Lake Highlands Church’s 50th Anniversary
“Whatever It Takes”
What would it take for church members steeped in a strictly defined, conservative tradition to abandon themselves to the living Holy Spirit and to join with other believers in God’s work of redeeming the world?
For Lake Highlands Church over the last 50 years, it’s taken the courage, humility and faith to:
- acknowledge they don’t have all the answers while inviting others to share in God’s story;
- risk being authentic and repent of self-righteousness, rather than expecting people to be “cleaned up” before they’re accepted;
- seek to truly grow as God-followers, rather than just gather to “do church” on Sundays;
- follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, rather than cling to “the way we’ve always done things here;”
- commit to walk in covenant community, rather than leaving when things get tough;
- invest—even sacrificially—in the lives of people who are very different culturally, ethnically and economically, rather than hold a segregated service for ethnic minorities;
- understand that the body of Christ is bigger than any denomination, nation, tribe or tongue, rather than to expect newcomers to “do it our way.”
In other words, at Lake Highlands, it takes Jesus.
Over the years, the congregation has focused on seeking the kingdom of God, gradually letting go of denominational distinctives that can divide believers and restrain the work of the Holy Spirit.
The church’s vision statement is simple: “Whatever it takes.” Posted boldly on a banner in the auditorium, it reminds members that the world needs the message of God’s radical rescue and redemption.
The banner’s “fine print” speaks words reminiscent of the Apostle Paul: “By the power of the Holy Spirit, we commit all that we are and all that we have to be Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation to His body and to the world until He comes. Whatever it takes.”
Looking back at the church’s journey through its first half-century, it’s clear that the vision statement is more than a clever slogan.
Today, as Lake Highlands Church celebrates its 50th anniversary, it celebrates its roots as a congregation that from the very beginning wanted to reach its neighborhood and the world for Christ.
New church plant
Back in the late 1950s, Lake Highlands was a rapidly growing part of northeast Dallas. So elders at the Shamrock Shores Church of Christ, near the Dallas Arboretum, commissioned three deacons—Perry Barnes, Paul Wrye and Wilmer McCallum—and their families to start a new congregation in what was “a very fertile field in which to establish the Lord’s church.”
Elders provided a down payment of $1,350 for four and a half acres of land on McCree Road off Audelia, and asked the new church’s fledgling membership to pick up monthly payments of $124. They did so almost immediately. At the first worship service on Sept. 14, 1958, some 39 people placed membership.
Preaching minister Curtis Camp, who also preached at Shamrock Shores, offered a word of encouragement that turned out to be prophetic.
“You are willing to leave your former place of work and worship and come to a place where you will have to make sacrifices and endure some discomfort in order that your friends and neighbors may know the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Always remember that you are here to save souls, not to please yourselves.”
At first, the new congregation held services in rented space at the U.S. Army Reserve Building on Northwest Highway. They had to meet early—at 7:45 a.m. for Bible study and 8:40 a.m. for Sunday morning worship—because a new Lutheran church that shared the facility was already meeting at 10 a.m.
The first Sunday, 92 people attended Bible study, 96 came for morning worship and 98 for evening worship. Seventy people attended the midweek service at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Contributions totaled $318.39.
In the first bulletin produced by Lake Highlands Church of Christ, the preacher challenged the new congregation to consider carefully why they were there: “The church is now in Lake Highlands because of your love for the Lord and your desire for your neighbors to love Him too! The church is here because of your unselfishness.
“Harmony and love will always prevail among you if you will but remain just as loving, humble and harmonious as you are now.
“Do not set up standards, set precedents or make decisions that will limit what you are able to do in the Lord’s work here. . . . By examples in Christian living and by the faithful proclamation of the Word, this church will be truly ‘as a city set on a hill’ unto all about in this community.”
The following week, he exhorted church members to continue as they had started: “If we can just maintain the enthusiasm which is now being manifested, only Heaven can know the good which this church shall be able to do.”
After meeting at the Armory for about four months, Lake Highlands Church of Christ met for a few months in the chapel at Garland Road Church of Christ and finally in the cafeteria in the Lake Highlands Elementary School (now the Lake Highlands Junior High) while its new building was under construction. Within a year of being launched, the congregation moved into its new building on Sept. 9, 1959.
With the concept of the megachurch years into the future, the new worship facility on McCree Road was fairly modest. Yet except for a few modifications, Lake Highlands has met in the same place for 50 years.
At the time the church building was constructed, Churches of Christ worked off the model of neighborhood centers, planning for about 250-300 in each location. The new Lake Highlands Church of Christ building included an auditorium that is now the fellowship hall (the baptistery was located near the kitchen sink) and about half of its current classrooms. More classrooms were added in 1963. Two years later, in May 1965, the church moved into the new auditorium, which seats up to 500.
Lake Highlands Church has had seven preaching ministers in its 50-year history. Early on, there were quick turnovers. Gene Fooks took over from Curtis Camp in 1962, followed by Wayne England in 1963.
Hank Tankersley became preaching minister in 1966. In 1970, Abilene Christian University professor Henry Speck served as interim for a year.
The pace slowed down in 1972, when Ron Milton began a 12-year tenure as the preaching minister. Current pastor Jim Reynolds has doubled that length of service, preaching for 24 years now.
Church elders over the years have included Roy Bench, James Brush, Bill Bryan, Eddie Calvert, Chuck Chance, Carl Couch, Kline Fittz, Joe Florence, Prock Gambel, Oran Haseltine, Mike King, George LaRoe, Ted Loyd, L.D. McCoy, Ron Milton, Greg Muns, Al Olson, Jim Parker, Noel Parker, Bob Paul, Louis Randolph, Jim Reynolds, Hiram Sloan, Truman Spring, Travis Vanderpool, George Walker, Glenn Wamble, Bob Wardlaw, Gene Wolf and Paul Wrye.
Among the church’s staff have been administrators David Lewis, Charles Cayce and Dennis Coleman; youth pastors Andy Holmes, Jimmy Reynolds and Donny Martin; singles and small groups pastor Ty Lovell, pastoral care coordinator Pat Brooks; worship pastor David Chrane; lifegroups pastor Donjalea Chrane; Child Enrichment Center staff Ruth Loney, Donna Johnson, Tonya Perkins, Rikki Flowers, Sandy Brush and Paula Whited; secretaries Judy Bowyer, Jeanne Sloan, Julie Dawson and Leslie Berry; financial administrator Joy Schweng; administrative assistants Larae Barton and Kerri Tropp; children’s pastors Marlys Moseley and Jane Spring; and maintenance staff Clayton Whalley.
Early church roots
When George Walker arrived in 1959, he said Lake Highlands was typical for its era. “It was pretty much like the old traditional Church of Christ,” he said. “Hats and gloves were real common, and men had a tie on every Sunday.”
