Category Archives: Pastors

Natrona Heights pastor Rick Harbaugh profiled in local media

 

Rick Harbaugh, Pastor of Natrona Heights Presbyterian Church in suburban Pittsburgh, Pa., was featured in Trib Total Media on April 18.

The article, “Faces in the Valley: New pastor of Natrona Heights Presbyterian brings experience, energy to leadership role,” profiles Harbaugh in his first pastorate following 11 years on staff with The Presbyterian Church of Portersville (Pa.). Both churches are in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Trib Total Media serves Allegheny, Westmoreland, Armstrong, and Butler counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Click here to read the article.

“In All Things” podcast episode 20 explains EPC Fraternal Relations with Alan Trafford

 

Episode 20 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Alan Trafford, Senior Pastor of Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lake Jackson, Texas, and Chairman of the EPC Fraternal Relations Committee. This week, host Dean Weaver and Trafford discuss what fraternal relationships are, and how a formalized relationship between the denomination and groups with the same theological basis as the EPC can serve and benefit both. In addition, Trafford describes his ministry path from England to Texas.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

“In All Things” podcast episode 17 features David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando

 

Episode 17 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Fla. This week, host Dean Weaver and Swanson discuss three of Swanson’s books: Everlasting Life, Learning to Be You, and The Economy of God. Swanson also shares how generosity was manifested in FPCO’s recent “Cup of Rice” campaign, his efforts to address human trafficking in Central Florida, and how FPCO is involved in church planting.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Jerry Iamurri to assume missions agency leadership post

 

Jerry Iamurri, EPC Assistant Stated Clerk, has been named the Chief Executive Officer of InFaith.org, effective April 4. InFaith is an evangelical, non-denominational ministry based in suburban Philadelphia. Iamurri said the organization serves some of the most “overlooked and underserved” people in the United States through nearly 200 U.S.-based missionaries.

“These missionaries serve in urban ministry, rural ministry, church planting, discipleship, children and youth ministries, chaplaincy, prison ministry, camps, and much more,” Iamurri said.

“I am deeply disappointed personally to not have opportunity to continue to serve with Jerry,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “However, I am thrilled for the opportunity he and his wife, Sandi, are stepping in to. I know God will use Jerry in mighty ways leading InFaith, just as He has used him in the EPC.”

Iamurri has served Assistant Stated Clerk since 2017. He previously served as Pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Havertown, Pa. Under his leadership, the congregation transitioned to the EPC in 2012. Iamurri previously served Presbyterian congregations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas. In addition to his ministry experience, Iamurri was an Assistant District Attorney for the Philadelphia (Pa.) District Attorney’s Office from 1999 to 2003.

He also is a former chairman of the EPC Ministerial Vocation Committee.

“I have been incredibly blessed to serve the EPC over the past five years,” Iamurri said. “It’s been a privilege, pleasure, and the greatest blessing of my life. With this new call from the Lord, I am looking forward to helping InFaith reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, as we do in the EPC.”

“In All Things” podcast episode 16 examines loving Muslims with Timothy Harris

 

Episode 16 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Timothy Harris, longtime EPC Teaching Elder. Host Dean Weaver and Harris discuss Harris’ life in ministry, including his recent book, Loving Your Muslim Neighbor: Stories of God using an Unlikely Couple to Love Muslim People, and How He Might Use You to Do the Same. The book is available at www.lovingyourmuslimneighbor.com.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

“In All Things” podcast episode 15 explores church planting in the EPC with Tom Ricks

 

Episode 15 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Tom Ricks, leader of the EPC’s Church Planting Team. This week, host Dean Weaver and Ricks discuss why church planting is a strategic priority in the denomination. Ricks also shares poignant memories of Kirk Adkisson, planting pastor of All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., who died on February 19.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Death of church planter Kirk Adkisson

 

Kirk and Deb Adkisson

Dear sisters and brothers of the EPC,

It is with great sadness that I share the news that our church planter in the Presbytery of the Central South, Kirk Adkisson, has fought the good fight and is now fully with his Savior. Please join me in prayer for his bride, Deb, and the congregation of All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., which they planted in 2017.

