New Chapter for the Raleys

by Matthew Raley It has been several weeks since I've made any significant posts, for which I apologize. I have been preoccupied with some personal changes. I am excited that the Lord is leading me to take a church one-third the size of my current ministry.

I will be leaving the Orland Evangelical Free Church (OEFC) in one month and will become pastor of Grace Brethren Church (GBC) in Chico. (For readers not from California, Chico is 20 miles west of Orland.)

Chico is my hometown, and my parents and grandparents still live there. Bridget and I look forward to our boys Dylan (10) and Malcolm (5) being closer to Pops and Grandma. I'm also eager to be closer to my musical work, which centers on Chico State.

I have a personal connection to GBC, too. My grandpa Vere was an elder there in the final years of his life. I was encouraged to see him productive and busy with ministry among people he loved. This is a spirited group with a sense of calling and a strong desire to serve.

Our personal satisfactions, however, do not mask the challenge we face. The people at GBC have experienced many difficulties and are asking for a new direction. I will be the sole pastor, financial resources are low, and I hear many around town are skeptical.

Here's the story.

OEFC has grown significantly over the years. Part of the growth has come from other towns, Corning and Chico in particular. A sizable number of people have felt a strong enough kinship with the OEFC's focus on expository preaching and its philosophy of ministry to keep driving to Orland each Sunday. But our Chico and Corning attenders have always felt a strong desire to minister actively in their own towns. We have all felt that our worship together would be temporary.

So, two years ago, OEFC began exploring how to help our Corning attenders start a church there. They have done just that, holding the first service of Christ Community Church on February 13th at a school in Richfield under the leadership of Jeff Tollison.

When the opportunity with GBC came to my attention, I felt it might be a chance to do something similar in Chico. Perhaps OEFC might send the Chico attenders to join and refresh GBC. When the leadership GBC welcomed the idea, I knew I had to do something dangerous. I told the OEFC elder board of my strong desire to lead this effort myself.

That was a difficult thing to say in some ways. I knew my revelation would hit them hard, and I did not want to hurt the men I've served with closely for so many years. But, in another way, telling them about my desire was easy. I know these men. In spite of their sadness, I was certain they would see a new opportunity to help believers from another town.

And that's exactly how they responded. One of them said what the rest were thinking: "The Kingdom has to get bigger."

Together, we agreed to take another dangerous step: Tell the OEFC congregation about my desire. Again, this was difficult emotionally. I have served the Lord at OEFC for 12 years. I didn't want to hurt my congregation. But, again, telling them what was stirring in my heart-and-mind was the obvious step to take. I have always trusted them to receive hard things graciously. They are my colleagues.

Three weeks ago, the elders and I announced at OEFC the possibility that I would move to GBC. That evening, I told the congregation the story, took their questions, and asked them to pray for the Lord's leading the following Sunday when I candidated. There were many tears.

But since that meeting, person after person has spoken or written to Bridget and me, many after deep wrestling. They have variations of the same thought: we're sad, but we see the Lord leading you. One said, "I'm sad, but I'm full of hope." Another said, "We are planting you over there!"

These blessings are powerful to me because I know they come at a price.

GBC extended a call to me on February 20th, and I accepted. The two churches, OEFC and GBC, will worship together in a special service of dedication on April 3rd in Orland, colleagues now in something new.

My Students In Penang

by Matthew Raley Today, after sixteen hours of teaching over four days, I said goodbye to my students. It was difficult for me to do.

I didn't know what to expect of the class when I arrived. I wondered how extensive their Bible knowledge would be, whether they would have an understanding of doctrine, and what their English level would be. On all points, I was impressed.

To a person, they were deeply engaged in the subject of how to tell biblical stories. Most were experienced teachers, and articulated many problems of teaching the Bible. Their questions showed a keen interest in how to interact with their listeners effectively. They know the Bible well. There was little that was unfamiliar to them, in terms of the basics of biblical history and of hermeneutics. They were ready to move ahead.

I feel that I worked them pretty hard. My ways of analyzing biblical texts to discover meaning and application are in some ways different from established procedures. I ask different questions than many pastors ask. But the class pushed through the concepts and, I believe, understands them quite well.

Several came to me with projects they were working on, or problems they were having in teaching. The issues ranged from preaching to established congregations to developing stories for the children of dockworkers in Taiwan. It was clear that both younger and older students were using my grid to solve their problems, and that was highly encouraging to me.

Between classes, I was able to interact with an American missionary who had been in China for thirty years, and who expressed frustration with Western modes of teaching. For the first time, she said, she found some of the tools she was looking for. One of the most common problems I hear from missionaries is the disconnect between the way Westerners are trained to teach and the way most peoples of the world learn.

Another student was a young architect, who audited the class, sitting perfectly still, watching and listening intently, missing nothing, but absolutely silent. During one lengthy break, she began asking me probing questions, and we discussed the professional world she lived in, and the insular world of churches. She was exceedingly well informed about developments around the world. The fact that Malaysian Christianity has people filled with such cultural curiosity and professional savvy bodes well.

There were young men preparing to be pastors while working to provide for their families, like one young man who is here from South Korea, or caring for parents, like another who was taking his mother for cancer treatments between classes and sermon preparation.

Most of the students were preparing for lay work, which also will be a tremendous source of strength for churches. Many lay people do not have the zeal to gain real skill in God's Word. But these do, and they are succeeding.

It was hard to leave them today. I am energized by this level of dedication.