Today, we continue our interview series with brother Lance Lewis, pastor of Christ Liberation Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. I first met Lance through the church's website a couple years back and later in person at the Miami Pastor's conference where he delivered an excellent address on reforming worship. Lance is good brother with a great love for the Truth of the Scriptures and for God's people. I trust you'll enjoy getting to know Lance; feel free to drop him additional questions in the comment section.
1. Where are you from originally?
In West Philadelphia born and raised on the playground where I spent most of my days:)
2. Were you raised in a Christian home? If so, what was your early church experience like? Tell us how you became a Christian?
No I wasn't. While my family wasn't actively hostile toward the Lord we certainly weren't a Christian home and never went to church together. My grandmother took me to one of the local Pentecostal churches (COGIC) when I was four or five and later on when I was around 12 I went to another Pentecostal church with an older cousin. I don't remember much about these experiences. I became a Christian through the witness of a very good friend. He grew up in a Christian home but did not claim to be or live like a believer for the first four years we hung out. Following his conversion he constantly told me and another good friend (Rev. Kevin Smith of Pinelands PCA) about the Lord and invited us to church. We went during one summer revival and after a message on salvation we went to the altar and committed our lives to the Lord. Following that we became members of that local Pentecostal church.
3. When and how did you decide to enter pastoral ministry? How long have you been in pastoral ministry?
I believed I got the call to pastoral ministry during my third year of college. Early in my walk with the Lord I had a strong desire to know and talk about the Scriptures. I was often asked to lead small bible studies in church and in college. During the time of my call I was seeking the Lord for further direction in life. While I was drawn to the prospect of teaching the Scriptures as a full time vocation I didn't know if that was me or the Lord. I enjoyed studying psychology (my college major) and was looking into possibly becoming a counseling psychologist but felt or sensed (hard to explain) a growing desire to preach and teach the Scriptures to God's people. One time while in prayer I felt (I cannot tell if it was me or the Lord) a particularly strong call to preach the word. I spoke to my pastor about this and he counseled me to continue seeking the Lord and set me up to preach a trial sermon. (In my tradition those who believed God has called them to the ministry are given the opportunity to preach what's called a 'trial sermon' usually on a Sunday afternoon or weeknight service which gives the pastor and congregation the chance to confirm the call).
In October 1984 I preached my trial sermon from Joshua 1 on the importance of following God's word and the pastor, my church and of course my mother and aunt agreed that I was called to preach.
I've been in full-time vocational ministry for 12 years and served as a full time lead pastor for 5 years.
4. How long have you been at your current church?
I've served at Christ Liberation Fellowship since it's inception in Nov. 2001.
5. Tell us about the church? How did the decision to plant a church out of Tenth come about? And how has the labor gone so far?
CLF actually grew out of my call to preach. I believed that my call was accompanied with a desire to start a church that would feature strong, biblical teaching, sustained community outreach and a warm, informal fellowship. I believe the social/religious context I was in affected these aspects of my call.
By the time God called me I had moved on from the church where I got saved to a larger Pentecostal church in another part of Philadelphia. I grew under the love and care of this church yet believed there were some crucial things missing from its ministry. At the top of the list was sound, systematic biblical teaching from the pulpit. Another was the lack of coordinated and concentrated good works which I believed served to demonstrate the compassion of our Lord and pave the way for beginning relationships in which God's people could share the gospel. During the late 80's I studied and embraced Reformed theology. Upon doing so we moved our membership to Tenth Presbyterian Church under the pastorate of Dr. James M. Boice. Though the venue changed my call didn't. However I now wanted to spread the truths of Reformed theology to those in my community.
I like to describe CLF as a reformed, neighborhood, multi-ethnic church that is committed to making disciples who make a difference in our community, our city and our world. We are a small group of God's people striving to walk before Him in holiness, delight in His Person, spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and have a great time doing it. My hope and prayer is that CLF will be the start of a church planting/revitalization movement in the greater Philadelphia area that promotes biblically driven church planting.
I want us to focus on having a strong teaching ministry, sustained community outreach and a warm, welcoming fellowship.
6. Why plant a predominantly African-American congregation instead of remaining at Tenth and helping African Americans settle there? Was there a particular neighborhood and/or reform agenda driving the decision to plant?
Good question. There were a number of reasons, but I'll list just a few. I first approached Tenth with the idea of planting a predominantly African-American church in the early 90's. My desire wasn't to perpetuate racial separation but to seek to expand our reform witness into areas of the city where it was absent.
My first thought was that the witness of the gospel may be best spread in a city like Philly with dozens of small to medium sized neighborhood churches, as opposed to large regional center city churches. Philly is a city of neighborhoods and it is my conviction that people in those neighborhoods should have access to a church they don't have to drive or take public transportation to. This is especially important since I believe that the church should pursue ways to live out our mandate to do good works (Eph. 2:10) which build relationships with community residents who should then be able to attend the church that's in their neighborhood.
