When a Nazarene member named Elmer Mason took an interest in the lives of his junior high students over twenty years ago, he unknowingly planted future seeds for dramatic servant evangelism. One of the boys in his church was Jeff Griffith, who now pastors the growing Community Fellowship Church (CFC) of the Nazarene in Waynesboro, Virginia. Today the personalized message on Pastor Jeff's car license plate says it all: "B N Elmer."
It all started with a game of basketball. When he turned 14, Elmer would bring his two sons to pick up Jeff to play ball for a few hours. In exchange for the lessons in sports, Jeff agreed to attend their Sunday School class for junior high. What began in that friendship developed over the years into a lifestyle of faith sharing. For Jeff, sports became an escape into a more wholesome life from his dysfunctional family situation.
Pastor Jeff recalls, "My father was an alcoholic and we grew up with four different stepmothers. But I learned from Elmer and that church family about another way of life. We attended Sunday School and other church events each week." Later, Jeff became involved with the youth ministry and matured in his own faith. In those formative teenage years, Jeff made the decision to follow Christ.
About that same time, Elmer's wife Esther, started a girl's singing group in their little Church of the Nazarene. As they learned new songs and began to sing specials in their church, their group was invited to sing for neighboring congregations.
Occasionally, the group amused the crowds as the youngest in the group carried her little chair to the platform during their songs. Her chair wasn't for sitting – but to stand on so the congregation could see her during their presentations. That's how Jeff first remembered seeing Teri at church. Years later, they fell in love, married and entered pastoral ministry. But they've never forgotten the impact Elmer and Esther made on their lives and ministry.
One of the familiar stories Pastor Jeff loves to retell in his sermons is entitled "Be an Elmer." He reminds his church that all around their community are children needing their affirmation and encouragement. "With just a few hours a week," Pastor Jeff explains, "we can bring healing and hope to hurting families around our church."
From all indications, his church believes that message and has put it into practice. Dozens of volunteers show up each week in the public schools to tutor students who are struggling in their studies. Other volunteers from the church have enlisted in the "Uncle Buddies Ministry;" they show up weekly to have lunch with a particular student.
"Since 1996 our vision has been to grow and impact families with the gospel of Jesus," Pastor Jeff explained in his interview with GROWrow. "We have been intentional about creating ministries within and outside the church body that will grow strong families spiritually, emotionally, financially, and physically. It is our belief that if we are faithful in building strong families we will have a strong church that in return will be able to impact our community.
"Our mission statement is to 'Love God, Love Others and Serve All.' After twelve years of planting the spiritual seed into the families of Augusta County, God has given us a growing harvest of healthy families.
"Steven Clark is a young man who grew up in the area who had very little direction in his life. He numbed his pain with wild living, drugs and alcohol. Steven became one of the largest drug dealers in the surrounding area.
"His story was like many others. He chose drugs over his family. The family income went to feed a drug habit that soon became out of control and eventually led to time in prison."
"It was in prison where Steven surrendered his life to the Lord and after serving four years in prison he made his way to CFC's Wednesday night Bible study with his faithful wife and kids in hand. Steven and his family continue to deal with the scars of his drug addiction, but they do it with the support and encouragement of church family."
Another story of life transformation from the CFC ministries is Diane. She came to the church without a formal invitation from any of the church membership. She lived just around the corner from the church and had heard stories about the love of CFC.
Diane was a middle aged married lady who was searching for healing from a lifetime of hurts and trying to find acceptance for who she was. She slipped in one Sunday morning at CFC, hoping that she would not be noticed. She later said that it was the warm welcome she received and the message of hope and healing that day that caused her to give her life to Christ.
Today Dianne leads a women's small group. She ministers out of her healing. She also leads the church's prayer ministry. More than anything else, she is a constant reminder that God gives second chances.
"My wife Teri and I feel it is an absolute privilege and pleasure to serve as the shepherds of CFC," Jeff went on to explain. "For the past twelve years we have poured ourselves into the lives of people and we have been blessed in return. We have ministered out of our healings, and through that God has blessed this congregation.
"Our three grown children; Josh (his wife Julie with their daughter Bentlee), Jared and Erin have been involved in ministry since they were born. Watching and helping them grow spiritually has been a challenge, as most parents would agree. It is exciting now to see the evidence of God working in their lives.
"Our ministry here has not been without some stress and difficulty, but it has never been without a constant love and spirit of gratitude from the people. Our marriage has been strengthened, my call has been confirmed and through it all God has been faithful while serving at CFC."
And their ministry investments are beginning to pay off in other ways. Back in the early days when they arrived at this assignment, Pastor Jeff remembers how their work began with 62 people on the first Sunday and around 20 attending in the Sunday School. He says now, "With God's favor and the faith of a few people, God has allowed us to grow to over 500 in attendance on Sunday morning and a Sunday School average of 285. Numerically God has been faithful to bring people into out community of faith.
"We have a very gifted staff who use their gifts and graces to impact the church and community. They have a heart to serve. Our multi-purpose facility that was built in 2001 has allowed us to minister in a more effective way, giving us greater flexibility with our church property. An important asset we utilize is this congregation's willingness to think outside the box and take risks. 'We would rather try and fail, than fail to try'."
Among other areas of progress have been developing the priorities for giving and serving. Pastor Jeff emphasizes "God has blessed CFC in the area of sacrificial giving. We are not afraid to receive an offering. We understand that in order to be blessed we have to be a blessing. I cannot say that this was the spirit when we arrived in October 1996. We consistently seek ways to be a blessing to our community.
"In 1996 CFC was a congregation primed for a leader to come and lead the way in servant evangelism. It is our heartbeat to 'Build up the Believer and Serve the Seeker.' Our people thoroughly enjoy finding ways they can serve people. We now have a variety of avenues to do this."
Pastor Griffith went on to explain Pastor Griffith went on to explain "we assist two local elementary schools in tutoring, a 'Lunch Buddies Program', helping to meet the basic needs of families within the school and investing financially in them.
"We believe that if this generation, at least in our area, is going to be reached for Christ that it will come through serving the family. The Adopt-A-School Ministry is just one way we do that. We also partner with our local Pregnancy Help Center, Gideon's ministry, Youth Solid Rock Outreach Ministries, local and world Work and Witness trips, disaster relief assistance, as well as serving our families within CFC's ministries."
While the church has made significant progress over the past twelve years, their work is far from completed. Present plans are to sell their existing building and relocate to their new location a few miles away. After that, they hope to use their facility to meet the needs of the community and become the "Spiritual Hub" for Augusta County. The new facility will also allow CFC to operate an after school program and preschool, with the additional potential for a child care facility.
"With our new facility we want to be able to equip believers to do what God has called them to do," Pastor Griffith explained in his interview. "Whether it is for full time Christian service or equipping them to share their faith at school or work, we want to help them.
"We want to be a place where people can come and find encouragement.Through small groups it is our desire to be a safe place where people who are beat up and have been tossed around by the world can find encouragement.
"Through the ministries at CFC we want to be a place where hurting people can find healing and then go minister out of their healing. We believe God can use us to be a place where people can find hope. It would be our dream to be a place where denominational lines can be crossed for the equipping, encouragement, and envisioning that could take place at CFC.
"A tall order for us," Pastor Jeff concluded, "but we serve a big God." And a lasting testimony from a caring disciplemaker continues to bear fruit.