Deb set up a Caring Bridge page, www.caringbridge.org/visit/kirkadkisson where you can share your love and support. As she posted late last night, “I take comfort that our separation is only temporary.” I praise our Lord that we all can cling to that promise.

Coram deo,

Dean Weaver
EPC Stated Clerk

“In All Things” podcast episode 13 features Louisiana pastor and author Gerrit Dawson

 

Episode 13 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Gerrit Dawson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, La. (FPCBR). This week, host Dean Weaver talks to Dawson about his books, Raising Adam: Why Jesus Descended into Hell and The Blessing Life: A Journey to Unexpected Joy, as well as devotional resources for Lent provided by FPCBR and available at www.fpcbr.org/content.cfm?id=1462.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

“In All Things” podcast episode 12 features longtime EPC pastor and author Rodger Woodworth

 

Episode 12 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Rodger Woodworth, Pastor of New City Church in Pittsburgh, Pa., and author of several books. This week, host Dean Weaver talks to Woodworth about his experience in cross-cultural church planting, English philosopher and theologian G.K. Chesterton’s notion of the “radical center,” and Woodworth’s recent book, Playing Favorites: Overcoming Our Prejudice to Bridge the Cultural Divide.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

EPC Pastor David Swanson recognized for human trafficking ministry efforts

 

David Swanson, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Fla., was honored by United Abolitionists and the Paving the Way Foundation at the 11th annual Polaris Star Awards Ceremony on January 26. Swanson was named the Faith Community Leader of the Year, given in recognition of his partnership with Samaritan Village in Orlando to fight human trafficking.

Samaritan Village is a faith-based, trauma-informed home and therapeutic program for adult survivors of sex trafficking. It is one of the longest-standing recovery homes for adult female survivors of human trafficking in Central Florida.

“The award is a very humbling thing because I have contributed relatively little compared to the men and women who, night in and night out, are putting themselves in harm’s way to rescue woman from literal sex slavery,” Swanson said. “Florida ranks third in the country for this problem, and it is happening right under our noses every day. I guess I reached the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I decided to get involved.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Florida has the third-highest number of calls in the country to the Center—only behind California and Texas—with the average age being 10-13 years old. The Florida Department of Children and Family Services reported that more than 1,700 child human trafficking cases were reported between May 2019 and May 2020.

Swanson noted that the most-often asked question of the host committee working to secure 2026 World Cup soccer matches in Orlando is, “Are you prepared to deal with the influx of trafficking that will take place?”

“They didn’t ask about hotel space or field quality or transportation,” he said. “They wanted to know about trafficking. None of us fully understand the size and scope of the problem.”

The Polaris Star Awards are hosted by the Tri-County Alliance on Human Trafficking. The awards are named after the Polaris Star, also known as the North Star, what slaves used to find their way north to freedom along the Underground Railroad. According to The Alliance, the awards are presented to the modern-day abolitionists in Central Florida who are “leading the fight against human trafficking in their profession and/or sphere of influence.”

United Abolitionists is an Orlando-based network of first responders to the national human trafficking crisis. Paving the Way Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to disrupting the cycle of child trafficking through educational and training programs.

Need help?

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a national, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls, texts, emails, and live chats from anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in more than 200 languages. To get help, call 1-888-373-7888, TTY 711, or text 233733.

The Hotline’s mission is to connect human trafficking victims and survivors to critical support and services to get help and stay safe. The Trafficking Hotline offers round-the-clock access to a safe space to report tips, seek services, and ask for help.

“In All Things” podcast episode 9 features EPC inner-city church planter Brian Evans

 

Episode 9 of the EPC’s podcast, “In All Things,” features Brian Evans, Pastor of 5point7 Community Church in Detroit, Mich., and member of the EPC National Leadership Team. This week, host Dean Weaver and Evans discuss the importance of the local church in effective inner-city ministry, as well as Evans’ background growing up in the same underserved neighborhood he now serves.

Episodes are available on a variety of podcast platforms, including Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Podbean, Spotify, and others. Search “In All Things” on any of these services.