Lake Highlands’ fellowship times centered around church picnics, occasional golf tournaments and midweek covered-dish dinners, he added.
Jan Shewmaker saw it as more of a “social club” in the 1960s. “There’s nothing wrong with lots of church activities,” she said, “but you’d never ask someone on a Sunday morning how they were doing spiritually. You’d have gotten a strange look. That just wasn’t done.”
And it was definitely a Church of Christ congregation: no instruments were allowed during worship, services were “orderly” and public ministry was limited to men.
Churches of Christ grew out of the restoration movement led by Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell in the 18th and 19th centuries. Early leaders sought to abandon creeds, stamp out denominationalism and promote unity among believers by restoring the practices of the first-century church.
They closely followed the dictates of New Testament verses: congregations were autonomous and rejected denominational oversight; they used no instruments during Sunday services because Eph. 5:19 urged Christians to “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord”; and they took the Lord’s Supper every week.
Though they are well-known for their diligent study of the Scriptures, Churches of Christ believe that baptism is required for salvation (based on Acts 2:38) and do not teach the security of believers.
At some Churches of Christ, the New Testament admonitions are followed so scrupulously that installing a church kitchen can be divisive because of Paul’s comment in 1 Cor. 11:22: “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in?”
“Some were opposed to eating at the church building,” said George, a longtime member and former elder. “They were perfectly willing to go out on the porch and eat there.
“When we built the kitchen, we lost members. We lost members over just about everything you could think of. When we dimmed the lights the first time during a worship service, and every time we changed preachers.”
Though the restoration movement was intended to bring about church unity, it ended up instead being divisive. Some Churches of Christ interpret Scripture so “precisely” even today that many members would be reluctant to acknowledge that persons outside the fellowship might also be Christians. Rather than being “Christians only,” some consider themselves to be the “only Christians.”
Yet while changes at Lake Highlands prompted some people to leave, others were drawn to its atmosphere of grace.
By the 1970s, the church was showing an openness to change, yet it also wanted to keep its Church of Christ connections, said Ron Milton, who was pastor from 1972-1984. “They were courageous enough to be an ‘uncola’ church,” he recalled. “The elders practiced grace. They were pretty brave men to withstand complaints and criticisms.”
Spontaneous singing was in vogue, Ron said, when members would stand and call out a number of a hymn or song to sing. That was a departure from the traditional way of doing things.
And George Walker led a “phenomenal” visitation team that functioned like a lifegroup for its members, said Ron. “That was a time you could knock on someone’s door and they’d let you in,” he said.
Bible classes at Lake Highlands were “top-notch” under education director Jimmy Gale’s leadership, Ron said. But the church also began hosting speakers that would not have been accepted in many Church of Christ circles. “The congregation’s willingness to entertain Bible school literature that was cutting edge” moved the church beyond the denominational comfort zone, Ron added.
Pushing the envelope even further, elders would sometimes agree to lay hands on people who were seriously ill. “That did us in with a lot of people,” Ron recalled.
Longtime member Glenn Wamble said Lake Highlands was also raising eyebrows because some folks had begun praying in tongues and believed in present-day miracles. “It did not require members to believe that the Bible buried the Holy Spirit,” Glenn said. “We enjoyed our Christianity rather than feared and resented aspects of it.”
Message of grace
Many members credit Ron Milton with laying the foundation for dramatic changes to come. Elder Mike King, who has been at Lake Highlands since 1979, said Ron’s messages were “heavily grace-oriented—something we’d never heard about.”
Ron said he learned about God’s grace while serving a church in Tulsa, Okla. Some of it was due to his natural temperament, he said, which leaned toward mercy. But he also learned from grace-themed works such as K.C. Moser’s 1957 The Gist of Romans. He also developed ecumenical friendships with people from a variety of denominations—Episcopal, Methodist and Catholic—while taking a clinical pastoral education program.
“I felt a lot more comfortable with ‘denominational’ people,” he said. “That really turned me on, becoming friends with other Christians and leaving judgment behind. I just simply passed it on to others.”
Longtime members remember Ron’s presence in the pulpit and his pastoral gifts. Bill Bourland said that while people might not necessarily recall what Ron preached, they do remember how it made them feel.
“When he preached in the pulpit, it was as if he had his arm around you,” he said. “We received it as a message of grace.”
Jan Shewmaker, who was experiencing some personal crises with extended family members at the time, said Ron taught her pastoral skills: “Ron taught me more than anybody about walking through grief: You just go and sit there, and not ever open your mouth.”
She also credits church elders in the 1960s and 1970s—like Roy Bench, Jim Parker and Chuck Chance—for modeling strong leadership as the church pursued grace and eventually broke with some of the more legalistic aspects of its heritage. “The elders were under the fire,” Jan said. “They were brave men—they trusted God.”
Charles Cayce, a former church administrator, said that Lake Highlands really began moving beyond its roots in the early 1970s as members began studying the Bible and questioning some of the things that had been traditionally taught in Churches of Christ.
“There was a need to share those questions in a healthy way,” he said, “and in an atmosphere of love and encouragement. That atmosphere is what Lake Highlands provided.
“The greatest blessing of Lake Highlands, though, was the love for each other, based on being saved by grace through faith,” he added. “That unity led by the Holy Spirit helped us survive many less important issues. Lake Highlands provided the place for hundreds, if not thousands, to discover the fellowship of the saints in the bond of love and grace.”
By the 1980s, Lake Highlands had earned the reputation of being a “spiritual hospital,” drawing individuals who’d been spiritually wounded and even rejected by other churches because they’d admitted their struggles with alcoholism, divorce or homosexuality.
“It became a magnet for a lot of disenfranchised people,” said church administrator Dennis Coleman. “But sometimes disenfranchised people can develop an attitude—that we are saved by grace, so it doesn’t matter what we do. A lot of what we do now—discipleship, community, spiritual disciplines—would have sounded like legalism back then.”
By the 1990s, Lake Highlands had gone through dramatic changes in its understanding of the Holy Spirit, the role of women, worship style and authentic community, and had moved beyond its Church of Christ affiliation in all but name only. That was about to change.
On March 19, 1999, a car that had been parked by youth group member Lynsey Wardlaw slipped out of gear, rolled across the parking lot and crashed into the church sign. Rather than replace the original sign, members felt it was more appropriate to leave off the “of Christ” part of it.
Now simply called Lake Highlands Church, the congregation is interdenominational and welcomes people from such diverse backgrounds as Episcopal, United Methodist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Disciples of Christ and Bible churches.
It didn’t happen without considerable growing pains, however.
Most members today credit current pastor Jim Reynolds with taking Lake Highlands a quantum leap forward in its journey toward becoming interdenominational. He had already gone through dramatic changes in his own spiritual walk, which led him in a roundabout way to Lake Highlands.
