FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (BP) – The building where Vic Carpenter works is discreet. Few people know where it is. And even fewer know what goes on behind its doors.
This is not the building he thought he would end up in. He thought his main office would be in a church, not an isolated government facility.
Carpenter thought he would take the conventional route of vocation ministry.
“I felt called to ministry in college. I was raised in a Christian home and thought I would take the easier route,” said Carpenter, the lead teaching pastor and co-planter of Redeemer Bible Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
For a time, Carpenter’s plan was simple. After graduating from college, he served in collegiate ministry at Appalachian State University, attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and served as a youth minister. He was on a typical trajectory to become a pastor.
“After that, I went to Southeastern Seminary to get my doctorate. While I was doing this, I served as associate pastor and got my real estate license. So, for three years, I juggled with my doctorate. program and be a realtor,” he said. “I finally felt called to return to pulpit church ministry, so I started digging around and saw an opportunity with a church across town.”
In the 1950s this church was the largest in Durham city centre. For a young seminarian, the grand structure of the church was alluring. But the soul of the church was drying up.
Carpenter became the new senior pastor, excited to help revitalize the church.
“It was an older, dying church that had declined for a handful of people, barely filling a few pews,” Carpenter said.
Despite his best efforts, the revitalization failed, and Carpenter couldn’t help but feel discouraged. In the meantime, his doctorate. was coming to an end and it was time to start looking for her next role.
“I started applying all over the United States to find a different church from the pastor. I applied to different places for almost a year and heard no callbacks. Everything seemed to die under me,” he said.
He and his family slowly entered a season of financial desperation. They needed something – anything – that would help them meet their needs.
“I just started applying for jobs that would help me support my family,” Carpenter said. “One Friday night – on a pure whim – I looked up the FBI and applied. I didn’t tell anyone at first, not even my wife. I thought it was just a loss. of time.
To his surprise, Carpenter got an answer and he went through the lengthy interview process. Six months later, he was hired and directed to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
“It was a dramatic change of events,” he said. “It supported my family and it was exciting in a way. But it was also the death of a vision. It was as if I had wasted the last 10 years of my life.
Carpenter then worked for the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), an elite group of specialized and skilled operators.
The HRT, the only full-time federal law enforcement counterterrorism unit, deals with the most serious situations. And when civilian law enforcement finds itself in over their heads, this national-level tactical team springs into action.
When Carpenter started working for the HRT, a significant number of his new class of 12-man operators were Christians.
He and his fellow agents have had the opportunity to influence and share their faith within what is – by necessity – a close-knit and private community.
“I realized that I could testify to people that few others had access to,” he said. “In God’s providence, three other guys in my class and I started a workplace Bible study. It was my first time doing a Bible study in this type of environment.
As the weeks and months passed, other men began to be saved. And they took the gospel home, and their families also began to trust Jesus.
“Finally we thought, ‘Why don’t we start a church?’ said Carpenter, as they saw what the Lord was doing.
Carpenter and his colleagues were sent by Spotswood Baptist Church to plant Redeemer Bible Church in August 2019 — seven months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit American soil.
For five months, they met in a college auditorium across town. When the pandemic hit, they lost access to school.
“For a while we gathered in a church member’s garden and then in a giant field,” Carpentr said. “And the Lord kept doubling down on the church and supporting us – even at the height of the pandemic,” he said. “And here we are, two and a half years later, and we are renting a building in our target area (at an affordable price), we are running two services, averaging 400 people a week, and we have just started another church Bible of the Redeemer in a town about 45 minutes north of us.
Anyone who has planted a church knows that it can be very expensive – depending on how you do it. But Redeemer Bible Church proves that doesn’t always have to be the case.
“We don’t have full-time paid staff in our church,” Carpenter said. “I don’t get any salary from the church, nor does the senior pastor of the new church north of us – who is also an FBI agent. I’m not the only one doing this. Our youth minister is a full-time FBI agent who turned down the opportunity to move to the town he and his wife always wanted to live in to stay and do youth ministry. The Lord just blasted the group of young people for the sacrifice they made.
Money that would have gone to salaries in the early years of their church’s genesis was used in part to care for widows and orphans.
“Five different couples in our church have felt drawn to adopt children – some in foster care, abuse victims and internationally disabled children – and the church has paid the initial and legal fees for each adoption, which exceeded $50,000.”
Carpenter told the story of a colleague who approached him at work.
“My colleague said, ‘I heard something really weird today,'” Carpenter said, telling the story.
“What did you hear?” I answered him.
“My co-worker went on to say, ‘I heard you preach in a church on the weekend. This cannot be true. Is it?
Conversations like this are common, he said. And that’s usually how it starts. He says more about his church. They ask where his church meets and end up visiting. And they keep coming back.
Some come to faith in Jesus Christ for the first time. Others who left Christ and the Church years ago are gaining renewed interest and revitalization in faith.
“So many of our colleagues and their families have come to Christ. I lost count at this point,” Carpenter said. “Other members of the community also came to faith in Christ.”
Carpenter enjoys being what he calls a “covocational” pastor. It has a pulse on what is happening in the world outside the four corners of a church building. He rubs shoulders with men who are not very interested in the Gospel. His witness and his preaching are strengthened by his presence in the secular world.
“Being a covocational pastor has affected my evangelism and my preaching,” he said. “The way I apply the Word of God is closely tied to very real, everyday things that people face. And because my income does not come from the church, I can preach difficult Bible passages without hesitation. I feel no need to abstain from what I understand the Bible to say for fear of having my salary cut off.
In his work, Carpenter has seen it all. He saw the deepest lows of humanity. They arrested “the worst of the worst”, as he puts it.
“Law enforcement tear down and arrest the bad guys,” he said. “But only the Christian Church can build justice. Every thriving community I have ever seen has a healthy local church.
But he also sees the most breathtaking aspects of humanity – seeing people pass from spiritual death to spiritual life.
He compares his work to farming, saying, “You pull weeds and fend off outside forces to help protect a plant. And at the same time, you prune and tend to the plant to help it thrive. In my job at the FBI, I repel evil. And in the church, I can build up what is good and just.
While Carpenter’s path to the pulpit was unconventional, he was exactly where God had placed him every step of the way. And each day as he walks through the doors of the low-key government facility where he works, men continue to transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, one conversation at a time.