The audio recordings also are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/inallthings.

Florida magazine profiles EPC church planters

 

If you live near Jacksonville, Fla., and happen to pick up a copy of the “Ponte Vedra Beach Neighbors” magazine this month, you may notice some familiar faces on the cover.

Brady and Christy Haynes, EPC church planters in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean, were featured in the magazine, which is mailed to every home in Ponte Vedra Beach. The publication shares stories about local citizens who are making a positive impact on their community.

Ponte Vedra Beach is about 20 miles southeast of downtown Jacksonville on Florida’s “First Coast”—so named because 30 miles further south is St. Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the United States.

“In July of 2021, the editor of Ponte Vedra Neighbors Magazine reached out and asked if they could profile our family,” Brady said. “The editor is a Christian, and she said that God had laid it on her heart to call us. We took this opportunity to share our family story.”

The Haynes lived in Ponte Vedra for six years while he served as Director of Family Ministries at Ponte Vedra Presbyterian Church. In October 2019, they felt God calling them to move to Vilano, a community 20 miles south of Ponte Vedra and just outside St. Augustine. Little did they know that in just a few months a pandemic would shut down the world and God would open a new door of ministry for their family.

Ripe for harvest

“If you were to do a search for churches along the 16 miles of barrier island that stretches between South Ponte Vedra Beach and Vilano Beach, you would notice that there are no churches at all,” Brady said. So when COVID hit and public beaches were closed, the Haynes had an idea.

“We hit the sand across the street from our home and started ‘Devotion by the Ocean’—a daily video posted on several social media platforms,” he explained. Filmed at sunrise and set against the background of Christy’s beautiful photography, the videos included Scripture, a devotional thought, prayers, and music.

“Our purpose was simple,” Brady noted. “We wanted to create something that would lift people’s spirits with the Word of God and also encourage them with a sunrise on the beach.”

The videos gained an audience, and it wasn’t long before the Haynes were getting comments from neighbors about how much they enjoyed the series and missed connecting with a church. At about that same time, public beaches began slowly opening back up.

“A lot of people were still uncertain about meeting indoors, so we started a Sunday Bible study on the beach at sunrise,” Brady said. Neighbors began to tell other neighbors about the service, and soon people from all over the community were showing up on Sunday mornings.

“Through all of this, God has confirmed that He has called us to plant a beach church in our area that ministers to the needs of the people here,” he said. “With over 33,000 people in the South Ponte Vedra to Vilano stretch of the island, the field is ripe for harvest.”

The area has seen a lot of growth over the past seven years, with many of the new residents coming from New York and California. The business market of Vilano has also grown in the past two years, lending to the vitality of the island.

“Our calling is to plant a beach church that loves God and loves people while capturing the ‘vibe’ and heartbeat of this unique place,” Brady said. “There are a lot of hurting and spiritually hungry people in desperate need of the gospel, and they are looking for a place to connect and to serve.”

On October 16, Haynes was ordained by the Presbytery of Florida and Caribbean and he and Christy began to lay the foundation for Seaside Church.

Seaside by the sea shore

The Haynes hit the ground running, establishing Seaside Ministries in November. They meet every Sunday morning on the beach, and have seen attendance continue to grow. When the weather does not permit them to meet outdoors, they gather in homes across the street, and have even had local families host the services.

At Thanksgiving, the group served a meal to homeless families. On Christmas Eve, they gathered for a lighting of the advent candle, traditional carols, and worship. The evening also included their first communion as a church.

21 families joined Brady and Christy Haynes for a Christmas Eve candlelight service at the beach.

“Brady led us in some traditional Christmas carols as the sun set behind us over the Guana nature preserve,” Christy said. “Once it was dark, we all began to light our candles. It was a very special time of worship, with over 21 families who have been coming faithfully to Seaside Sunday Services.”

Even though the church does not officially launch until next year, the families who have been attending the gatherings are impacting the community. They have partnered with several local ministries—raising money to help rehabilitate women in the sex industry, collecting clothing items for the women’s shelter and food for the local food pantry, and supporting a local therapy center that works with children and veterans.

