A Church Not Like Any Other: Outside-the-Box Approach Thrives in Oklahoma

 In All Church of God, Central, CHOG

By Kevin Spear

David Starr didn’t expect his wife’s reply. He was the pastor of a congregation in Sullivan, Illinois, and had just spent the evening teaching a spiritual gifts class. When his wife asked how the class went, David mentioned a lady struggling with her life’s purpose. “I encouraged the lady to ask, ‘If there was anything you wanted to do, what would keep you up all night talking about it?’”

David’s wife turned the tables on him and asked him the same question. Stunned, he realized his passion was still for the next generation and youth. The next thing he knew, they had spent four hours discussing what God could have in store.

Eighteen months later, they stepped out in faith. He resigned from his pastorate and moved to Oklahoma, where he had some connections. David remarked, “My family thought I was crazy. I had no job yet, but I was following God.”

David sensed God calling him to a different kind of ministry. “I met with the Board of Church Extension in Oklahoma. After I tried to explain my vision, they said, ‘Wait a minute. You want to start a church that’s not like any other church?’”

He continued to seek God for direction on how to begin. He went to the nearest elementary school and interviewed the principal and school counselor. They gave excellent advice on what the community needed. The principal wisely cautioned, “Whatever you do, don’t stop in six months. Whatever you build, keep with it!”

David asked for the top three needs of the community. A survey was emailed to the school staff. The replies overwhelmed him. It was way bigger than he had imagined. He asked God where he should begin. “The Lord said, ‘Take one need and start there.’”

Network Ministries is promotes prayer and is covered by prayer.

Based on the responses, Network Ministries, Inc. was born with eight programs and weekend services for children and youth. It has operated for twenty years. Five years ago, the ministry narrowed its focus to the three most popular programs:

  1. Trail Life USA
  2. American Heritage Girls
  3. Unlimited Possibilities Martial Arts

In addition, David regularly has a small group ministry for adults. The church also sponsors events like the local Pinewood Derby, a large Trading Camp for kids, adventure camps, and martial arts tournaments.

He encourages people to take what they experience at Network Ministries and take it back to their churches.

He says, “A woman once told me, ‘I wish our church loved and treated people the way everyone here does.’ I responded, ‘Why don’t you take this same kind of love back to your church? You can do what we do here. Being the body of Christ is not limited to any one person or church!’”

When the ministry began, David became bivocational. He started Green Star Lawn Services and became an adjunct professor for his alma mater, Mid-America Christian University.

Just a Little Different

Network Ministries is a church, though it differs from a traditional model. “We had weekend services until five years ago. Dave Starr ran out of steam.” He also observed, “We teach the gospel and disciple youth and families each week.”

“We work to minister to anyone, even those who do not believe in God yet. We build a relationship with them and look for opportunities to share more about Christ with them.”

David also has seen God work through the thirty or more volunteers throughout the year. “We had a volunteer named Bill whose daughter has Down’s Syndrome and his son had seizures. Bill ended up with liver cancer which added more stress to their family situation. They needed money for a trip to Dallas for their son to have a brain scan.”

Martial arts ministry

“One day, his wife left him. Then he had liver cancer. He needed $700 to make the trip to Tulsa for treatment. I began lamenting to my wife we weren’t in a traditional church and couldn’t conduct a love offering. But she challenged me to do the same within our ministry.”

“The volunteers came through. The generosity humbled Bill. I told him to thank the Lord. I said, ‘You’re worth it, Bill.’ He replied, ‘I know. But it’s just me!’”

David ministered to Bill until he passed away. Bill’s wife Diana passed away from a car accident about one year after Bill died. Once again, the families of Network Ministries came through to continue ministering to their children.

Ministry and Rest

After twenty years of leading Network Ministry and being a bivocational pastor, David has learned the wisdom of rest and burnout prevention. He continues to conduct spiritual gift classes for his volunteers. “When you serve out of your giftedness for God, it’s not difficult because that is how God has put you together.”

But more than that, he ensures they have a reduced schedule in the summer and take periodic breaks throughout the calendar year. “Volunteers don’t burn out when we give them time to rest.”

They also make sure volunteers take breaks when crises arise. A volunteer had to take time off because his dad had a medical emergency. He thanked everyone for stepping up and running his part of the ministry while he was gone.

Network Ministries offers a variety of community engagement opportunities.

It’s that kind of care that David determined Network Ministries should show. “I’ve tried to build it to support and care for volunteers. He challenges the volunteers use the same approach with the people they serve.

After twenty years of Network Ministries, David believes wholeheartedly he is right where God wants him to be. From the beginning, he committed twenty years to Network Ministries, Inc. Now that the twenty years is up, he said, “God has not changed my heart or direction at all.”

He and his team of volunteers have plans to keep growing their caring network of families who are seeking to be the body of Christ to every person they can. He also continues to love teaching and mentoring future ministers at MACU.

Kevin Spear worked for Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press) and has regularly contributed time and talent to the work of Church of God Ministries. Today, he is Content Creator and Storyteller for OneHope in Pompano Beach, Florida. He is also a ministry partner with his wife Paula, a kid’s director for the Christ Fellowship Church—Westlake, Florida, campus.

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