Secondly, having embraced reformed theology I was convinced that African-Americans should be discipled based on what the Scriptures taught about God, man, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the church etc. Along with that I thought that it was biblically prudent and correct to present reformed theology and practice in a context that required those I was called to reach to cross as few cultural barriers as possible. I was concerned that remaining at Tenth would have sent the signal to blacks who embraced reformed theology that they could do so only if they were willing to check their culture and heritage at the door.
Third, while I certainly hold to the genuine multi-ethnic reality of the kingdom I believe that in light of our present ethnic context it's actually better for our white brothers and sisters to join with black believers, submit to black leadership and function as the minority in multi-ethnic settings. It seems too often that we speak of becoming multi-ethnic with the view that blacks should still be the minority in the church. Of course I'd love to have even more ethnicities within CLF. We're currently around 75% African-American and 25% Anglo-American. Lord willing we'll gather more and more believers from other groups also.
7. How has the church been received in the community so far, especially given the Reformed and Presbyterian nature of the church? Are you an odd duckling or does it matter much?
In many ways we are the odd man out. My relatives are encouraged by the messages and appreciate the warmth of our folks but make it clear to me that we are not a 'black church'. For others we certainly aren't your typical Reformed Presbyterian church. The community has appreciated our attempts to connect with them by reaching out and working for the good of the community however. I've come to realize that we will not fit easily in many of the current ethnic church categories. This was especially evident this past Good Friday when I shared the pulpit with several traditional black preachers, as well as one from the prosperity theology culture. My hope is that we'll become known for being a faithful witness to the gospel of our Lord, delighting in His great salvation, loving each other, our neighbors and our city and impacting the greater black community with reformed theology and practice.
8. What fruit is the Lord bearing in the people of the church so far?
God has graced us to have a congregation that is growing in our love for God, His word and the truths that speak of His salvation in Jesus Christ. I'm beginning to see God change much of what we've mistakenly learned about Christianity and orient us to His word. I'm grateful for the attitude of service He's developing among us and the many 20 somethings that hunger for good teaching and want to pair it with godly living. We're learning the discipline of patient prayer, growing in hospitality and have become more sensitive to areas such as biblical social justice and foreign missions. God has also grown us to have a desire to apply our theology to the city we live in.
9. What issues occupy the bulk of your prayer life for the church?
SPIRITUAL GROWTH, DEVELOPMENT, MATURITY AND TRANSFORMATION. I've come to see that the Christianity myself and many of my folks learned was deficient in that it failed to address real issues related to biblical change and growth. WE NEED THE GOSPEL, not the quasi bargain many of us have been taught is the gospel. Many of us have struggled with the same issues for years honestly believing that our 'breakthrough' was just around the corner. My prayer is that we will begin the patient task of leaning on our Lord, studying His word and seeing Him transform our lives.
10. As you look out over the African-American church, the PCA, and the wider evangelical church world, what things encourage you?
mmm... looking at the black church I see more cause for concern than encouragement. Yet, I'm grateful to know that there are some good solid teaching churches in Philly and thank God for their consistent gospel witness. I'm encouraged at their impact on black men in our community and desire to address some of the difficult issues in our city.
I'm more and more encouraged by what God is doing among African-American reformed brothers. I'm about to begin a reformation society with not one but two reformed Pentecostal pastors. I've fellowshipped with both and can't wait for us to work together to bring reform to the churches and communities of Philadelphia. The Council of Reforming Churches is a group I've wanted to participate in for a long, long time. I'm so grateful that brothers like yourself, Tony Carter, Michael Leach, Eric Redmond, Louis Love Jr. and others have joined together to see biblical theology impact the black church and African-American community. I'm encouraged by reading blogs like Pure Church, Non Nobis Domine, A Debtor To Mercy and Black Creole Reformer. More and more I marvel at what God is doing in the northeast as we've been blessed with a growing number of reformed churches led by black pastors like Gaithersburg Community Church with Tony Arnold, Forest Park Community Church (Balt. MD) with Sam Murrell, New Song Community Church (Balt. MD) with Thurman Williams, City of Hope Church (Columbia MD) with Irwyn Ince, Calvary Bible Church (Philly) with Doug Logan and The Church of God in the Word (Philly) with our brother Eric Wright.
We should all be grateful for churches like Tenth Pres in Philly for how they've taken the lead to serve the city and actively participate in planting churches throughout the region. Under the pastorate of our friend Dr. Phil Ryken Tenth continues to be a model for faithful, relevant, biblical ministry to the world and the reformed community. They've faithfully supported me for several years and have shown that Anglo churches can indeed plant daughter churches that model them in the essentials of theology and ministry philosophy while allowing diversity in non-essentials.
Regarding the wider evangelical world it does seem we're experiencing a growing hunger for transforming biblical theology. The CT article on Young, Restless and Reformed, the high attendance at Reformed conferences and the popularity of brothers like John Piper testify to the Lord's faithful shepherding of His people.
By God’s grace and power we may yet see a true revival for the glory of God, the expansion of Christ’s kingdom and the discipline of the nations.
For Christ, the Church and the Truth
Pastor Lance Lewis
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