The Haynes plan to sponsor a community surf event next summer as a means of reaching youth, and partner with a local surfing ministry to put on a camp for underprivileged children in Vilano Beach. They have begun hosting block parties around the fire pit and leading beach cleanup days alongside their neighbors.

The Haynes have also earned the respect of their neighbors as small business owners in their community. Christy has been using her photography skills to photograph families and do beach fashion shoots for the past 12 years. In addition, she owns two beach-themed stores—Beach Chic Weddings and Beach Chic Threads. The Haynes can now look back and see how God has been preparing them in every aspect of their lives to serve in a coastal community.

“I grew up in a home that didn’t go to the beach very much,” Brady said. “When vacation time rolled around we headed to the mountains. When I married Christy, who is a nine-generational Floridian, I not only fell in love with her, but I also fell in love with the ocean. We have been blessed to serve in some amazing places. But we have found ‘our people’ to be coastal people.”

Seaside Church will officially launch on Easter Sunday, which will be held at Guana nature reserve (Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve) beach access.

“We are very excited about launching Seaside Church in 2022,” Brady said. “God has been affirming His calling in our lives through this process, and we cannot wait to see what He does here in our coastal town. Vilano is called ‘the island without a name.’ We want to show this ‘island without a name’ that hope has a name in Jesus Christ!”

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

EPC Teaching Elders named PIR Ministries regional representatives

 

Anne Horton and Jason Yum have been named Regional Representatives for Pastor-in-Residence (PIR) Ministries. Horton is as Pastor of Cedarville United Presbyterian Church in Cedarville, Ohio, in the Presbytery of the Midwest. Yum is currently without call but serving on the Nominating Committee for the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest.

PIR Ministries is led by Roy Yanke, a Ruling Elder for Grace Chapel EPC in Farmington Hills, Mich. The ministry helps exited pastors navigate vocational transition by providing a proven process of restoration within a caring and restorative environment.

Jason Yum

“We are excited that the Lord has led Anne and Jason to become a part of our ministry family,” Yanke said. “Their individual experiences have made them both passionate about pastors’ health. Because we are a highly relational ministry, our volunteer Regional Representatives continue that emphasis through their natural connections with those in ministry, including those in crisis and transition.”

Horton said she is excited to work with PIR Ministries.

Anne Horton

“We work with pastors in crisis who have left or were asked to leave churches, but also with those in the pulpit who want a little help navigating day-to-day ministry,” she said. “Clergy coaches provide a confidential listening ear as they walk alongside a pastor who is struggling with such ministry realities as conflict, self-care, addiction, and stress. In my opinion, clergy coaching is the best gift a church can give a pastor—or we can give ourselves—especially as we continue to navigate these extra-stressful times.”

PIR Ministries offers a variety of services to ministry leaders and churches, including the Pastor-in-Residence restorative program for pastors in transition; Refuge Church, a place of protection and security for exited pastors; Clergy Coaching; Ministry Spouse Care; the Pro-D Assessment professional development assessment; and more.

Roy Yanke

“Anne and Jason are helping us put flesh and bones on the hope that the gospel and grace of Christ offers to those in vocational ministry for a healthy ministry life,” Yanke added. “They are good at listening, encouraging, and helping ministry leaders find the resources they need for renewal or restoration—many of which PIR Ministries offers. As Regional Representatives, they will be volunteering their time and effort to share information and the resources of PIR Ministries in their areas of influence.”

PIR is a commended resource of the EPC’s Ministerial Vocation Committee. For more information, see www.pirministries.org.

EPC congregation suffers effects from quad-state tornado outbreak

 

The Dresden , Tenn., Fire Department suffered significant damage from the December 10-11 tornado outbreak. In the background is the damaged Dresden Cumberland Presbyterian Church. (Photo credit: Dresden Enterprise)

The deadly December 10-11 tornado outbreak affected at least one EPC congregation. Paul Tucker, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Greenfield, Tenn., reported on December 13 that a family in the church who lives in Dresden, Tenn., suffered “a total loss.”

