Deacon Stephen Mouring readily admits that his initial motivation to begin attending Sterling OPC’s daughter church, Acacia OPC in Manassas, VA, wasn’t diaconal. “Initially, there was a little bit of, yeah, this church is closer [to my home], but pretty quickly there was a gentle rebuke of that mindset and I realized we're not here in this church plant to be comfortable. We're here to advance God's Kingdom—to reach the lost. That was a good refocusing.”
Sterling’s leadership had a plan to plant a daughter church for about ten years prior to Acacia OPC’s establishment. They created a fund and made baby steps toward hiring a pastor to lead the new congregation. The result was Acacia Reformed OPC, planted in northeastern Virginia, just outside of DC, in 2021. Stephen and fellow deacon Jared Grigg have attended this new daughter church from its inception.
With the hiring of a new pastor, these two deacons and their families jumped in with both feet—deeply committed to helping in whatever way they could. But Stephen admits it’s not been without difficulty. “I think we underestimated how hard it would be to divide a church down the middle,” he says. “Sterling OPC is not a Sunday church,” he continues, revealing his love for his former church. “Families get together during the week spontaneously and in unstructured ways, not just at formal events. [Changing churches is] a disruption of the community—not the friendships—but you are building a different community. You miss the way things used to be in your heart. It's the stuff you can't necessarily plan for.” But he wouldn’t change a thing. This is what he desires to do for Christ’s church.
Jared shares in Stephen’s fondness as he looks back at his ten years at Sterling: “Sterling’s big thing has always been community. It's always been this vulnerability within our men's groups, with how we do evangelism with unbelievers, to our service work and mercy ministry. It's just a tight knit community even if there's large geographical differences.”
That sense of community, leadership and foresight gave Stephen and Jared the training they needed to take this leap of faith. Sterling’s pastor, Phil Proctor, is an evangelist at heart, “It’s who he is at his core. There was a lot of work on the back end of the planning. A lot of prayer. I think of Psalm 127, the Lord builds the house, and if He doesn’t build it, those who build, build in vain,” Jared reflects.
Stephen believes the Lord built this house. Acacia’s attendance has reached close to 100 people at their morning service, with roughly 40 coming from the Sterling church, and the others coming from the surrounding community. It seems surprising for a church that meets in a movie theater, but it just further proves the Psalmist’s message.
So why are deacons helping plant a church? From the outset, both Jared and Stephen realized a need to help the new pastor and the fledgling congregation. There were logistics. Lights need to be turned on, payroll needs to be established, communion must be set up and worship needs to happen. But Stephen says he had a peace about the needs going into it, thanks to a tone set by pastor John Paul Holloway and the Sterling leadership set from the beginning. “The only necessity is worship. Everything else is extra,” Stephen remembers. So, they offer morning worship and fellowship time, for now. No Sunday school, no evening worship—achievable goals with an eye for building from there. Low expectations, but for good reason. Though the finances were sound, manpower and participation were a question mark, at least at first.
As this new church developed, both men have embraced this opportunity and their God-given role in it. Jared says, “When people are coming into a church, we want their heart, focus and minds’ attention to be on the preaching and the hearing of the Word and the worship of God. And so, if we can bear the load, if we can wait tables in that way for a season, it's a joy. I mean, it's been a new experience and there's definitely been hard things, but I feel like God made us to do hard things like that.”
And God is blessing Acacia. Stephen says ministry is happening organically. “If someone sees a need, they step up and take care of it.” This intentional, relaxed approach is working for this young church, all while building and strengthening the body in the process. Stephen admits the beginning stages of initiating systems were hard, “furrows were plowed, and it was sometimes two steps forward, one step back kind of thing.” But in the end, Jared believes, “we want people to be engaged because they want to.”
So where does that leave Sterling OPC? “You had to feel like there’s going to be some sort of impact”, Stephen says. But he adds, “the leadership did a good job of ramping up to the loss of families. People had about six months prior to the plant opening to work to consider whether they wanted to be a part of the plan. There were families who came for a period to give us momentum,” Stephen says. He thinks that helped a lot. Both churches continue to be faithful to the Lord and remain financially firm, by the grace of God.
Stephen feels grounded in God’s plan for his life, remembering that, “everything in this life, short of paradise, is a for a season.” Amid the trials and hardships, he’s thankful for his role. Likewise, Jared looks back on his relationships in both Sterling and Acacia with gratitude for God’s goodness, “It's been an amazingly sanctifying process for me where I've submitted myself to other brothers and they've submitted themselves to me in the wisdom of the Lord. Iron sharpens iron.”
Trish Duggan is the Communications Coordinator for the OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries
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