Planting Pieces of Heaven
By John W. Kennedy
Jan. 13, 2013
As a 12-year-old boy growing up poor in inner-city Milwaukee, Warren G. Curry Jr. took notice when his father’s life radically changed upon accepting Christ as his Savior. For the next decade, Warren Curry Sr. continually shared with his son how Jesus could change his life, too.
But Warren Jr. showed more curiosity about rebelling than seeking the Lord. He found selling marijuana and cocaine alluring during his teenage years. The party lifestyle dominated when Curry attended Grambling State University in Louisiana, and he flunked out.
By 1997, at the age of 22, Curry’s future looked bleak. His girlfriend from college informed him she was pregnant. Soon afterward, Curry sat behind bars, facing a 42-month sentence for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.
“When I was in that jail cell and I began to realize I had made a huge mess of my life, my dad’s words began to play in my head, almost like a tape recorder,” Curry recalls. “I thought I’d give this Jesus a try, and if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to what I had been doing.”
Curry hasn’t gone back.
While incarcerated, Curry experienced his own transformation. He was Spirit-filled, water baptized and called into ministry. Upon his release in 1999, after serving 20 months, Curry enjoyed a new outlook on life, and he began attending a Pentecostal church with his father in Milwaukee.
It took a while longer to regain the trust of his girlfriend, Tiara, who had given birth to their son, Caleb, while Curry was locked up. But after Tiara saw Curry submitting to the counsel of church leaders, she and her family came around. The couple married in 2001 and now have five children.
In 2006, Curry says the Lord told him in a dream that he would move to Cincinnati to plant a church. The dream shocked Curry because he didn’t know anyone in Ohio.
Six months later, Curry had another, identical, dream on two consecutive nights. Both featured him helping two Caucasian pastors take rolls of sod off a truck and unfurl multicolored grass. He says the Lord provided the interpretation that the men’s actions in the dream represented planting multiethnic churches.
By 2007, ordained as an independent Pentecostal minister, Curry says he heard another summons from the Lord: Affiliate with the Assemblies of God. He began attending Parklawn Assembly of God in Milwaukee.
Six months later, under the tutelage of Pastor Walter Harvey, Curry became youth and young adult pastor at Parklawn. There he had numerous opportunities to teach in the church, to engage with community leaders, and to disciple prisoners — all of which Harvey says Curry handled with expertise. Harvey helped Curry obtain a governor’s pardon for his crimes so his pastoral work would be easier.
“I saw myself in Warren: a young man crying out for a spiritual father and mentor,” says Harvey, 52. “I saw tremendous potential within Warren. He has wonderful character. He has a tremendous ability to communicate the gospel of Christ clearly and powerfully. He also has a passion for discipleship.”
In 2009, Curry moved to the Cincinnati area and soon met Randy Rice, lead pastor at LifeChurch West Chester and Joshua Wotawa, associate pastor. Curry recognized the two AG pastors as the men from his dream three years earlier.
Rice quickly befriended the Milwaukee native who had no contacts in the region.
“It was easy to discern that God wanted me to come alongside Warren and encourage him in his vision and his calling to plant a church,” says Rice, 50. “I bought in right away, based on his character.”
Such a response isn’t new for Rice, who started LifeChurch eight years ago. Since the beginning, he has made room on the church staff for a young pastor who needs mentoring en route to becoming a church planter elsewhere.
Wotawa went to plant a congregation in the community of Norwood, south of West Chester. Next, Rice picked Curry as his associate pastor and, after a rigorous internship, sent Curry to start Life Changers Church International, a congregation in Fairfield, west of West Chester. Now Rice is prepping to bring a fourth church-planting pastor under his wing, after the church recently set up JT Martino in Strongsville, Ohio, with a full year’s salary and insurance.
Life Changers Church International opened in October 2011, with 37 adults from LifeChurch West Chester. The congregation meets in a private Christian school, although Curry retains an office at LifeChurch.
Those members who left LifeChurch for Life Changers represented about $100,000 in annual tithes, but Rice says the congregation has recouped both the number of people and the amount of finances.
For Curry, his primary focus now is breaking down racial barriers.
“The Lord was very specific in telling us to build a multiethnic church community from the onset,” Curry says. “We know heaven won’t be segregated. We want to present pieces of heaven in places on earth right now. What better place to do that than within the local church?”
Curry contends that each ethnicity has something unique to offer that other groups don’t possess. He has been intentional about blending everything from music preferences to leadership structure at the church.
“God has given a grace to each ethnic group,” Curry says. “If we separate from each other, we cannot experience the full blessing God has for us. It’s part of the enemy’s strategy to keep us apart. I really pray our church can foster an environment where all races, cultures and ethnicities come together not only to worship the Lord, but also to serve humanity.”
Life Changers has an average attendance of around 80. In addition to a racial mix, Curry is grateful for the reconciliation efforts demonstrated among attendees who run the gamut of economic classes, from corporate executives to those barely surviving on government assistance programs.
“It’s awesome when a diverse group of people can be a real-life example of the genuine love and care Jesus talked about in John 13:34,35,” Curry says.
Life Changers is a parent-affiliated church (PAC) of LifeChurch. As a result, Curry didn’t have to complete his credentialing process before embarking on the church plant. He credits AG Church Multiplication Network (CMN) National Director Steve Pike, AG Ohio District Superintendent John Wootton, and Ohio CMN Director Eric Schroeter with helping him start the congregation while still enrolled in the AG Ohio School of Ministry.
Curry says through CMN he is able to receive resources needed to make the church thrive, which he couldn’t do if he toiled as an independent preacher.
“A lot of guys who have a genuine call of God fail because they go it alone without the right direction and the right guidance,” Curry says. “The AG has all that in place with the PAC process.”
Curry is grateful a variety of Christian leaders helped him overcome hurdles in life. He receives counsel and feedback weekly from Harvey and Rice, who both tout the leadership skills he already is showing. Curry believes his experience as a child on welfare and a young adult in jail helps him identify with many of the down and out in Fairfield Township.
But most of all, Curry says he has been inspired by the influence of his father. Warren Sr. recently lived with his son and family for an extended period while recuperating from quintuple heart bypass surgery. He now attends the church where his son is pastor.
“Without his evangelistic efforts in my life early on — his relentless pursuit of my soul — there is no telling where I would be,” Curry says.
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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