“They survived in a stairwell closet,” Tucker said by email. “That’s all that I know of at this time. Dresden is our county seat, so we know many are affected.”

The Dresden Enterprise reported that the downtown area received significant damage, including total losses to City Hall and the Fire Department and Police Department buildings. Dresden is about 12 miles northeast of Greenfield, in northwestern Tennessee approximately 15 miles south of the Kentucky state line.

Other EPC churches in the affected area reported no effects from the storm.

“Though we were under a tornado watch here in southern Illinois, were passed by,” said David Fischler, Pastor of First Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Anna, Ill..

Mike Wey, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Blytheville, Ark., reported no damage to the church property or any homes of the congregation. Blytheville is about 30 miles west of the Monette (Ark.) Manor nursing home, which suffered a roof collapse and the death of one resident due to the storm.

“Thanks for checking in on us,” Wey said. “Everyone in my congregation is fine. Our church is OK too.”

Several other EPC churches in the region have been contacted, but as of December 15 have not responded to requests for information. We will update this story as details emerge.

Secure online donations to help EPC churches in the affected area with identified needs can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Pastor-spouse retreat: a gift of refreshment and healing

 

Annie Rose

by Annie Rose
TE, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes

From October 18 to 22, about 70 EPC pastors, spouses, and global workers gathered in Seven Springs, Pa., for the first-ever EPC Pastor-Spouse retreat. I was blessed to be a part of this group as we came together to rest and be refreshed by the Lord.

Our retreat was led by Jim and Shari Hobby, Anglican pastors who masterfully guided us through an exploration of lament via Psalm 13. Together we reckoned with the biblical invitation to:

  1. Bring our pain to God.
  2. Ask God to intervene, and
  3. Embrace hope.

The Hobbys wove this teaching together with their own personal stories of struggle and lament, which gave everyone in the room permission to be honest and vulnerable about our own challenges. As we sat around our tables throughout the week, brothers and sisters gave voice to the burdens of their hearts, and together we lifted our voices to our heavenly Father, seeking His intervention and clinging to the hope we have in Christ.

Each day we were led in praise and worship by Jeremy Casella and Matthew Montgomery, both talented musicians who led us in praising God through singing Psalms and the great hymns of our faith, often set to new melodies. Jeremy and Matthew also blessed us with a worship concert one evening, which was a wonderful way to bookend the day in praising the Lord.

Following on the intensity of leading a church through COVID, this retreat was for me an oasis. It was a beautiful opportunity to engage in a rhythm of life-giving worship and interaction with my brothers and sisters in the mornings and quiet solitude in the afternoons. What a gift to put aside all other responsibilities for a few days and be fully present to one another and to the Lord!

During those quiet afternoons, retreat participants had several options for how to spend their time. Some took naps, while others explored the hiking trails of Seven Springs or enjoyed bowling or golf. Many took advantage of the resort’s spa services, and perhaps even more were eager to sign up for spiritual direction with the Hobbys or counseling with Tara Gunther or Laura Duggan—professional therapists the EPC brought to the retreat to minister to us! We had a smorgasbord of options for pursuing rest and growth in the Lord, and the cost of everything we did on the grounds of the resort was covered by the EPC.

And speaking of a smorgasbord, all of us were overwhelmed by the quality of the meals provided at Seven Springs. Especially for those of us who are the cooks in our families, it was a gift not only to rest from meal planning but also to enjoy such delicious and healthy food. Our bodies and souls were well fed on this retreat! Our mealtimes were rich with fellowship in the Holy Spirit and with laughter. They were a taste of the world to come!

Finally, one of the subtle but meaningful blessings of the Seven Springs retreat was the participation of our denominational leadership. Stated Clerk Dean Weaver not only led the retreat planning team and recruited all those who served, but he and his wife, Beth, also fully participated in every part of the retreat. Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri also participated, and World Outreach Director Gabriel de Guia and his wife, Rachel, were there as well. Seeing our leaders make the time to not simply run a retreat but participate in it validated the importance of the experience and in an unspoken way gave the rest of us permission to put aside our normal tasks and responsibilities and commit our full attention to the deep work the Holy Spirit was doing among us.

