For J.T. English, Sunday morning looks a lot like homecoming.
As the worship band’s last chord fades, Pastor English hops onstage towing a music stand. He settles his Bible and iPad onto the stand before turning his attention to the congregation before him.
“How we doing, Storyline?”
Every Sunday morning, hundreds of people step into Storyline Church, including dentists and lawyers, teachers and parents. A few stand out from the crowd: old classmates who knew J.T. before J.T. knew Jesus.
J.T. grew up in a nominal Christian home in Arvada, CO, only a few miles from where Storyline Church now stands. He played basketball in high school and later at Colorado State University. In college, he became a Christian after mentors at Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) shared the gospel with him. After a few years, one of his mentors at Campus Crusade pulled him aside and encouraged him to attend seminary. The only problem?
“I had never heard of seminary,” J.T. said, laughing.
Undeterred, he went online and searched, “whole Bible seminary.” Dallas Theological Seminary popped up, promoting degrees that went through all sixty-six books of the Bible. That settled it. If other seminaries taught sixty-five or fewer, he didn’t want to go there.
He filed his application at DTS and in August of 2007 moved from Colorado to Texas with his wife, Macy. Along with boxes of household items, they carried warnings about seminary extinguishing their passion for serving Jesus. During J.T.’s first class, he met “Prof” (Professor Howard Hendricks) who empowered his class to read the Bible for themselves. Instead of fizzling out, J.T. realized he could study and understand the Bible—a revelation that drove his time in seminary and beyond.
If this realization drove his focus, Macy fueled it. While J.T. labored over Greek and Hebrew, Macy worked a full-time job so her husband could focus on his studies; J.T. insists that Macy’s love and sacrifice teaches him more about the Lord than anything else. Throughout his seminary education, J.T. clung to the revelation that anyone could understand the Bible. Yet, in the broader Christian culture, believers starved for biblical knowledge. Confined behind the wall of seminaries, it seemed the story of the Bible remained beyond the reach of average Christians. What would it look like to make the riches of Christian theology available to all people?
J.T. had a crazy idea. In Dallas, many small groups excelled at fellowship but faltered at theological formation. What if a church could bring together the best of small groups and seminary? At a baseball game, he pitched an idea that would become the Village Institute. Partnering with Jen Wilkin and the staff at the Village Church in Flower Mound, TX, he developed a year-long training and immersive discipleship program, teaching the story of the Bible and spiritual formation— “the Navy SEALs of discipleship.” With this 36-week program in place, J.T. hoped for fifteen brave churchgoers to sign up.
Four hundred and ninety applications flooded the church.
Terrified they had overpromised and underdelivered, the Village Institute accepted two hundred people. Their fears proved unfounded as two hundred people enrolled the next year.
J.T. looked very different from the one who left to play basketball at CSU. He started out as the quintessential entrepreneur, admittedly “rough around the edges.” Yet, God’s grace developed a gentleness and humility amid life’s tragedy and brokenness. While The Village Institute continued to grow, J.T. wondered what would happen if he brought this passion and mission back home.
He stayed connected to his hometown via friends and social media. Eight years ago, the North American Mission Board tweeted that they planted a church in Arvada. In 2019, the lead pastor position opened at Storyline. In April 2020, J.T. joined the church, continuing his passion for accessible theological formation. Back in Arvada, his transformed life confirms that anyone—even an entrepreneurial basketball player at CSU—can become a Christian: a story played out in grocery store run-ins, gas station reunions, and Sunday morning homecomings.