When Jim was hired as Lake Highlands’ preaching minister in 1984, he was also working as a family-law attorney in Fort Worth, where he and his wife, Donna, still live. Then-elder George Walker admitted he was concerned that the new pastor wasn’t moving to Dallas. “I was afraid it wouldn’t last,” he said, “but Jim made it last, for which I’m very thankful.”
Indeed, Jim maintained his dual career in law and ministry for 22 years before he retired as a partner in the Whitaker Chalk law firm. He still does mediation work for Dale O’Neall and Associates.
Jim said his passion for ministry enabled him to keep up as Lake Highlands’ preaching minister. He began carrying a large briefcase with him during the week: Whenever he “got a word” while mulling over a passage of Scripture, he’d pull out his sermon notes and jot it down, then slip it back into the briefcase. By Thursday or Friday, he had his preaching text.
“I’d be percolating on it all week,” he recalled. “I’d be sitting in a courtroom, reading and praying, and thinking, ‘How does this really work in people’s lives?’”
His dual career ended up serving the church well; Lake Highlands members know the importance of living out their faith in the marketplace.
Jim sometimes jokes that he has more degrees than anyone he knows: He holds a bachelor’s and master’s of divinity degree from Abilene Christian University and a doctorate from the Graduate Theological University, Berkeley, California (1974).
His decision to also earn a law degree from SMU (1981) was not just an academic whim. He wanted to be financially independent from a church salary, having been criticized at other congregations for going beyond traditional Church of Christ teachings.
“What started happening is there were Church of Christ views that I no longer agreed with,” he said, such as the prohibition on instrumental music and the belief in the cessation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “I was on the outs with them.”
Changes in his theological perspective, he said, came about through reading Scripture and praying, studying the writings of Christians outside the Churches of Christ, examining the history of Christianity and opening himself up to the Holy Spirit.
During the 1970s, his preaching message met resistance and criticism from elders at several Churches of Christ, as well as related institutions that included his alma mater, Abilene Christian University. When a 1976 headline in the Dallas Times Herald announced that his Park Row Church of Christ “welcomed charismatics,” Jim was grilled for several hours by several hundred area Church of Christ pastors.
That’s when he headed for law school. “I feel like I was spit out of a whale or something,” he said. “I hated law school, but hated depending on the Church of Christ more.”
For a while, he became discouraged, and quit preaching altogether. Then he grew weary of church life altogether. By the summer of 1984, he resonated with the lyrics of a Keith Green song: “My eyes are dry/My faith is old/My heart is hard/My prayers are cold.”
“That’s me,” he recalled feeling. “I’m alienated from the Church of Christ. We are struggling in our marriage. My dreams had died. The cocoon I’d grown up in had exploded. It was gone. It was a shock for a boy who had grown up in the Church of Christ. Spiritually, I’m in the desert. I’m not in a good place.”
Still, he felt called by God to be a preacher; his greatest passion was studying Scripture and communicating biblical truths. So when he learned that Lake Highlands needed a preacher, he contacted the elders.
“It’s what I knew how to do,” he said. “I was on life support. I’d been on the edge—snickering at church where I’d been attending—and it was my way of getting back into church. Lake Highlands had very nurturing leaders. They kind of saved my life.”
Elder Oran Haseltine suggested that Jim and Ron split the pastor’s duties—and salary—at Lake Highlands. Jim took on the preaching duties at Lake Highlands in November 1984 while Ron began focusing on the more pastoral-care duties such as hospital visitation, counseling, and performing weddings and funerals. Ron eventually left Lake Highlands to become a full-time family counselor.
Ironically, when Jim came on board, he and Donna had been seeing Ron for marriage counseling, but had not yet shared their struggles with the congregation.
Jim said there were Sundays he came in to preach, “feeling awful” in the midst of his spiritual wilderness experience, but then the assembly’s praise would turn him around. “God would show up and work through my weakness,” he said.
By July 1989, however, he and Donna had come to an impasse in their 21-year marriage. Meanwhile, Lake Highlands had been experiencing a spiritual renewal since February 1989, but Jim was not the one leading it.
“I thought I wanted to divorce,” he recalled. “I’m looking for the American dream. I’m grappling with the psychobabble that I’m a fool for staying in my marriage.” When he told Donna that he probably wanted a divorce, she spent the night in prayer and repentance.
“That started a long repentance in the same direction,” he said. “I’m reluctant, but God is putting love back in my heart and reinvigorated us. I finally repented and became a covenant man instead.”
Jim had also earned credentials as a licensed professional counselor, which he now calls “a real introduction to paganism,” and has published numerous articles and one book, Secrets of Eden, God and Human Sexuality (1974). He taught religion, theology, philosophy and biblical studies at Pepperdine University and the University of Texas in Austin, and is an adjunct professor at Dallas Christian College.
He continues to study during a month-long sabbatical each year, when he takes classes at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
But all that pales, he says, compared to what he’s learned walking in community with members of Lake Highlands. He occasionally admits from the pulpit that if it wasn’t for the dogged love of this faith community, he’s not sure he’d still be married to the same woman for over 35 years.
A year after his decision to stay married, Jim took it a step further. During a church wide retreat in August 1990, he shared his personal struggles with the folks at Lake Highlands. Though he hadn’t planned on it, he just stopped in the middle of his teaching text to say, “I want to tell you what’s going on in our lives,” and confessed that a year earlier he’d wanted to divorce his wife.
“The church was in the middle of a work of God,” Jim recalled of the church’s response. “It was nothing but wrapping arms around me.
“That’s when I joined the church. At 13, I was water baptized, but I joined the church at 48. The church became home; it became family. I moved from a contractual relationship with the church, where I just rendered services, to a covenant, a marriage to the church.”
His newfound honesty made a huge difference, he said, in how he and Donna approached their participation in lifegroups.
“Preachers have a one-way mirror,” he said. “They see you but you don’t see them. The one-way mirror was busted. It’s a two-way deal now. For the last 18 years I’ve been talking about my life.”
It’s no surprise that Lake Highlands members make it a priority to walk in community by participating authentically in a lifegroup. About 85 percent of Lake Highlands members belong to a lifegroup, a percentage that many churches would envy.
Lifegroups pastor Donjalea Chrane, who is also Jim’s daughter, came on board in 1999. She credits her dad with building into the church the vision for discipleship and pastoring one another.
“He was realizing we cannot do this alone—God was shaping this in him,” she said. “He’s really led the church in being an authentic place of community.”
Lake Highlands elders disbanded the church’s Sunday evening worship service in the late 1980s to encourage members to participate in small groups—the forerunner of today’s lifegroups. George Walker said it was one of the best decisions they ever made: Small-group attendance on Sunday nights grew 80 percent.