I can’t say enough about how wonderful the retreat at Seven Springs was. As Presbyterians, we know the blessing of coming together to worship and to conduct church business. What a blessing to see that we can also come together simply to enjoy one another and be refreshed by the Lord’s Spirit together.

“I will sing of the LORD, because he has dealt so lovingly with me;
Indeed, I will praise the name of the LORD Most High.” —Psalm 13:6

For details about the February retreat in Orlando, see www.epc.org/pastorspouseretreat.

Worship was a key component of the Pastor-Spouse Retreat.

Church Planters Retreat offers fellowship, equipping, connection, refreshment

 

With 9,500-foot Cheyenne Mountain as backdrop, more than 80 EPC church planters and others gathered at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., the week of October 18 for the annual Church Planters Retreat.

The theme for the three-day gathering was “Resilience” and featured guest speakers Becky Lanha and Thurman Williams, worship led by Adrianna Christmas, and couples’ coaching sessions led by Cron and Elizabeth Gibson. In addition, participants enjoyed plenty of free time to relax, fellowship with one another, connect over shared experiences, and enjoy the fall colors and striking mountain vistas.

Pete Roman Jr. and his wife, Renee, attended from Saint George, S.C., where he is planting The Village Church of Saint George.

“This week has been fantastic,” he said. “To be able to be around other church planters and encourage one another—to hear the struggles that are going on and the praises and encouraging things that are happening—it’s a huge blessing to be a part of it.”

He noted the similarity in church planting to the eight years they served as missionaries in Bulgaria.

“Nobody really understands missionaries except for other missionaries,” Roman said. “You could be at churches explaining who you were and where your heart is, but unless they had been on the mission field themselves, they just wouldn’t fully get it. This has been the same experience. Being able to be together here and be fed and worship with other people who ‘get’ you is a huge thing.”

In plenary equipping sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, Thurman spoke on “The Fuel for Resiliency: The Power of Weakness,” and “Advancing the Gospel Through Adversity.” Lanha addressed “Evangelism: The Art of Making Friends” and “The Beauty and Pain of Perseverance.” Thurman serves as church panting pastor of New City West End (PCA) in St. Louis, Mo., and Director of Homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary. Lanha is the church planting pastor of Goodland Church (ECO) in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Friendship and evangelism go hand-in-hand

On Tuesday afternoon, Lanha said friendship is the key to evangelism.

Becky Lanha

“We have made telling our friends about Jesus into a very pressure-filled, event-driven thing,” she told the attendees. “But evangelism is an overflow of the heart, and it starts with friendship.”

She explained that evangelism and friendship go “hand-in-hand,” noting the five thresholds of evangelism described in the book I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus.

“The first threshold is that a person once trusted a Christian—let that sink in,” she said. “So how do we build trust with people? We need to know how to make friends.”

She then outlined five ways to help make friends: Become the mayor of Starbucks, go beyond speed dating, remember what it was like to get your learner’s permit, be Ted Lasso, and unmute yourself from Zoom.

Describing how a daily customer who “lingered longer” received an honorary mayoral title at his local coffee shop, Lanha asked how someone gets elected mayor.

“Becoming a mayor is letting yourself show up, be present, and be fully aware in a place,” she said. “In the early church, they walked into villages and towns with an expectation. They knew that if they were sent there, God was already at work there. So the first step in making friends is to be the mayor. And not only do they get to know you, you get to know them.”

To “go beyond speed dating,” Lanha noted that “we know a little bit about a lot of people, and we let a lot of people know a little bit about us. The safe part, the good part. Instead, we need to open ourselves us to depth to relationships. It’s risky because people hurt people, and it takes a lot of trust in Jesus. Most of us—and most of the world—are struggling with a loneliness epidemic. And it has gospel ramifications.”

Lanha’s fourth method for developing friendships is to remember the excitement of having a learner’s permit.

