Shubal Stearns slowly and silently surveyed the congregation in the little backwoods church. He gripped the sides of the crude wooden pulpit without uttering a single word and allowed his gaze to rest upon the people as he swept through them with his eyes. The congregation eagerly anticipated the word that would release them from the silent thralldom to this imposing man of God. He held back his words and they only craved the next one more. It seemed as if the silence got even more quiet yet nobody would consider saying something to break the tension. When it was getting close to being too awkward, Shubal broke the silence with five words: "You must be born again." Though he only said it loud enough to barely be heard at the back of the room, it seemed to thunder through their ears and minds. "Yes," they thought, "he speaks the truth. He must be right."
Shubal had moved to Sandy Creek in what is now called North Carolina from Virginia most recently and Boston, originally. This was before the Revolutionary war and before it was easy to travel long distances into the rural south. He and his wife--Sarah--joined with seven other couples to found a church in a land that was not their own. Shubal was chosen as the pastor for these people and so their church started with sixteen people and no connections. Shubal had been convinced of the necessity of an inner spiritual experience by the preaching of George Whitefield. This conviction was only furthered by the Baptists he spent time with and who formed his understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. For the people of North Carolina, Shubal's preaching was abrasive and challenging. They had been so comfortable with a nominal type of Christianity that allowed them to identify themselves with Jesus yet not be changed. It was the best kind of change, in their opinion, because it cost them nothing. Shubal was unconvinced.
It was Shubal's desire to awaken true discipleship in the minds and lives of the people he came into contact with. In many ways, Shubal hoped to bring Jesus to people who already claimed to knowhim. In many ways, he succeeded. In just a little while the 16 members of the church became 606. Soon, the congregation was founding and spreading yet more churches into the world. When Shubal finally died, there were 125 ministers who named Shubal as their minister and mentor.There were 42 churches that had been started by Shubal and his people. Following in the model of the early Church, the congregations that Shubal founded constantly grew and birthed other congregations.
Shubal was not known for theological brilliance or homiletical sophistication.Rather, he was known for simply and powerfully proclaiming the Gospel in a way that left the listener with little room to retreat into themselves. He had a bright and brilliant passion for the Church that he served and loved. When he passed on, he was well remembered as a joyful servant of the Body of Christ in the middle of geographical and social obscurity. He may not have had a huge impact on polite society but he had a life changing impact on the people who sat rapturously under his preaching.