Generations: Part Two
Bethany Mossburg and Kristy Tillman in conversation with Bill Johnson, Kris and Kathy Vallotton, Charlie and Julie Harper, Eric and Candace Johnson and Danny Silk • Photos by Katie Clementson, Lucas Sankey, Justin Posey, Heather Armstrong
In the previous issue of HOUSE, we were able to capture some of the core components to the foundation of who we are as Bethel Church from leaders of the generation who helped to build it. In an effort to continue the conversation and gather valuable elements of our foundations, our current story being told, and the vision for the future, we were able to sit down with several of our Senior Leadership Team—Bill Johnson, Kris and Kathy Vallotton, Charlie and Julie Harper, Eric and Candace Johnson, and Danny Silk. Here are some of the valuable insights that we gathered from their conversation.
What did Bill disciple you in through his leadership?
Charlie: Everything. I think back to raising kids, we’d just ask, “Well, how would you guys do this?” Our kids are about the same age. Also, giving and generosity. I learned a lot about freedom.
Kathy: Valuing the presence of God, and stewarding that.
Eric: The biggest one for me would be the attitude of the heart, and the responsibility we have stewarding that well.
Julie: For me, it’s always been Bill’s example to us of being a disciple of Jesus. Even in Weaverville, his love for Weaverville—which was just this small town in the country—talking about doing his prayer walks, and going through businesses…the value there for partnering with God everywhere in that town. When Beni started the intercessors, it was a significant learning time of growth in prayer lives, and seeing that create a love within us for where we lived, and the people who lived there as well.
What are keys that you feel were established in Weaverville that you now operate from here at Bethel?
Charlie: Well, I’m pretty analytical—I like to have things all figured out. I remember we were once in an elders meeting, and someone pointed out that I’m finally living in a way that doesn’t require everything to add up—that I’m open to things that I can’t see the numbers for, or waiting for everything to make sense. I learned in that season in Weaverville that I’m not going to see all of the answers, but that if the Lord’s in it, I simply do what I need to do, and what I know how to do, and come alongside of the vision. That started there, and that’s carried on here.
Kris: Keeping Jesus central to everything, and bringing Jesus into everyday life—it’s the hallmark of my practical ministry, I think. It’s the thing that people can connect with the most who are not in career ministry like we are. We can bring Jesus with us into every moment, every conversation, and in everything that we do. We’ve been thinking like that so long now that it’s become a part of my approach to life. In the business world, it’s very common to think of things as compartmentalized—your business life and your Christian life. To invite Jesus to run your business, to sort through things in you like competition…to allow your walk with Jesus to shape everything was a revolutionary concept. Bill taught and encouraged us around the kingdom in every area. We had to come up with our own application, but the principles, and the presence-driven nature of it was there. Those core concepts leak into everything now.
Candace: I didn’t get to live in Weaverville when this all began, but I stepped into it when Eric and I arrived. There was such a deeply entrenched love and care for each other between the families that went to Mountain Chapel (the church in Weaverville). And that love, I experienced deeply. When Eric and I were getting married, everyone came around us to help, even in things that were practical. And when we did move there, that practical love didn’t stop. When Christmas came, they gave us gifts. They made sure we had groceries. And it wasn’t just us—we saw them do that for one another. From the Thompson’s, to the Alvord’s, and across the entire church. Everyone blessed one another.
Tell us more about what life was like in Weaverville.
Kathy: It was an open door policy. Literally, with people coming in and out of one another’s houses. Bill and Beni hosted quite a few people in their home—and people would move in, animals included. And it wasn’t always the upper class people, or even the people who were next door neighbors that they knew. It was the people who came in off of the streets that they didn’t know—for months at a time. It was that generosity—that love for others— that opened the door for us to say, “We want to be that way, too.” the whole community welcomed people in. That taught us how to love people.
Bill: I think it was Bill Derryberry and a few other families who really ushered that in, even before we got there. One family’s philosophy was, “You can always add more water to the soup.” So they took people in after church and loved them. That group of people created a climate of compassion, affection, and family that we inherited. We were consistent with it, but they championed it.
Kris: In a small community with extreme weather and no money, there’s a natural culture where people have to work together, more so than in a city. It really is like in Acts 4.
Bill: There was a time where we’d go and look for soda bottles to get enough change to buy ice cream.
Kris: One thing that probably isn’t clear to any of our students within the last ten years is that we didn’t have any money. We helped each other with bills. We helped each other make payroll. Without it, we wouldn’t have survived. People in our community helped one another—even the bankers helped us. They would cash checks that were overdrawn—it’s how the businesses survived the winter. They lent money based on character. We all worked together.
What would you say to the younger generations who want to develop something like you have?
Charlie: You have a picture based on what this all looks like now. But, how do you get from here to there without all of that stuff in the middle? Kathy took care of worship, children’s church…whatever needed to be done, we all did it. There’s something to being faithful with the small things. Do that thing—whatever it is—like it’s the most important job in the world.
Danny: Home groups were such a huge deal. The leaders—the people in this room—were the pillars of the church, and they were the small group leaders. There was a heart connection with a leader built into that foundation. They knew us, they were involved with us in those intimate spaces. I was a brand new believer, with nothing but wrong momentum. And I crashed into these guys in home groups. That was a safety net to learn. The school of ministry is, on some level, like that. It was a huge part of my early formation.
