Living outside the walls of the church

It’s been nearly 2 years since we packed up the truck and left Kentucky to move to Traverse City MI. We had been in Wilmore Kentucky for four and a half years studying at Asbury Seminary preparing for a life of vocational ministry. There was just one problem. By the time we were finished the thought of taking a job in the church was more than we could bear.

It wasn’t that we were no longer followers of Christ. It was the journey itself that made us think there had to be a better way to be disciples than attending church once, twice, three times a week and leaving no room for relationships with “unchurched” folk. So we resolved to move north, me, my pregnant wife, and 2 year old daughter Ella.

We bought a fixer upper close to my folks and set about starting our new life. We wanted to live outside the walls of the church. To work, live, and interact with “real” people. We no longer wanted to attend church. We wanted to be the church. Our mission was not to build a building or start an organization, but to be Christ in and to our community.

We gathered some folk who were interested in our message but after a year the only persons who were committed were, well, us! The other dozen or so enjoyed coming on Sunday nights but were still attending “real” church in the morning as well. We began to feel as if our Sunday night gathering was simply a small group. If it had been a hard or busy day folks wouldn’t come. This left us feeling very alone as far as sharing in the journey.

We decided to join together with another small church in town that had an identical vision. This gave us the feeling of shared fellowship but we had to start the process of forming all new relationships and finding our place. This was a great test of humility (I can say in retrospect) as I’m sure it would have been hard for us to move 600 miles after completing seminary to join “someone else’s” church plant but it seems this was God’s plan all along. Our church family calls ourselves Sojourn to remind us that we will never fully “arrive”. We gather weekly to sing, learn through discussion and participation, and encourage each other to live missional lives. If you’re interested in learning more about Sojourn we do have a website,

Though trained and ordained as a pastor I now make my living as an insurance agent at a local agency. This has been the one of the best things that could have happened in our journey, although again I wouldn’t have seen it this way 2 years ago. It has been another humbling experience but it has put me into many relationships with the “real” people that we wanted to have relationships with in the first place!

It’s been two years and both Gretchen and I now feel that we are home and looking forward to what the future brings.

James Palmer .