In early 1989, a team of thirty adults led by Gene Emerson gathered in Midlothian to plant a new church. Many of them came to faith in Christ during their college years. They didn’t want to merely attend a weekly service. They wanted to share life with like-minded Christians. Other’s along the Eastern seaboard had a similar vision as they too began to form groups in what would eventually become Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC).
For the first two years, Southside Church of Richmond met in a movie theater in Chesterfield Towne Center where the smell of popcorn accompanied the preaching of God’s Word. We grew quite adept at loading and unloading a bright yellow truck with all our Sunday service equipment, a skill we continued to hone during a stint at Midlothian High School (1991-1995) and nearly a decade at Swift Creek Middle School (1995-2005). More importantly, we learned how to live out our faith in community, meeting from house to house, sharing meals, and serving one another.
By the early 2000s, the church had grown to 400 members, purchased land for a building of their own, and was renamed KingsWay Community Church. On November 6, 2005, we dedicated our current facility on Charter Colony Parkway, which triggered a season of rapid numerical growth, including two church plants in Fredericksburg and Charlottesville.
All of that seemed to come to a crashing halt in 2010, when internal conflict roiled the church, prompting over half the 600-member congregation to leave over a two-year period. Sovereign Grace Churches, went through an upheaval of its own around the same time and founding members wondered if the church would survive. If was one of the most difficult times in our history.
In hindsight, the Lord exposed a lot of self-righteousness in our church culture during that period, as well as some significant weaknesses in our local and denominational leadership structures. He challenged us to become a more humble people who trust the power of God’s redeeming grace, not the perfection of our public image. We learned how to completely depend on the Lord to take what is broken and make it whole.
Over the next few years, Sovereign Grace adopted a more Presbyterian leadership structure, which significantly strengthened our partnership in fellowship, governance, and mission with other SGC churches. On a local level, our pastors grew in approachability and accountability, our church culture became more Christ-centered and less practice-centered, and our ministry model shifted from being staff-centered to more member-centered.
Around the same time, God graciously began to expand the ethnic diversity of our congregation. All kinds of different kinds of people with various personal and cultural backgrounds found spiritual home in our midst, including a growing number of Latino brothers and sisters.
In the middle of 2015, we experienced another season of sorrow when our founding pastor unexpectedly resigned. The circumstances surrounding his departure were deeply painful. This time, however, the church didn’t scatter. God helped us pull together, learn from our mistakes, and stay focused on our mission to help one another enjoy a growing relationship with God.
We knew from our experience back in 2010 that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, both in our personal lives and in the church. The good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection isn’t about the glory of man or the perfection of the church. It’s about the perfectly glorious God who saves sinners like us who never outgrow our need for a Savior.
In an ever-changing world, our task as Christians, our calling as a local church, and quite frankly, my primary job as a pastor, is not to come up with something new, but to be faithful with something old. God cares about his church too much to send her leaders up on some mountain every few years to come back with new marching orders. He’s already given us our mission and it’s found in Matthew 28:18-20.
On January 15, 2017, we called Matthew Williams, who grew up in the church and had served as an associate pastor at KingsWay since 2009, to be our new lead pastor. When asked if he had a new vision for the church, Matthew replied:
“In an ever-changing world, our task as Christians, our calling as a local church, and quite frankly, my primary job as a pastor, is not to come up with something new, but to be faithful with something old. God cares about his church too much to send her leaders up on some mountain every few years to come back with new marching orders. He’s already given us our mission and it’s found in Matthew 28:18-20.”
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Our story is inescapably bound up with His story. We can’t understand our story apart from His story. And because of His story, we have hope – a hope that compels and empowers us to help the people in our neighborhood, our city, and around the world come to know and follow Him.