Joe Bullocks hadn’t planned to be in ministry. “My father’s a pastor; I grew up around ministry … I moved out of my parent’s house at 16 when I got a job and got a house. I wanted to be rebellious for a while and experience life on my own. I did that for about two-and-a-half years.” A portion of his extended family were drug dealers at the time. “You see the lifestyle they were living — I wanted to be a part of that,” Joe explained.
Small groups are a great transition point for entering into spiritual spaces.
Around this time, Joe met the woman who would become his wife. Von came from a very hard upbringing but agreed to go to church with Joe. “I brought her to church one Sunday. The Holy Spirit was talking to her and she ended up joining my dad’s church. Then she said, ‘we’re not equally yoked; I can’t be with you.’’’ Joe knew at that point he needed to get his act together. “I often say that I brought her to church but she introduced me to Christ.” Joe returned to Christ, and he and Von were married 2002.
They did ministry together for a good while. Rev. Bullocks served as everything from a deacon to a minister to an elder but things were changing. “Our hearts were burning towards the end — we can bring so many people together into church, but it seems people forget where they came from. They wouldn’t show the love of Christ like Christ was shown to us. We’re losing people,” he added.
Joe and Von left that ministry in search of what was next. In the transition period, he commuted from his city to help his friend, Terry Vaughn, church plant in South Bend, Indiana. While there, he met Dr. Mark Gorveatte, with whom he began to share his new vision for what might be next. Dr. Gorveatte asked where Rev. Bullocks might be interested in planting. He shared his heart was burning for his home city of Benton Harbor, Michigan.
In time, Joe and Von moved up to Benton Harbor and began Purpose Church Ministries. They started with small groups of many kinds — young girls, married, men, women — and ran those for about seven months. Rev. Bullocks notes, “They were getting so big we had to make a change — they were getting to a size of 15-20 when you really want no more than eight to ten people.” At this point, they started a once-a-month Sunday service, bringing everyone together.
Rev. Bullocks believes these groups enrich his community. “So many people suffer in silence. People are looking for non-judgmental space where they can feel comfortable to lay it all out.” It’s difficult to walk into a Sunday service alone. Small groups are a great transition point for entering into spiritual spaces. “It’s an easier stepping stone for some people to start with small groups. That’s different than what I grew up with, but God was leading me in how to move. It’s also an easier way to raise funds to start a church that way,” he noted.
Purpose Church Ministries aren’t just keeping the good news to themselves. John Freed, director of Church Multiplication at the Great Lakes Region of The Wesleyan Church, spoke about the Bullocks’ impact on their Jerusalem. “Benton Harbor … has recently been rocked by a water crisis. Their brand-new church plant has been a distributor of clean water and resources. Also, Joe and Von believe in discipline and raising up young leaders. On their launch Sunday, I witnessed many young people excited to serve and lead. This young congregation is full throttle for the raising up of future missionaries, pastors and leaders.” Rev. Bullocks also hopes this small groups method could spread to other churches.
As Rev. Bullocks looks to his congregation’s future, he notes their biggest hurdle isn’t a lack of people but resources. Benton Harbor is a poor area. He noted recently at a district meeting that “It costs to make disciples, literally. People don’t know anything but tithes and offerings; a lot of people are on welfare.” He’s looking for more creative ways to raise money and develop new ways to do ministry. “Even my salary, I donate it back to the church. I’d rather see souls than profit off the money.” Rev. Bullocks is the kind of leader who will stop at nothing to reach his community in the name of Jesus.