I sat across the table from Leroy and Kathy eating my salad. “There is something wrong with the way the institutional church conducts its business,” said Leroy, a former pastor educated in both Pentecostal and Baptist Colleges.
I had come to the same conclusion long before I heard Kathy talk about bottoms, bucks, and buildings, which prompted me to request an interview. “When my husband was a pastor,” Kathy had said during a women’s fellowship meeting, “he was under constant pressure to increase the membership, so there would be more bottoms on the pews to put more bucks in the offering to build buildings. He wanted to minister to people not build buildings.”
Leroy stuck his fork into his salad. “You’re not going to film me chewing are you?”
I smiled. “Yes, but I’ll never make it public.”
Satisfied with my promise, Leroy began his story. “Kathy and I met when we were fourteen and married at twenty. We were both non-practicing Catholics until Kathy attended a Catholic charismatic renewal meeting with her parents.”
“My parents experienced Christ in a way they had never known before at the meeting,” said Kathy. “The dramatic change in my Dad made us curious. I attended and reported what happened in the meetings to Leroy. ”
Kathy accepted Christ the summer of 1975. At the time, Leroy was wrestling with alcoholism and drug abuse. Unable to anoint her husband with oil, as was the practice in the charismatic renewal, she anointed his shoes and prayed God would deliver him.
Unemployed and a voracious reader, Leroy checked out books from the library to occupy his time. When he neglected to return the books the library refused to loan him more. “The only book in the house was the Bible,” said Leroy, “so I read it. It took me all summer, but I read every word and came to three conclusions: God existed, God loved us, and God wanted us.”
Leroy knelt by his bed and gave his life to Christ. God instantly delivered him from alcoholism, drug abuse, and swearing. Full of zeal for God Leroy returned to the Catholic Church and became actively involved teaching CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine).
Problems arose when he read the Bible from cover to cover the second time. “I started asking questions,” said Leroy. “You practice this but the Bible says this – why? You say Mary ascended to heaven without sin, but I can show you four places in scripture where Mary sinned. You say the Pope is infallible since Peter’s time but he didn’t declare himself infallible until 1912 –why? They sent me to Notre Dame, to specialists, and to a fat little Italian priest, but no one gave me satisfactory answers.”
“When we moved to New Orleans our new neighbor was a deacon at a Protestant church,” said Kathy. “Every time our neighbors saw us they invited us to visit their church. They were driving us crazy, so I said to Leroy, ‘Let’s go and then tell them we don’t like it.’”
“We loved it,” said Leroy. “Pastor Jackson made the scriptures come alive. I was past excited. I was ecstatic.” Leroy and Kathy joined the Protestant church. Pastor Jackson became a beloved mentor.
“In 1981 my pastor encouraged me to attend Bible College,” said Leroy. “I don’t think I felt called to ministry, but I wanted to serve God and assumed the only way to do that was to become a pastor.”
Kathy laughed. “One day, Leroy came home and said, ‘Kathy, I think the Lord wants me to go to Bible College.’ I said, ‘Bye, have fun.’ Leroy made a lot of money with his construction company and he had just bought me a 5,300 square foot home. I wasn’t willing to give up the money or the home, but I eventually relented and we made plans to pursue ministry.”
During a time of prayer, the Lord told Leroy he was supposed to buy a green house to live in while he studied for the ministry. “We called a real estate agent named Patty who turned out to be a Christian and became a close friend. She showed us green houses in all shapes and sizes, but none of them were right. Then she brought us out of town to an old house sitting on eighty-four acres of land –.”
“Full of rats,” interjected Leroy, “the house had been vacant for six months.”
“I looked at this really old white house and thought about my beautiful new home in Alabama.”
“I refused to go in because it wasn’t the right color,” said Leroy.
“While I was scraping the paint to see if green paint was underneath the white Kathy walked into the house. Everything was green. The floor, the ceiling, the bathroom fixtures, even the kitchen sink,” said Leroy. “We bought the house, and I sharecropped for three years while I did undergraduate work.”
An elderly Holiness Methodist man owned the green house. When he learned Leroy was in Bible College, he offered to carry the note with the interest due annually. The first time the interest came due Leroy was working as a night watchman and buying groceries with a credit card. He didn’t have the money to pay the interest, so he prayed and committed the matter to God.
One day, a friend and Vice President of a bank called to ask him if he needed money. Leroy refused to answer. His friend said, “I’ll put $20,000 in your checking account. The next time you are in town come sign the loan papers.”
The second time the interest came due, a wealthy friend, who knew nothing of their financial problems, came to visit. “I never told him a thing,” said Leroy, “absolutely nothing about our financial problems. We were drinking coffee and out of the blue he said, ‘How much money do you need?’ I said $12,800 and he wrote a check.” Leroy paid the interest and then decided to sell his green house, so he could repay his friend. The sale of the property gave Leroy a $72,000 profit, and the new owners let them live in the house rent-free for six months while he finished his undergraduate work.
Dallas Baptist University had accepted Leroy for his graduate work, so he asked Patty to show Kathy houses in the area. He instructed Kathy to find a house under $100,000. Patty showed her $300,000 houses. When Leroy called to complain, Patty told him her son owned a home near the university that was a little out of his price range, but they wanted them to have the house. Leroy refused to consider the offer. Undeterred, Patty showed Kathy her son’s house. Kathy loved it. Once again, Leroy refused to consider the house.
