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From jailer to church planter

[SLIDESHOW=39648,39649]SAN DIEGO (BP) — Openness — to the Gospel, to people, to change, to God’s leading — has helped Victor Schloss find confidence in God’s calling on his life.

The 31-year-old church planter serves San Diego as city missionary for the North American Mission Board’s Send North America focus.

At the heart of Schloss’ ministry is a passion to see broken lives reconciled. Experiencing brokenness in his own life, and witnessing it in others during his former career as a sheriff’s deputy, helped Schloss follow his call to church planting.

“I gave my life to Christ as a senior in high school,” Schloss said. “Prior to that I was aware of the Gospel and who Jesus was, but He was never my Lord. It was never personal before that time.”

Schloss attended Azusa Pacific University on a football scholarship but briefly lost his way. He says the loss of his scholarship left him broken and shattered, but it led him to Bible college. It was there that Schloss began to think God might have a different path for him. “There I sensed a call to ministry for the first time.”

Dependent confidence

After graduation Schloss secured a position with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. His strong, confident demeanor appeared to be a nice fit with his new assignment at the George F. Bailey Detention Facility where his primary duty was to guard and transport violent sex offenders.

Schloss praised God for giving him the confidence he needed to do the job.

“Confidence in yourself does not produce dependence on God,” Schloss said. “I want nothing to do with self-confidence. My confidence comes from my total dependence on God.”

Schloss was able to look beyond inmates’ propped-up defensive exteriors and see their pain. He took steps to connect with men who were willing to drop their facades.

“I was challenged by the brokenness,” Schloss said. “I felt compelled to answer with compassion. Some of my co-workers saw these men only as scum, defined by the charges they faced. I tried to see them as the people Jesus died for.”

Schloss’ professionalism and easy manner opened doors for advancement. The department tagged him for command training. But after two years he could not escape the call to plant a church.

“I was nervous speaking to my commander about my plans,” Schloss said. “They had invested so much in me, and I was on a leadership trajectory. Schloss said taking a promotion is often referred to by men he worked with as “I gotta roll up.” “I told my commander, ‘Sir, I gotta roll up. God is calling me to do this.’ He said, ‘Victor, we all have a chain of command. I understand.’

“They had been so encouraging to me I did not want to disappoint them. But ultimately I did not want to disappoint God,” Schloss said.

Confronting doubt

The next move jarred Schloss into doubt about his calling, testing his resolve and perseverance. He accepted a church assignment to serve as a church planter in residence with a quick timeline to launch a new church. But after he arrived, it became apparent to Schloss the plan had changed.

The church wanted Schloss to perform an administrative role indefinitely with an eye toward the possibility of eventually planting a new congregation. It was not what he believed he should do. He walked away with no immediate prospects.

“I was blessed to make a lot of connections during that time,” Schloss said. “Mike Carlisle (San Diego Southern Baptist Association director of missions) told me he was convinced God had a place for me. At my lowest point of doubt, God revealed Himself.”

That revelation would lead Schloss to join with 19 others to plant The Body Church in his San Diego home in 2011.

Schloss said since then there have been many confirmations for the move.

One recent validation involved him reuniting with Jason Esparza, who was once held at the Bailey detention facility.

It happened when Brandon Lamb, a member of The Body, saw Esparza walking his dog and the two men struck up a conversation. Lamb turned the conversation to the Gospel when Esparza opened up to him about his personal brokenness.

Through that initial conversation, Schloss later connected with Esparza and his fiancé Inna Brody, who both came to faith in Christ. Schloss later baptized the couple.

Esparza and Brody are the first Christians in their families.

“Inna is a Russian Jewish immigrant,” Schloss said. “Her family wanted nothing to do with Christianity. I told her, ‘You know your family is not going to speak to you if you do this.’ She is the first person in her family to become a Christian. She told me she could not deny her faith, and she had counted the cost, understanding her family would disown her.”

Schloss says he has a vision to reach people far from God. He calls members like Lamb “body builders” because they engage their neighbors and introduce people to Christ.

The initial launch group of 19 has reached 120 members with a half dozen new first-time visitors attending every week. The Body has baptized 45 new members, established small groups, created partnerships in the community and started Saturday night worship to reach more people.

“If you are called by God to plant a church, do it,” Schloss said. “You need an authentic relationship with Christ — that has to come first at the core of who you are — and then be sure of your call. Don’t worry about anything else. Because when everything else is gone, you can trust your Savior and His call on your life.”

God’s confirmation, and Schloss’ confidence in Him, allowed Schloss to consider and accept an additional role — city missionary for NAMB’s Send North America: San Diego.

“God is bigger than my dreams or ideas,” Schloss said. “He loves this city. I learned not to try to come up with the next new idea. God is here, and if you will discern where He is working you can be much more effective. I’ve learned that I need God.”

Watch San Diego church planters talk about their work in “America’s Finest City”:

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  • Joe Conway