Bill: Something that I think was helpful for us is that we were really functioning out of vision and not ambition. Ambition is the counterfeit. You know it’s ambition when your identity is wrapped up in your achievement, and when you have that, then you have competition. You have elder brothers jealous when younger brothers are taking their significance and surpassing their achievements. But when you’re based in vision, you have fathers who celebrate their sons surpassing them. You don’t have the need to perform because of identity wrapped up in achievement. That’s really who we are— we’re sons and daughters who are called to life by the Father, and everything else is subject to that. We function out of that. Not that need to achieve to feel good about ourselves, but that need to maintain biblical vision in order to achieve all that He has in store for us. There’s a huge difference between the two, and if you do the latter, you destroy the root of competition. Everyone gets healthier in that process. Stay focused and based in vision, but not driven by the need to achieve in an unhealthy sense.
Danny: Somehow, Bill convinced us that we were the center of the universe in Weaverville. Suddenly, this small town country boy was praying for countries around the world. We had Friday night prayer, and we knew and believed with all of our hearts that we were changing the world in that room.
Tell us about the level of commitment to missionaries, and people outside of the church? It felt like there was a lot.
Bill: I think it was that we had a great value for anyone who would connect with us. There were people who became friends. We always wanted that. And we’d honor that in the best way we knew how. We developed real relationship with them—I mean, Dick Joyce wouldn’t just come and stay at our house, he’d have dinner with Kris and Kathy, and then they’d connect with other people in the church. We did have that sense that Danny mentioned, of being the center of the universe. at we had the responsibility to change the world, and we lived like that.
Charlie: When Bill first started traveling, we started to ask how he would do that and continue to lead the church. So we asked, “How long do you want to be gone from your kids? Okay, well then, that’s the rule for now.” We were family—we made room for each other to grow. We knew that our impact was meant to extend beyond just us.
Bill: Well I don’t know if these guys remember it, but they told me, “You’re going to be getting more invitations.” And that word gave me permission to step outside of what I knew and travel.
One of the things we’d love to know is, what would you tell your 20-year-old self at this point?
Danny: I’d say, “Danny, you have one more year until you get saved. Stay alive.” [Laughter fills the room.]
Bill: Mine’s easy. I’d tell myself, “Don’t take yourself so seriously. Enjoy the journey better. Stop evaluating yourself.” That got me in so much trouble with myself emotionally when I was younger. I’ve finally learned it, but would’ve rather learned it earlier.
Kris: I’d say, “Be present.” I lived with a lot of anxiety, even into my late 30s. I don’t totally know why—some of it may have been body chemistry, and upbringing—learning how to think. That all kind of added up to not being present, and I didn’t work at it. So be present.
Kathy: For me, it would be, “Have fun, and don’t be afraid to do things for yourself.” I’m proud of myself for learning that, but of course, I’m still learning. Jamie, my daughter, texted me the other night about planning a bucket list, and planning adventures around it. I’ve never had one. I’ve always had someone else’s bucket list, or carried the bucket. So I’m asking myself now, “What’s on my bucket list? What do I want to do for me?”
Charlie: I really dealt with fear of man issues. I’d tell my young self, “It’s not all about you.” I’d labor over stuff and make the fun of it go away. I struggled to just relax, and be myself.
Julie: What I thought of first was the idea that I spent too much time worrying about things, or experiences I went through as a child. When my mom died of cancer, that produced a fear in me of dying of cancer, too. I’d say to come to a place where you just believe that it’s going to be okay. I’m finally coming to that place. I wish I’d known that sooner.
You’ve all made life commitments to one another, and walked together as family – was that intentional, or progressive? How did that happen?
Kathy: We could write a book on that. This group has been closer than a lot of our blood-related families, because of the blood, sweat, tears, good times, hard times, kid times, that we’ve shared in doing life together, in home groups. Some of my favorite memories are back in Weaverville, in the closeness we shared. We never locked our houses. It was a different world.
Julie: I was Jamie’s kindergarten teacher, and when she dealt with some childhood medical issues, we all rallied around one another. We walked with each other through trials – that forged a bond.
Danny: None of us had a “Bill” in our lives before, with the generations of pastoring that Bill and Beni have. They just handled things in a way that was so foreign. All of us were from broken family backgrounds, but they did life so differently, and we all sort of tuned our lives to what Earl and Darliene, and Bill and Beni were doing. It gave us more options than we’d ever had before.
Kathy: We just did more together as families. That strengthened us. And a lot of it was done with no money. You create memories out of simply doing life together.
Kris: Part of longevity was thinking Bill and Beni would be there (in Weaverville) forever. We didn’t think, “Let’s make lifetime covenants,” but we would’ve stayed with them for the rest of our lives. Bill had a lifetime commitment to Weaverville. We never expected him to leave. We thought of Bill as our father, not as our preacher. When we moved to Redding, we quickly realized that we needed our people to come with us, to continue building together. Bill created in us the deeply set idea that we’d be together for the rest of our lives. It was a big transition for all of us to move to Redding – but it wasn’t that far off from how we did life.
Charlie: I had two opportunities where I was invited to do major business projects that were highly profitable. But the thing was, I couldn’t imagine not being in Weaverville—and not being with this team. I mean other than that, the whole thing is just a divine setup.