“Kathy ministered in a local jail with Patty’s husband, Brad, twice a week. Brad played the squeezebox for the ministry team, but he never spoke,” said Leroy. “In all the time we knew them, Brad never said a word. I was shocked when he called me. ‘Leroy,’ he said, ‘I want you to move into my son’s house and here is the deal. You give me $12,000 and take over the notes. When Patty sells the house, we’ll give you the $12,000 back.’ We lived in the house for two years. I obtained my master’s degree in Biblical Languages, and Patty sold the house six months later.”
Shortly after Leroy completed his education he received a subpoena to testify in an anti-trust lawsuit. He met with an attorney to give a deposition and they became good friends. “He was an agnostic Jew, and one of the smartest men, I’ve ever met,” said Leroy. “He often initiated discussions about Jesus and then concluded the conversation by saying, ‘Take your Jesus and go to Hell.’ His business partner was an elder at Venture Church. When his partner mentioned his church was looking for a pastor he told the man to call me.”
The congregation of Venture Church elected Leroy to fill the pastorate with a unanimous vote. Leroy called the attorney to thank him for the recommendation.
The attorney said, “Are you familiar with the play The Jews of Malta?”
“No,” said Leroy.
“It’s the story of a Jewish man who lived next door to a Catholic convent. The Nuns witnessed to him about Jesus until it drove him crazy. In frustration, the Jew poisoned the nun’s well and killed every one of them. I’m sending you to Venture Church in the hopes that you kill every one of those people.”
The attorney’s hopes were never realized. The congregation of fifty exploded when God started healing people. The church averaged 1,800 visitors per year and recorded more than a 1,000 conversions.
The influx of new converts created a variety of problems. Leroy discovered a practicing witch praying for people in the church. A group of young men only wanted to pray over young girls. False prophets arose. Pedophiles were caught lurking near the nursery.
One morning, the Lord told Leroy there was sexual sin in the church and until it was resolved the church would be frozen in place. Leroy cried throughout the Sunday School hour embarrassed to repeat the revelation. When he walked into the sanctuary an elder saw Leroy’s distress and said, “I don’t know what you are going to say, but if the Lord told you to say it, then say it.”
Leroy turned his back to the congregation and said, “This is hard for me to say, but I want you to listen carefully, and when I’m finished, I want you to leave. The Lord told me there is sexual immorality in this church, fornication, pornography, and homosexuality. We are not going to grow any further unless people deal with these sins. Church is dismissed.” Leroy knelt to pray. When he stood, he was the only person in the church. On the way home, he told Kathy, “They are going to vote me out tonight.”
He arrived early for the Sunday evening service. As he was praying at the altar he heard the worship team warming up. He opened his eyes to see the largest Sunday night attendance the church had ever experienced. No one said a word. The congregation stood, walked to the altar and joined him in prayer.
As the church grew larger the congregation spilt over conflicting ideologies. One Sunday morning, a man stood to give a word from the Lord. He read from the book of Isaiah and gave a stern admonition to get right or be left behind. Immediately after he spoke, a young woman stood and contradicted his message. After the service, Kathy asked her why she contradicted the message. The woman said, “The message was too harsh. We had friends visiting, and I just didn’t think that message was right.”
“A struggle began between two groups that I called Holiness and Nicer-Than-God. Human wisdom tainted everything we did. The “Nicer-Than-God” group had their own Bible studies and cell group meetings but the “Holiness” group remained in power,” said Leroy. “Even with the struggle between the two groups, everything was good. The people were hungry for God. We prospered financially and paid off the church’s debt.”
During a personal morning devotion, Leroy felt the time had come to resign. He had been involved in a lot of missionary work and initially thought God was calling him to missions. Reluctant to act rashly or prematurely he called friends in Oregon, Texas and New Orleans. He shared the burden on his heart and asked them to pray and call him back with their thoughts. Each one stated that he should resign.
At the epitome of his church’s success, Leroy notified the elders of his intent to leave and promised to stay as long as a year while they searched for a new pastor. The elders met on Wednesday and fired him on Thursday. “I know they were hurt and behaved emotionally,” said Leroy, “but I was shocked. They only gave us thirty days to vacate the church’s parsonage. I had no idea where to go. They also refused to let me explain to the congregation why I wanted to leave. The congregation objected to the way the elders treated me, so I was allowed to return for a going away party and they extended the time I could stay in the parsonage. ”
Leroy continued the radio broadcast he had started before he resigned but missionary work never came to fruition. As Leroy filled his time praying and studying the Bible his thoughts about serving God changed. He had called his church a family friendly church, yet he separated the family by providing services geared to specific age groups. Children were thirteen before they ever sat in a service with their parents. He also regretted holding Vacation Bible School, which took children away from their parents to learn about God.
Leroy questioned other pastors about the methods used in the institutional church. They didn’t like his questions and the direction he was leaning. Many told him he was stupid for resigning. Undaunted by their rejection he continued his research until he had enough information to launch a relationship based church, which kept the family together during meetings.
The early church met in homes, so he reasoned church meetings belonged in the home. In a home Christians could be more like a family. To protect the homeowner meetings were comprised of Christians only with occasional open meetings unsaved friends could attend. “The transition was bumpy and painful, and we found ourselves back where we were in Bible College – totally dependent on the Lord for finances,” said Leroy.
Leroy started his first house church in his home with six people. Then they planted a house church in Houma, Thibodeaux, two on the Northshore and one in East Texas. Eventually, Leroy and Kathy were attending house church meetings in five locations every week. “I am very comfortable with what the Lord did in our lives. My fellowship is much richer now than when I was a pastor. I have no regrets,” said Leroy.