Those who were invested in lifegroups have formed the core of the church. Some of the early lifegroups were led by people who are still members today, including Gabriella and Glenn Owen, and David and Nancy Isenberg. Many members have been able to weather the church’s transitions because of their commitment to their lifegroups, where people hold them accountable and share in their joys and struggles.
Some have been at Lake Highlands Church for 25 years or more. They include (with years they came in parenthesis): James and Sandy Brush (1978), Bill and Shelly Bourland (1982), Ann Dunaway (1974), Mike and Carole Kerby (1967), Mike and Micki King (1979), L.D. McCoy (1977), Marlys Moseley (1976), Jeanette Prestridge (1969), John and Jan Shewmaker (1969), George and Peggy Walker (1959) and Glenn Wamble (1972).
At first, small groups had no common direction or teaching theme. Some were seriously struggling.
“That’s when I thought we need to be about growing up shepherds,” Jim said. “We had home churches falling apart. We had casualties left and right. We needed to get serious about community. We’re gonna get on the same page with what we want the family to do.”
In early 1998, Jim started pouring into the lifegroup leaders, casting a vision for what the groups could be. The Lifegroup Leaders class he started still meets at 8:15 a.m. Sundays.
Some 50 adult leaders and 30 youth leaders receive training each week in shepherding small groups. They also get counsel for points of struggle and encouragement in their call as servant-leaders. The class has trained an ever-expanding base of lifegroup leaders who are “pastoring” the church.
“That was a real turning point for the church,” said Dennis Coleman, who sometimes teaches the class when Jim is out of town. “It may have survived without that, but it would not be thriving like it is today.”
Lifegroups meet spiritual needs for their members, but they also serve as a vehicle for outreach and serving the body at large. Today, much of the ministry at Lake Highlands is done through lifegroups: Members serve the Lord’s Supper, prepare fellowship times and serve in the children’s ministry program as a lifegroup.
They also engage in discussion each Sunday during a Discipleship Training Session (DTS) hour, which has replaced the church’s Sunday school classes for adults. Jim teaches for 30 minutes and then lifegroups meet for another 40 minutes for personal application and sharing time.
“The emphasis is on actually ‘doing it’ within the context of community, rather than just learning more about it,” said Don Harris, who often teaches the DTS hour. “This is having a major impact on who we are.”
“It’s life,” Donjalea said. “We’re desperate and we need it.”
We all struggle
The invitation to authenticity in lifegroups extends to whomever shows up. For instance, when church administrator Dennis Coleman came to Lake Highlands in 1993, he heard another member, Michael Perkins, share openly at a lifegroup about his struggles with homosexuality.
“I was stunned,” Dennis recalled, adding he’d never felt comfortable sharing his own similar struggles in a church setting before.
But the church’s universal focus on “confess your sins to one another” lifted the shame by treating homosexuality as just one of a number of sins. After witnessing the redemption of people struggling with homosexuality at Lake Highlands, Jim wrote a 2007 book, The Lepers Among Us, in which he urged other churches to do the same.
During the mid-1990s, many single adults were drawn to Lake Highlands, Dennis recalled. “It was an open place to talk about your struggles because there was the freedom to talk about it. It just came out.”
Dennis’ own story is one of redemption and restoration. He was asked to step down from his role as the church’s youth minister in 1995 after he’d “acted out” his tendencies toward same-sex attraction. The issue was brought before the whole congregation, including parents of youth group members. He thought it would be a quick meeting and he’d end up leaving in disgrace.
Instead, it was the beginning of his restoration to ministry. When he confessed his sin, “hands started going up around the room and people started sharing what they were struggling with.”
Church members pledged to continue ministering to Dennis, and he was urged to stay in the congregation. Dennis was eventually restored to a position on the church staff, something that’s rarely seen in most churches. He also married; he and his wife, Julie, have a daughter.
It was not the first time a staff member had undergone restoration.
David Lewis, who came on staff in early 1996 as church administrator, confessed publicly during an assembly in December 1998 that he had had an extramarital affair. He suffered the loss of his counseling license, as he’d had the affair with a client.
But Jim commissioned the church to stand with David and his wife, Pam, as a two-year process of restoration began. Jim met with David weekly, and full restoration was at the heart of what Jim taught the church to be about with David, who stayed on as a staff member with reduced responsibilities during this time. After his restoration, David became a full-time staff counselor in December 2002 at Cross Timbers Church in Argyle, Texas.
Though many churches shun leaders who fail, restoration of broken leaders is a theme of Lake Highlands Church.
Among them has been elder Truman Spring, who acknowledged publicly in the early 1990s the brokenness and restoration of his marriage to Jane. These confessions, along with a host from members, have paved the way for the kind of authenticity and accountability that has drawn many others ever since.
The Chranes said the restoration of Dennis Coleman was huge for the congregation. “Dennis has major administrative gifts,” David Chrane said, “but the No. 1 thing he brings is he knows how valuable this community is. He never left the church.”
Donjalea added: “Dennis has helped prune us. He’s taken the heat. It’s so good—so rich. He’s been a blessing.”
Jim dedicated his book on ministering to homosexuals to seven men in the church who have struggled with same-sex attraction. “I began to see how powerful the blood of Christ is, the Holy Spirit and the church, fathering and mothering the way people didn’t get it the first time,” Jim wrote. “I’m watching how God through the body is lifting shame off, and the Spirit is dispelling lies. There really is transformation here.”
Several of the men share their stories in the book, writing of feeling accepted at Lake Highlands, even in the midst of their struggle.
“I was not made to feel like my sin disqualified me from Jesus or from their friendship,” wrote Michael Perkins, who is also married now, of the church members who befriended him. “Real people living out real life—what a concept. If I hadn’t have experienced this for myself, I don’t think that I would have believed it.”
Dennis added: “For the first time in my life I began to tell the truth. They told the truth, too, so I was not the identified patient or project of the group. This happened week after week for 10 years and I did not receive rejection!”
And Wesley Chin wrote: “Having grown up in the church, one of my greatest fears was to be disfellowshiped. More specifically, it was to be caught in sin and to bring shame upon myself and on my family. . . . It has taken me a long time to overcome years of defense mechanisms and to say what I’m thinking and share what’s really on my heart. It still scares me, but not nearly as much. Why? Because I know without a doubt that these people love me. Thy are invested in me and they absolutely will not give up on me.”
Freedom in worship
Though Jim had long believed that instrumental music should not be a source of contention in the Churches of Christ, it was still a hurdle Lake Highlands had to overcome. So it was not without some anxiety that elders first allowed worship leaders to use instruments in Sunday morning services.
