Mainline churches had a hard time accepting the new young believers. Maybe their odd dress and manner was one problem. On the other hand, when some were accepted in a church, their love for “soul winning” would diminish. After much prayer and careful consideration, God gave Wayne the green light to start a new congregation.
John and Margaret Hancock came up from Florida to join in the effort and started a spin-off youth ministry from Kibbutz to the south. Paul Bennett, a Ford Executive, began a Kibbutz spin-off, working with youth in the north county area of St. Louis. As the church idea was gelling, God pointed out the Biblical pattern of plurality in the pastorate, so Wayne, John, and Paul joined together to become the first pastors of Clayton Community Church. In retrospect, this proved to be a wise decision because ordaining multiple pastors provided a natural avenue for developing lay leadership to rise to the top and become tested in the process. Later church expansion by multiplication was thus greatly facilitated, as was mutual accountability.
Flexibility was and is the key word. The new young believers were babes in Christ and needed to be nurtured. The church sprang from a vital mission effort. In this instance, that meant that nurture structures had a goal of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. Music policies were and are liberal, giving the musicians authority to go along with their responsibility as music ministers. Our attitude towards ownership of a church building was then looked upon as a possible burden. Money was instead channeled into missions, literature, salaries for staff, benevolence, and other people-centered projects. One-on-one discipling was encouraged very early on to help the lay individual take on his or her role as a minister of Christ. Doctrinal issues were also open to being rethought in light of the Scriptures. Leadership training was patterned after the model of Jesus and the twelve. This was to be a “tailor made” church. Not being bound by any one tradition, everything was rethought, and the plurality of the elders helped keep things from becoming too static and rigid.
Our strategy for church expansion through the multiplication of the local church was formed as a result of seeking Biblical models of how to grow His kingdom. It also makes sense that the “Bride of Christ,” the church, would have baby churches, and we thought that this method was ideal. But we didn’t want to narrow our strategy too far, so we continue to support missions as an effective and Biblical method greatly used by God. As a result of this multiplication strategy, North County Community Church was born. N.C.C.C. was our first attempt at multiplying whole bodies or churches.
Our Elders realized that we had an outreach strategy without knowing it when they read a book by Frank Tillepaugh, “Unleashing the Church.” The description of “target group ministries” fit what our church had been naturally doing already. Kibbutz, the Thursday night meeting that C.C.C. grew from, had made a dramatic transformation into an urban youth ministry. The Jewish emphasis and outreach was maintained through the efforts of my wife, Jeanne, and myself networking Jewish Believers all over town to maintain our Jewish identity and give the good news of Yeshua in a Jewish way. A prison ministry was going well. We were reaching out to international students and were dabbling in all sorts of outreach projects. Fostering that sort of creativity in “out of the fortress ministries” was the theme of the book. Tillepaugh advocates exploring what the Holy Spirit is doing with His people and encouraging those desires and outreach projects instead of using a program-centered approach. He did this in concrete terms and from a wealth of personal experience at Bear Valley Baptist Church in Denver.
We have grown in more ways than one since then. We started West County Bible Church in 1986, and our first spin-off North County, had it’s own daughter church, Christ Community Church shortly thereafter. Unfortunately that spin-off did not survive, but another church, called “Liberty,” rose from the ashes and seems to be thriving. We need to remember that we are growing God’s Kingdom, not our own, and His crucible is sometimes the best method.
Trials can produce maturity, and we’ve had our share. In June of 1995, Wayne Carson stepped down from the pastorate and publicly confessed to serious sin that had occurred many years previously, but it was God’s time for issues that needed to be resolved. We had just gotten into the first church building that we had ever owned two months before. God’s timing is flawless. The building has been a uniting project and really has helped to keep us together and focused.
Our target ministries have gained more focus and maturity. Since the Jewish work is so specialized, Jeanne and I have taken advantage of a training program offered by Fuller Theological Seminary and designed by Jews for Jesus specifically for their staff. We have been able to become full-time in Jewish ministry, and I was ordained as one of C.C.C.’s Pastors December 1991. The name of our inner city ministry is Jubilee. Charlie Bethel, one of our Pastors, heads up this vital work that has grown from the Thursday night Kibbutz meeting and is now a ministry that seeks to meet the needs of body, soul, and spirit. Jubilee is steadfast and continues to make progress in this hard area God has called them to. We have international students who come to church here because C.C.C. people bring them out and attend I.S.I. (International Students, Inc.) gatherings. GMF, Global Missions Fellowship, has extended our reach by organizing teams of our people to work with national churches around the world. Short-term missions with GMF, YWAM, and others have been exciting and fruitful!
Trials can produce maturity and blessing. It’s a rare thing for a church family to work through storms in unity. Over a decade ago, in 1997, God led us to reinstall Wayne Carson as one of the pastors after nearly three years of his stepping away from that post while remaining in the church. Psalm 133 teaches that brothers dwelling together in unity is good and pleasant. We try to keep it real here; in these things God is well pleased.
We enjoy harmony and blessing. God has humbled us, and we pray that God will continue to bless us. Like any family we have problems… May God weld us together through them! It is always a good thing to look back and consider what we are about, praise God for what He has done, and ask Him for vision and holy energy for the future!
“For I know the plans I have for you,”declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)