Reflection on RT Maldaner’s City of Joy Church in Pingree Grove, Illinois

On Sunday November 3, 2019 The Wondering Eagle visited and sat through a service at RT Maldaner’s City of Joy church. For those who are still leaving Harvest this remains a solid alternative. RT is both sensitive and passionate and this is a good place for people to call home.

“Organization and education, when they interact with each other, they strengthen each other, they are mutually supportive.”

Noam Chomsky

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Romans 14:1-5 NIV

RT Maldaner leading worship. 

This blog needs to do an article about City of Joy church in Pingree Grove, Illinois. I had the opportunity to sit through a service this past Sunday and want to analyze RT Maldaner’s church.

 

Supporting City of Joy in the Harvest Scandal

Early in the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal I faced a dilemma that started to arise. As people were walking away from Harvest Bible Chapel a few contacted me and asked for recommendations. It struck me and I tried to figure out what to do. I discussed this with a couple of sources who encouraged me to let people know about City of Joy church. Honestly I have concerns about evangelicalism but I also have to acknowledge that there are people who want to go to church and this blog wanted to have some balance. One of my criticisms of other blogs is that some are focused on breaking stories and that is it. My approach is deeper. What do you do for the people caught up in a difficult situation who are leaving.  So I made the decision to support City of Joy and I wrote about it in, “As Harvest Bible Chapel Implodes The Wondering Eagle is Recommending City of Joy Church.” For those wanting to know more that article has a profile of RT Maldaner in the blog post. 

 

Sitting Through a Service on November 3, 2019 

When I was in Chicago in March of 2019 I interacted briefly with RT Maldaner. If I remember correctly he invited me to sit through a service. In response I gave him my word that I would sit through a service. That weighed on me over the past year especially as I learned more about RT and worked with people to tell the story of Harvest Bible Chapel. When there was the Restore Conference and a couple encouraged me to attend I realized that if I did that then the following day I could attend City of Joy. That was part of the reason for attending. There were multiple reasons as to why I came from Washington, D.C. 

So after checking out from the hotel I drove over to City of Joy. The church meets in a middle school and I realized that it was quite small. A conservative estimate might be about 50 people who attend. I sat next to Kelli Cameron who I met at Restore and who I have interacted with on Twitter. The day I was there they had tables set up and not rows of chairs. So it felt different in that regard. RT came out and sat down at the piano and started playing. I was stunned and it took me a couple of minutes to process this development. Was he the preaching pastor or the worship pastor? Or was he wearing many hats at City of Joy? RT did a good job and is quite a worship leader. After ward he went to the podium and made some comments about how every seat was prayed for. And for the people who came. Whether it be someone from Washington, D.C. as he looked at me to someone local. Several people gave testimonies about what the Lord was doing in their life. Todd Gierke then gave a sermon on the last chapter of Hosea. It dealt with repentance.

After the sermon RT went to the piano and played some more praise and worship. He encouraged people to stick around and get to know people around the church.  City of Joy had donuts which I think came from Jewel Osco. So I had some coffee and grabbed a donut and spoke with Kelli Cameron. And people hung around and talked while some helped clean up the place. Afterward RT and I went and grabbed lunch and we talked for a couple of hours. RT shared his life, previous experiences in other churches and being with Bethlehem Baptist for about 10 years.  We discussed a lot of things and I enjoyed getting to know RT better. 

 

Deep Respect for City of Joy 

This blog struggles to recommend evangelical churches because of issues and problems that is has to deal with. In the case of City of Joy multiple people have told me over the year how they enjoy Maldaner’s church. RT in talking said that he is done with the business aspect of church. He doesn’t want City to grow big, instead he wants it small so that he can know people and be involved in their life. He explained to me how city groups worked and how they choose material. He also explained that he will not use Harvest worship music as that could be hard. RT has been on the receiving end of abuse both from Harvest in Chicago and a Baptist church in Sandpoint, Idaho.

With RT this blog found a person who is sympathetic, blunt and yet has a large heart for people. One of my concerns in writing this blog is that I want to be sensitive and when I see a good place and then encourage it. I want to be careful that I do not paint with a large brush and dismiss good places and people that I come across. City of Joy and RT Maldaner is an example of why that can not happen. It would not be fair or right to write something and then be off. To dismiss it would be a tragedy. What makes RT unique is that he exhibits much of what I criticize evangelicalism for. I criticized the business aspect and RT points out the problems. I talk about a lack of financial transparency and RT shares how the church arrived at his salary in a conversation. Frequently he goes to those issues and addresses them. He is sensitive about abuse especially after all that he has endured. So in wrapping up this post this blog continues to respect and encourage people from Harvest to attend City of Joy church. Time will tell but I really have no red flags that stand out as a warning. Instead I find someone who is kind, humble, very passionate and yet laid back. City of Joy is a one man show it feels like. No speculator production or light show. But this is a church that I think is fine and should nbe supported.  And its mu hope that you can see it in that perspective as well.