Bill Bourland was part of the assembly committee in the early 1990s. “It was not all sweetness and love,” he recalled. “There was some intensity in those meetings.” But he added that George Walker was “always a shepherd of peace. He has the compassionate heart of Jesus. You could just sense the peace of Jesus over the church and the leadership.”
George said his strategy as an elder was to listen to those who held a different point of view then delve into Scripture for himself. “I liked to do a little studying on it,” he said.
He and the other elders finally agreed in 1994 that worship leader Kirk Nofsinger could use a guitar during the assembly. As expected, not everyone was pleased. But a change like that didn’t happen without a lot of prayer and study.
“These weren’t just snap decisions,” George said. “I would have felt very uneasy about the changes we made if we hadn’t prayed about it. We saw prayer change people’s minds. I depend on it, and I think as a group of elders, we depended on it, too. We didn’t do anything without praying about it.”
It was hard to see some folks leave—best friends in the church were sometimes separated over issues, George said—but elders nevertheless agreed that the changes they made did not conflict with Scripture.
Charles Cayce, church administrator at the time, said many members at Lake Highlands longed for a greater expression in praise music. Worship leaders tried to be considerate and include various musical styles, including both contemporary and traditional music, and a choir sang periodically for many years. “There was usually some healthy balance that allowed all to participate,” Charles said.
With greater freedom, a question was soon raised, recalled Ty Lovell, then singles pastor: “Do we continue to confine worship to what we believed was an unbiblical mandate against instruments, or do we move forward in the freedom of Scripture’s true boundaries and the Holy Spirit?”
Lake Highlands had been in a worship revival mode since the early 1990s, Ty said, and had hosted several praise nights with Christian musicians John Elliott and Dennis Jernigan. Church leaders began asking, “Why can’t this be the norm?” Ty said.
Instrumental worship services on Saturday nights were the training ground for many members who wanted to learn how to lead with instruments. That’s when God began assembling “an incredible praise team that has continued to this day,” said Ty. “Words cannot express the incredible season of walking into a new freedom of praise and worship, where people where being released to use all the gifts God had given them.”
By the mid-1990s, people were lifting up their hands in worship, clapping and offering spontaneous praise, something you were not likely to see in a traditional Church of Christ service. But the volume really turned up in 1999 when David Chrane came on board as worship leader and added keyboards, bass guitar and drums.
Most folks at Lake Highlands were ready for it, David added. “We didn’t have to pump them up. They were ready to worship. Their lives were clean. They knew they’d messed up and they knew how big God is.”
And Jim had laid the groundwork with a six-month sermon series on worship. Jan Shewmaker recalled that Jim’s teaching was “transforming” for the congregation because he taught that worship was more about “offering yourselves as a living sacrifice” than what took place on a Sunday morning.
Still, some people felt that a praise band was moving the church too far away from its roots in acapella music. Some people left; others complained that a praise team was more about “performance” than leading worship.
The Chranes maintained a balance between a humble attitude and exercising their professional talent.
“It wasn’t like, ‘We’re going to do this to be cool,’” Donjalea recalled. “There’s just a freedom here. It always seemed like a place where God could do something.”
“We tried to listen to people,” David added. “We’d say, ‘OK, this instrument doesn’t edify some people.’ And the worship team submitted to one another. We had some gifted musicians who waited for years to use their talents. We believed we were called to both ‘play skillfully’ and ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord.’ We’ve worked hard to not do slick assemblies. We strive for authenticity.”
Whenever a member would give negative feedback, elders would explain that the most talented worship leaders—like David, who played the piano at age 3—should set the pace. And the most talented worship leaders, they added, used instruments.
Finally, the senior pastor put a stop to the complaints, said Bill Bourland.
“Jim grew tired of meetings,” Bill said. “He was the one we needed who had the courage to say, ‘This is who we are, and this is where we’re going.’”
Today, a variety of talented worship singers and musicians lead the assembly’s praise time, including members of the youth group. Many Lake Highlands members and visitors often say it’s their favorite part of the assembly hour.
David said the Spirit-filled worship goes beyond the musical instruments. He recalled one Sunday when the power went out. “Church didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “It’s not about all the instruments. They just gather in to worship God.”
The living Holy Spirit
Of all the changes Lake Highlands experienced, Mike King says the hardest thing to accept was the idea of “the living Holy Spirit.”
“In our heritage,” he said, “the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible, and that was it.”
But members had begun attending conferences on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and invited speakers back to Lake Highlands. Those who had grown up in conservative Churches of Christ had been taught that the Holy Spirit was needed in the early days of the church, but that once Scripture was canonized, the written Word is all that’s needed to live the Christian life.
Churches of Christ also teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ended with the Book of Acts. So the newfound freedom and excitement of hearing from the Holy Spirit spurred members on. Members were learning things they didn’t have a background for, and they were ready to learn more.
Those who were at Lake Highlands in the mid- to late-1990s recalled the teachings on the Spirit-filled life from Don Finto of the Belmont Church in Nashville, and Jim Bevis, a pioneer in campus ministry among the Churches of Christ, and composer and praise musician John Elliott.
With spiritual renewal came an extended assembly time at Lake Highlands that included 45 minutes of praise.
“The wineskins changed,” Jim said. “New people came in, and the old guard, who were not comfortable with the dynamics of the Spirit, left. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit was the life-giver of the church.”
As the congregation absorbed new teaching, Jim recognized that not everyone would be in agreement, and he emphasized the importance of unity in the essentials, said Dennis Coleman, who had grown up in the Church of Christ.
“One of the great things Jim did was he didn’t focus on the issues, but on our agreeing on Jesus,” he said. “At first, I thought, ‘Well, that’s not enough! You have to agree on everything!’ That was so ingrained in me.”
By 1997, when the “honeymoon” stage of discovering the Holy Spirit had ended, another wave of people left Lake Highlands, Jim said. Glenn Wamble said the dramatic changes outside the Bible-based Church of Christ tradition made some longtime members feel that Jim “was leading in uncomfortable directions.” Up to 10 elders left the church over time. At one point, the only elders left were Jim, Mike King and George Walker.
Jim calls George Walker one of his heroes: “He didn’t leave through anything. He finished. He went till the end.”
George simply says: “I never saw the problems that the other people saw and left. I never saw anything that would make me leave. It’s always been a great group of people—people we loved, and who loved us. And that’s it.”
Glenn Wamble, who resigned as an elder due to lack of support from his family nevertheless stayed on as a member. “I really like the spiritual teaching and exampling,” he said, “the celebration of our faith and gratitude, the ministries to the unfortunate—the foreigner, the homosexual community (while plainly teaching the sin of it)—and helping these and all our sinful selves become overcomers and forgiven sinners.”
Elder Mike King credits Jim’s “unshakeable faith” and his gifted teaching with providing stability to carry the church through some rough patches.
