Kelly Williams (Th.M. 1996) and his wife Tosha (M.A.[BS] 1996) desire to love people into a real relationship with Christ. This is the passion that led them to start Vanguard, a seven-year-old postmodern church that meets in a movie theater in Colorado Springs. And it’s the vision that has spurred the church to reach out to its unchurched community.
“Our focus was to create a service where people could be real with others and with God,” Kelly said. Vanguard’s nontraditional approach to ministry has broken down barriers with many who had negative church experiences and stereotypes.
As you would expect, eyebrows have been raised within the Christian community about things like showing movie clips in their worship services and hosting a Harry Potter vacation Bible school. (The VBS theme received positive media attention in The New York Times [April, 2003] and Time Magazine [August, 2003].)
But Kelly isn’t afraid of stepping on toes. “If you’re going to reach people who won’t set foot into a traditional church, you have to break some barriers of your own.”
The son of a pastor, Kelly knows traditional church inside and out. His church background, along with his training at Dallas Seminary, has helped him develop a vibrant church that pushes the proverbial envelope without sacrificing orthodoxy.
Kelly grew up a dairy farm in Glasgow, Kentucky, and attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He met Tosha when they were both freshmen in college. From a Navy family, Tosha had lived all over the U.S.
Kelly’s mother was killed in an accident in the spring semester of his junior year of college. “That was the single most shaping event in my life.” He said it has significantly impacted the way he ministers to people.
“I don’t see the need to alleviate people’s pain. I don’t pretend to understand why God allows pain in our lives, but I know He loves us—and answering ‘why’ is not my job.”
Kelly says he has realized that while people tend to ask questions in their times of pain, what they need is a loving community. “That’s far more valuable than trying to answer their questions or solve their problems.”
“I try to do what Paul said—comfort people with the comfort I have been comforted with.”
A little over a year after his mother’s death, Kelly and Tosha graduated from college, were married, and moved to Dallas for seminary training. They completed their seminary degrees in May of 1996 and moved directly to Colorado Springs, a location they had chosen after surveying seven U.S. cities.
“We wanted to go somewhere where the atmosphere was spiritual but not Christian.”
Despite all of the Christian organizations based there, Kelly said a recent statistic showed that 75 to 80 percent of the city is unchurched. And based on his own experience he guesses that the statistic is higher for young people. He said that the “religious climate” created by the presence of so many ministries does not connect with the majority of the city’s population.
The Williams began their first “X-group,” which is an informal meeting for unchurched people to get to know Christians in their homes. Through this group and the many others that subsequently formed, countless people have come to Christ in the Colorado Springs area. “In an X-group, people are free to say anything they want. The Christian members listen and build relationships.”
In their original group, Kelly and Tosha modeled a style of relationship evangelism that embraces people, just as they are. And Vanguard’s church members have learned to do the same. “We tell our people never to answer the question, ‘what do you think of my lifestyle?’ We tell them to say, ‘It doesn’t matter what I think.’ Then we tell them to pray that the seeker will ask, ‘What does God think?’ When someone asks that question, then you can answer with the love of Christ.”
With this kind of compassionate and nontraditional style, Kelly and other members have led many who were in extreme lifestyles—like lesbianism, witchcraft, and goddess worship—to Christ.
“We have to find ways to communicate the love of God to unholy, unlovable people. It’s really nothing new. It’s what Jesus did—meeting people where they are and loving them to God.”
The mission of Dallas Theological Seminary is to
glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders
for the proclamation of His Word and the
building up of the body of Christ worldwide.