Back from the Brink

Church planter Byron Ellis helps others after surviving his own crisis.

Byron Tye Ellis found salvation in Jesus at the age of 20 at Community Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Orange, Texas. He had spent much of his teenage life wallowing in drugs, including convictions for a trio of felonies: possession and distribution of crystal methamphetamines, driving while intoxicated, and possession of cocaine.

At a men’s retreat at 21, Ellis sensed a call to ministry. He served as a junior high small group leader at the church, completed Global University courses, and obtained ministerial credentials with the South Texas AG Ministries.

Then Ellis became involved in a pair of church plants, one in Houston, the other in New York, but both efforts failed. Burned out, Ellis swore he never would be involved in launching another church.

He contemplated searching for a church staff position, but he had only preached two sermons in his life, not exactly the gem to make a résumé sparkle. Instead, he found a restaurant job waiting tables in Beaumont, Texas.

But as he toiled in the food industry, Ellis says the Lord repeatedly brought young adults in his path who had evangelized him during his drug days.

“I noticed a lot of people who no longer went to church because they thought it was irrelevant or they felt they had been hurt,” Ellis remembers. “God told me I needed to reach people who had given up on church or who wouldn’t walk into church in the first place.”

Ellis visited with AG sectional presbyter Donny K. Flippo. Ellis explained that he felt called by God to preach to such folks, yet he remained frustrated and stressed over the idea of entering the ministry again. For the next year, he met weekly with Flippo.

“I had low expectations for myself; I just wanted to survive,” Ellis recalls. “Donny taught me how to forgive and get healthy again.”

At 22, Ellis had married his Korean wife, Ashley Jane, after the couple met on the social media site Myspace. In 2016, eight years after marrying, they started Redemption Church, which initially met in a Beaumont bar. Parents didn’t want to bring their young children into such a setting. However, the church had other issues as well.

“We didn’t have leaders, an assimilation process, guest follow-up, or any systems in place,” says Ellis, 36. “But somehow we survived.”

Ellis then connected with John Jay Wilson, director of operations for the AG’s Church Multiplication Network (CMN) based in Springfield, Missouri. Ellis began attending CMN conferences, where he received training and encouragement. Church attendance started to grow.

CHAOS LEADS TO CRISIS
After three years of gatherings in the tavern, Redemption Church secured its own property and eyed a move in the fall of 2018. The new building needed renovating, and Ellis worked as general contractor on the project. He typically put in 12- to 15-hour days to oversee construction — even though he carried a full course load as an online Grand Canyon University student.

In addition to the chaotic schedule, life on the home front presented challenges. Ashley Jane, pregnant with the couple’s second daughter, still suffered lingering effects of postpartum depression from her first time giving birth.

With the expectation of relocating, the church lost its lease at the pub. Renovation fell behind schedule because of tight finances, repeatedly delaying the opening.

Unable to meet in the building for services, suddenly Redemption Church had no home. Attendance plummeted from 150 to 40.

“I felt like a failure,” Ellis recalls. “I was sitting by myself in the church late one evening and thought it might be better if I was gone. I couldn’t control my suicidal thoughts.”

With all the fortitude he had left, Ellis phoned a childhood friend named Travis and unburdened his temptation to kill himself.

Travis was involved in a small group prayer meeting at that very moment. One of the participants relayed a vision she saw of a demon atop the Ellis home, summoning other demons to destroy the church — and Ellis.

While the Ellis family went to live with relatives, intercessors from that church spent three days in the house interceding.

“I don’t believe there is a demon behind every bush, but spiritual warfare is real and can be destructive,” Ellis says. “Some things only God can do, but I needed to make some changes, too.”

Ellis realized he had become a disorganized workaholic and in the process had neglected his wife and young daughters, Esther Sun and Ruth Moon. Now he has a specified schedule for ministry activities and he guards his time off Friday afternoon and Saturday. He also altered his boundaries, recognizing that his phone, computer, and social media drove his life. Ellis began delegating duties to team members and empowered leaders.

He also went into therapy, a move he recommends for other stressed-out pastors.

“Because pastors are expected to help others, it’s hard to allow others to help us,” Ellis says. “We’re supposed to be the experts. But there needs to be a holistic approach to healing mind, body, and soul. It’s not merely a matter of praying more.”

As part of his recovery, Ellis regularly goes to bed at 9 p.m., takes a 5-mile run early every morning, and eats an improved diet with healthier foods. His rocky experiences have come in handy as he now serves as a coach at CMN Launch training events.

The often-postponed grand opening occurred in February 2019. Church attendance currently averages 300.

DEDICATED DISCIPLE
One of Ellis’s trusted friends these days is the bivocational Trevor Knox, who likewise has overcome various tribulations.

Knox had broken up with Kayla, his girlfriend of a decade, after she started attending Redemption Church.

“I had rebelled against the idea of a higher power,” Knox says. “But then I saw a change in Kayla — she became more disciplined and caring — and we got back together.”

He reluctantly agreed to go along one Sunday to Redemption Church, but he sat in the back with his arms folded. He accompanied Kayla the next five weeks, culminating with an altar call.

“I felt I needed to receive peace of mind for my depression,” remembers Knox, 32. “The next day my depression lifted and I had a desire to read the Bible. I began talking to God for the first time.”

Trevor and Kayla wed in 2019. He is on staff at the church, where he oversees ministry teams. He also is a black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor. As a young adult, he found the martial art provided direction for his troubled life.

“I had to grow up too fast,” says Knox, whose father died in a car wreck when Trevor was 11. Although as a young adult he traveled the world competing in jiu-jitsu, he still felt empty until he accepted Christ as Savior in 2018.

“Byron’s transparency and rawness have helped me,” Knox says.

Bottom Photo 1: Byron Ellis (left) and Trevor Knox (center) served as coaches during a Church Multiplication Network conference in January.

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