“I have been around a lot of them, but Jim is one of the top two or three [teachers] I have ever heard,” Mike said. “And his prophetic gifting since the mid-90s—we’ve just watched him grow.
“My wife and I often say that whenever you see him bend over at the pulpit, and he becomes the same size as the rest of us, that’s when you know you’re about to hear something from God,” Mike said of the church’s 6’5” tall pastor.
Today, many church members continue to grow in their understanding of the Holy Spirit by participating in conferences at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Kan., and Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas. Even though some people left over teachings on the Holy Spirit—particularly the gift of the prophetic word—Mike said the hard times were still worth it.
“I really believe that most of that body is seeking to be just disciples,” Mike said. “I think everything we’ve done has been to try to be more in line with what a disciple looks like.”
Role of women
In most evangelical congregations, and especially in more conservative Churches of Christ, public ministry for women is fairly restricted to teaching children and other women. Many churches still do not even allow women to distribute the Lord’s Supper or offer a prayer, much less preach from the pulpit.
It was no different at Lake Highlands in the beginning. George Walker remembered how some people left when “on several occasions, a lady would stand up” during the church’s spontaneous singing time.
Allowing women to speak in public worship and to fully use their spiritual gifts, however, was a journey Lake Highlands was willing to consider.
Lana Wisenbaker, a popular women’s Bible teacher, recalled teaching a Wednesday night class on the Minor Prophets for women back in 1977. She discovered later that several men whose wives attended the class had been sitting on the other side of a folding curtain in the Fellowship Hall, listening in on her teaching.
A few months later, she was scheduled to teach one of the several Sunday school classes being offered in the fall. Though her class was billed as a “women’s class,” some men showed up anyway.
“They asked if I minded,” she said. “I told them, ‘If you don’t mind being here, I don’t have a problem with it.’
“No one was ever upset,” Lana added. “If they were, I never heard about it. It was one of the most amazing and peaceful things. I never could have set out to imagine this. I had no agenda at all. It was a wonderful demonstration to me that God was at work in a way where no one had to be upset about it.”
From that point on, the church gave more public responsibility to women. Whenever anyone asked Lana about verses that seem to prohibit women from teaching men, she gave them the same answer.
“It is a hard thing to get down into a real tidy answer,” Lana would say. “But in the same passage that tells women to keep silent, Paul also gives instructions for women who’d be praying in the assembly. You can’t quote one of those verses without giving equal weight to the other.”
Also, she points out, the verses that speak about spiritual gifts are “gender neutral.”
“The Lord intends women to function. When you’re under the authority of the elders and it’s agreeable to them, I always felt very safe and very good about it. The people who are there [at Lake Highlands] are saying, ‘Lord, what do you want here?’ That’s one of the great strengths of that body.”
Today, women at Lake Highlands lead in prayer and worship, co-pastor lifegroups and launch new ministries of prayer or outreach. Occasionally, a woman will preach on Sunday morning. A church position paper on the role of women states: “We operate under the Scriptural conviction that Jesus Christ the Lord has changed all things, including all of our relationships.”
Due to man’s rebellion against God, women have been subjugated and devalued throughout history, the paper states, resulting in women losing their “original dignity and place in the creation.”
But with the reign of Christ, “the curse of fallen men and women is lifted,” based on Gal. 3:28, the statement reads. “Women now operate in the presence of the Holy Spirit, their dignity restored, coworkers with men in God’s Kingdom.”
The church confirms God’s work among women in the congregation in roles of service, leadership, public witness, praise, prayer and teaching.
“We do not claim infallibility for this view,” the position paper states. “Neither do we seek to be politically correct. We can only pray and seek God’s guidance and grace.”
Visitors who come on Sunday mornings will notice a large group of youth sitting together on the left side of the auditorium. Lake Highlands is known for its thriving youth ministry that grew under the leadership of youth pastor Donny Martin. Though Donny was hired in 1995 as a summer intern, he ended up taking over the youth ministry when Dennis Coleman stepped down.
Donny ended up with a 12-year tenure as youth pastor, from 1995 to 2007, when he left to work with a church-planting ministry at Antioch Church in Waco, Texas. He said he was motivated by something one of his professors at Abilene Christian University had said: “Youth ministry should be about equipping youth for ministry.”
“That got into my bones,” he said. “Consumerism is so much a part of our culture that many youth ministries are just sanctified entertainment.”
Instead Donny worked to create community for the kids on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, and then asked them to reproduce that in their own spheres of influence, to take “radical disciples into the school system.”
He also focused on individual holiness for the youth. “We really raised the standard for godliness, for God’s glory,” Donny said. “Some would fall away or go away, but the kids who did get it went out and reached their friends for Jesus.”
Donny, and later his wife, Bryanna, modeled vulnerability before the kids, and also asked them open-ended, “pointed” questions. The struggles of youth were fresh on his radar, having grown up in a family with addictions that ranged from sexual to drugs.
Feeling a sense of “holes” in his own parenting (his mom died when he was 13 and his dad was involved “on some levels” but not as a Christian influence) Donny placed himself under Jim’s mentorship. He was drawn to both Jim and Donna, and for about six or seven years, he spent Tuesday nights with them, coming to their home an hour before lifegroup began for some one-on-one time with Jim. He then would watch Jim and Donna pastor their lifegroup, and even stayed overnight to process what happened during the group time.
“I saw them fight and sin—and I loved it,” he said. “I saw what it means to be a godly man. We are to be strategically, deliberately and consistently making disciples. Jim did that with me.”
As a result of Donny’s influence, Lake Highlands youth are focused on evangelism and discipleship. In many ways, they have been inspirational to the rest of the church in leading adult members into more “passion for Jesus.”
“It was dynamic,” said Mackenzie Turner, now in her mid-20s, of the Lake Highlands youth ministry. “A lot of what I am today is because of youth group.”
She credits Donny’s authenticity and pursuit of teens who were on the edge, as well as his investment in youth who were heavily involved in Wednesday night “Face to Face” youth meetings.
“He was big on vulnerability—very big. He wouldn’t let you get away with the easy answer,” Mackenzie said. “If you said you were ‘fine’ when he asked how you were doing, he’d look at you and say, “Oh, really?” And he knew how to ask the kind of questions that eventually would break you. Once you had that brokenness before the Lord, it was like you were on a whole different level in your walk.”
When Donny left for Waco in 2007, Diann Garnett, who had been mentoring some of the youth, took over as youth pastor. Donny praised the maturity and grace that Diann brings to her role. “She’s not only a woman, but at 48, she’s older than most youth ministers,” Donny said. “There’s such a richness in the deal.”
Diann’s husband, Phil, has continued to work with the junior high kids. “Here’s this successful insurance man,” Donny said, “giving his life to these junior high kids, many of whom are refugees from Africa. It’s Jesus.”
Matthew 18:3 records that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
“He didn’t say, ‘Unless you change and become like a teen (or a 20-something or a 30-something or a gray-haired old person),’ said Sandy Brush, who has long worked in the children’s ministry at Lake Highlands.
“There must be something Jesus found special, even delightful in little children. Perhaps it’s their adoring trust, innocence, playfulness, energy and eagerness to know more that Jesus found remarkable. How can we become like little children if we don’t know little children and their ways?”
That’s what the Lake Highlands Church and the Lake Highlands Christian Child Enrichment has sought to do: to know little children and to make known to little children God’s marvelous works.
“Children are called by Jesus to come to Him,” said Jane Spring, children’s pastor. “We want to encourage, teach and equip children to see themselves as loved by God, and to know that everything God has promised is for them as well as adults. And as we participate in children’s ministry we learn from them as well.”
Lake Highlands Children’s Ministries serve parents and children “by declaring God’s power to the next generation.” Volunteers help equip children to know the God of the Bible and to begin to walk in faith as followers of Jesus.
Christian spiritual formation occurs through teaching, participation in worship and discovering and using their gifts to serve others. Sunday morning classes provide a sequential study of Genesis through Acts for elementary aged children. Different learning strategies include art, theater, games, computer lab time and memory work.
During the assembly time, children in kindergarten through sixth grade attend a special service in the Fellowship Hall that centers on the Bible story for the month, using puppets, music and drama. Childcare is also provided for nursery through preschool children.
Throughout the years, many have found themselves called to draw closer to the little ones with whom God has blessed this church, and God has always blessed this church with children!
Fern Bench and Neva Davis were among those called to teach babies at Lake Highlands Church. Among those called to minister to preschool children were Bob and Shirley Waters (who removed walls to create the preschool rooms), Gayle Millican, Judy Smalling, Micki King, Carolyn Olson, Mary Wilburn, Heidi Graham, Carole Kerby, Peggy Smith, Jody Knox, Gabriella Owen and Jane Spring.
“Steve Sanderson and Travis Vanderpool could always be counted on to play a Bible character—whether the apostle Paul, Peter, Moses or Elijah,” Sandy Brush said.
Others were called to work with children of international refugees who attend Lake Highlands Church. Pat and Kathleen Brooks, Rae England, Bob Striler, and Gloria and Randy Moore have connected the church with Cambodian, Bosnian and African refugees in the area. Struggling to communicate with language and cultural differences could not hide what Jesus saw in his little ones.
And still others heard from God about caring for children in the neighborhood. After the church elders blessed the opening of the Lake Highlands Christian Child Enrichment Center, Jason Hill registered it as a full-time care facility in 1982, offering full-time and part-time programs for children two months through 12 years.
Pam Brush was the first administrator, followed by Ruth Loney and Donna Johnson, then Tonya Perkins and Rikki Flowers. Current ministry leaders are Paula Whited and Sandy Brush.
The original “hearers” believed that God wanted the Lake Highlands Church members to staff the center—and many did. Among them were Sandy Ashton, Joanne Graves and Sandy Kimbrough. L.D. McCoy continues to be a strong supporter.
Between 90 and 120 children walk through the Center’s doors daily, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. “Each one of them is a created wonder and a conduit through whom God’s love may flow into a family, then into the community,” Sandy said. “The Lake Highlands Church continues to have an open door to Jesus’ special ones—the little children.”
Jane added that it’s not enough for the children to just know about God.
“Our goals for the children are that they will know God, love Him, speak to Him, sing to Him, listen to Him and desire to follow Him, so that they will have a history with Him before they are adults.”
Helping international refugees is a ministry at Lake Highlands that extends back to the late 1980s. Pat Brooks, then a member at another Church of Christ, started ministering to refugees from Southeast Asia in 1981. He met with about 20 Cambodians, teaching them English and helping to provide warm winter clothing. The Cambodians eventually formed their own congregation, with Pat as the minister.
When he enlisted the help of a Cambodian preacher who was not from the Church of Christ, Pat’s church was not pleased. He moved the Cambodian ministry in 1987 to Lake Highlands, where many of the ministry’s volunteers attended. The Cambodians eventually purchased property of their own.
Meanwhile, member Bob Striler had been working with refugees from Eastern Europe who were being resettled in Dallas in 1989. Bob had been a volunteer with Love in Action, a ministry launched by Rae England to people in low-income apartment housing. It didn’t take long for volunteers to meet refugees in those apartment complexes.
By the early 1990s, Bob was working with refugees from Bosnia and Croatia, delivering furniture, helping them fill out paperwork, taking them to appointments and leading Bible studies. He also brought them to Lake Highlands on Sundays.
Over time, many of the Bosnians moved from the nearby low-income housing to different parts of Dallas and stopped coming to Lake Highlands. But God provided yet another group of refugees.
In 1998, Bob met a group of Sudanese men while delivering furniture to refugees. Stephen Nacha, Isaac Daniel and Peter Gasmalia were among the 8,000 African refugees who live in Vickery Meadows, a neighborhood not far from the church. They come from Sudan, Liberia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Somalia, Congo, Burundi and the Ivory Coast.
Bob began bringing some from the earliest group, the Sudanese to Lake Highlands, and Clayton Whalley, who’d been hired to do maintenance for the church, began leading a Bible study for them. Clayton also helped the Sudanese find housing, and took them to doctor appointments and the grocery store. He encouraged them to move into an apartment complex closer to the church.
Members partnered with Catholic Charities to provide clothing for the refugees. Three refugees, Athian Acuil, Robert Balit and Marvin Apira, helped set up the Refugee Support Center, a two-bedroom apartment in a nearby complex.
When Clayton left in 2004 to pastor a church in Louisiana, Randy and Gloria Moore began working with the refugee families.
In 2005, Aaron Roepke and his wife, Izzie, were hired to be directors of the refugee center. They transformed it into an educational facility with a computer lab and classrooms to teach intermediate English, driver’s education and citizenship, and to offer an after-school kids’ Bible club. Lake Highlands partnered with many churches and organizations to help the refugees.
As refugee families served by the church began moving out of Vickery Meadows, however, attendance at children’s programs and adult classes began to drop. After much prayer and reflection, the church turned the center over to Catholic Charities, and Lake Highlands members began focusing on building friendships and meeting the needs of refugees who attend the church.
About 20 percent of the church’s membership is made up of African refugees, said Aaron, now the church’s international pastor.
“The presence of refugees and people from all around the world is something that God has brought to this church,” Aaron said. “This church belongs to many cultures and people from all over the world. This contrasts with the way many other churches take on this kind of ministry. What usually happens is that whatever population of refugees is being helped often leaves to start their own church.”
In fall of 2007, Lake Highlands took the next step and worked to integrate internationals into lifegroups, where friendships develop and members care for each other’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs regardless of cultural differences.
“Jesus calls us together into one church regardless of our culture,” Aaron said. “It would certainly be a lot easier to be in church without cultural difference, but what a bland church that would be!
“This church has a history that has shown it to be open-minded, and has thrown off some of the restrictions of tradition. I think that this is one of the reasons that God has brought people from all around the world to be a part. It certainly takes a lot of openness to pursue an integrated church like we are doing. Through this process God is revealing that he is bigger than all of us. What a relief!
“We have a lot to learn, and we are only at the beginning of the process. Maybe the next 50 years will prove that we were up to the challenge of an integrated church.”
Looking back, Mike King said that when the church fasted and prayed in 1996 before adopting its mission statement, members had no idea how prophetic it would be: “to be Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation to His body and to the world.”
“We had no idea the Sudanese would be coming to us,” he said.
Keri Reynolds first began e-mailing prayer requests from church members in the late 1990s. She volunteered for the prayer ministry because she had lost a great deal of hearing, and forwarding the prayer needs gave her a way to serve and be connected with the body.
Prayer was already “woven into the fabric of Lake Highland’s personality” before she came on the scene, she added. “Lake Highlands has always had a heart to pray. So the latest renewed commitment is not new—just being drawn to the surface of our hearts again.
“Prayer is a very rich part of our heritage. God keeps stirring it up and letting it boil to the surface. We need to be stirred up. We can’t afford to get lukewarm or cold.”
Corporate prayer had been organized a dozen years ago, when members Jim Yarbrough and Clayton Whalley launched a prayer time every Friday in the sanctuary. In 2005, elder Truman Spring organized a Wednesday morning prayer time in the conference room near the church offices. After attending a weekend at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Mo., Truman extended the prayer time to two hours. Elder Greg Muns began incorporating live worship music.
In 2005, Lake Highlands participated in the Global Day of Prayer, and added a Thursday evening prayer time each week. Soon, a noon prayer time was organized, and elders started to lead an early Sunday morning prayer time on the first Sunday of each month.
“The heightened desire for community prayer is being stirred by the heart of God,” Keri said. “You see it through the Global Day of Prayer, which started in 2000. You see it at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. And more and more as we are embracing the House of Prayer Spirit, God is showing us that he is stirring this same prayer focus worldwide.”
Among the things the church has prayed for since the early 1990s is the physical healing of its members, including those diagnosed with cancer: Margaret Smith was healed through prayer; Betty Waddell was granted the request to remain alive until her daughters were done with school; and Karen Barton was kept alive through prayer until she was ready to go.
The church has also been fasting and praying for Chris Olson, who has been diagnosed with leukemia and enduring chemotherapy.
Some members are healed; some are not. The church was blessed to witness Keri Reynolds regain her hearing through coclear implants. But members also organized round-the-clock prayer chains for Jim Lee, who eventually died of cancer, and for Amy Bessire, who died of complications from a brain aneurysm.
“The main thing is that we embraced asking God for healing for each other,” said Dennis Coleman. “At times it has increased our faith, at other times we have wrestled more with God, but the main thing is that we keep asking. I think it has shaped us.”
This past year, Lake Highlands has connected with three prayer ministries—BURN/24, the Mobile House of Prayer and the Dallas House of Prayer—that have impacted the church with prayer, worship and teaching. “The Lord is moving,” Keri said, “and it is humbling to know that the body at Lake Highlands is right there in the middle.”
Truman Spring says corporate intercessory worship—which he defines as the church in a group or groups praising God and agreeing with His Word in confession, petition and intercession—is the most important strategy for the church in the end times.
“What we hope to accomplish,” he said, “is a spirit of ‘the fire that never goes out’ as we wait for the Lord’s return. It is not enough to wait. Our prayers mobilize us and call us to action. Our prayers draw us to the heart of God so that we are in tune with what he is doing. Coming together in corporate prayer increases His power through us. We are all the “prayer ministry.”
Keri sums up the prayer focus at Lake Highlands with a quote from researcher George Barna: “It is not enough for the pastor to pray fervently, nor is it sufficient for a leadership team to pray ardently on behalf of the congregation. Until the church owns prayer as a world-class weapon in the battle against evil and cherishes prayer as a means of intimate and constant communication with God, the turnaround efforts off a body are severely limited, if not altogether doomed, to failure.”
In 2003, new elders Joe Florence, Greg Muns, Truman Spring and Bob Wardlaw joined Jim Reynolds and Mike King in leading Lake Highlands into the 21st century. They have no set term limits as elders; instead they have agreed that none would leave without that decision being mutually discerned as a group.
“Believe me, that’s already been tested,” Jim said. “My No. 1 temptation now is to not love the church til I die, and to go die in a sand trap instead, thinking ‘I’ve paid my dues.’ That’s what all my friends are doing now. Then I say, “Wait a minute—that’s all wrong.’
“We want to run away. Church really gets hard after awhile. But covenant is a binding love commitment that’s based on being part of, giving yourself to the body, to be the body of Christ together in good times or bad. A ‘commitment’ is based on future circumstances being right; covenant is not.”
Among the church’s challenges for the future, Jim said, are helping members continue to grow in discipleship and to blend the different cultures represented.
“Our biggest issue is becoming one body, being multicultural in the power of the Holy Spirit,” Jim said. “That, and discipleship—really following Jesus.” Part of that is having a ministry in the marketplace, something that he recognized heading into his law office every Monday morning.
“Anyone can stay on pitch here,” he said. “But it’s hard to be on pitch in the world. The ‘program’ is God’s Holy Spirit in the people in the marketplace, and that’s getting worked out all around town in the lives of people.”
Many members are excited about what they believe God is going to accomplish through Lake Highlands Church. Don Harris said he believes the church will experience significant numerical growth as it participates in and even helps lead a revival in Dallas that could reach the rest of the nation. In the past few months alone, he said, the church has connected with the largest prayer movements in the city, and it’s possible that Lake Highlands may become the home church for leaders of these movements.
Lake Highlands members are also in a position geographically to make a difference, Don added. The church’s members live throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area, from Plano to DeSoto, and from Rockwall to Fort Worth. In each lifegroup, there are 8-10 people, Don said, who could be leading their own groups “with a little bit of time and training.”
“With all of our flaws, we may have more people—raw numbers—who really want to be fully committed disciples,” Don said. “I could see where we could grow tenfold overnight, and we could handle it.”
Jim said he expects to be surprised at what will happen as the congregation follows God’s leading and grows as disciples of Jesus Christ. He refuses to set boundaries on what the Holy Spirit wants to do.
“I think we’re supposed to be faithful in the little things for now, so that whatever shows up, we’ll be ready,” he said.
–Written by Robin Russell