“You wanted to drive everywhere, any time, with anyone. Remember? And when you only have a learner’s permit, you have to drive with someone else,” she said. “The gospel stories are full of this. Jesus brought people with Him on the greatest journey ever. Invite people along for your ride.”

To be Ted Lasso, Lanha recommended building community through friendships.

“Ted Lasso has a million one-liners, but my favorite is the scene in the first season when two people who know him but don’t know each other come into the room. Lasso said, ‘Congratulations you just met an awesome person!’”

The point, Lanha said, is that Lasso shares his friendships—he doesn’t hog them.

Greg Austen, Assistant Pastor of Church Planting for Ashland Church in Voorhees, N.J., partakes in communion served at the Church Planters Retreat on October 20.

“Not only do people need a friend, they need a place to belong—a community that knows and loves them. Our churches aim to be that, so a step in building friendships is building community.”

She explained the importance of “unmuting yourself from Zoom” was “to be open to letting who you really are come to the table. When we let others know who we really are, we invite others to let us know who they really are.”

She concluded by re-emphasizing that friendship is the “first step” in evangelism.

“There is so much hurt,” she said. “People can come near to Jesus because we have extended the hand of friendship. There is something very, very compelling about friendship. Non-Christians smell it out when it’s only about getting them into your church.”

‘The invitation is to experience suffering’

Speaking from Romans 5:1-11 on Wednesday afternoon, she reminded the attendees that the word “suffering” in verse 3 is a picture of the overall afflictions of life.

“Paul was not caught off guard by this idea of suffering. After all, he was the one who persecuted those who claimed to follow Christ. It was his job, so he knew what he was getting into. But we in the church have created the message that Christ is going to make your life better. We may not do it out loud, but we believe that narrative. But it’s clear here that the invitation is to die and to experience suffering.”

She added that Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because “it’s part of the deal—it’s what he signed up for. We need to normalize suffering in the Christian faith. If you’re suffering, you’re doing it right!”

In describing Paul’s progression of suffering producing endurance producing character producing hope, Lanha noted that the hope is “the assured finish line.”

“We will stand in the glory of God restored to relationship 100 percent. It’s certain,” she said. “Jesus walked the road we walk. His obedience to the Father brought suffering. But here’s the thing: In that obedience, Jesus demonstrated complete and total confidence that God will be faithful to His promises.”

In a similar vein, on Wednesday afternoon Williams told the attendees that adversity is the instrument of the gospel’s advancement. He spoke from Philippians 1:12-14 in his session, “Advancing the Gospel Though Adversity.”

Thurman Williams

“When I first read this passage, I thought that advancing through adversity meant that the gospel is so powerful that God is able to advance the gospel even in the midst of adversity, even in spite of adversity,” Williams said. “But that’s not what Paul is saying here. What Paul is saying is that his adversity is not a hindrance but is the very means of advancement. That is what God uses to advance the gospel.”

Williams explained that in verse 12, Paul says the whole Imperial Guard heard the gospel because he had been imprisoned in Rome.

“How else could he share the gospel with the entire Imperial Guard of the Emperor?” Williams asked. “Through his adversity, he was able to share the gospel with people he never would have been able to.”

He encouraged the church planters to look for opportunities to “enter into the pain” in their communities and find opportunities where God can use adversity.

Fellowship dinners in the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain provided striking views of Colorado Springs and opportunity for connection and relaxation.

“The ultimate instrument of the advance is the cross itself—Jesus becoming a curse for us,” Williams declared. “The impact of the cross of Jesus Christ on unbelievers is that everyone who calls on His name will be saved. The impact on believers is that they will be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. So this passage calls us to enter into adversity and see the gospel advance through it, not in just spite of it or in the midst of it, but because of it.”

In addition to the equipping sessions and couples’ coaching sessions, attendees enjoyed morning yoga with Jessie Steadman, whose husband, Brian, is Pastor of Resurrection Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and evening fellowship meals at a large home in the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain.

“I am thrilled that we can resource this event for our church planters,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “In so many cases, these brothers and sisters are doing an incredibly difficult work in a culture that sees their efforts as increasingly irrelevant. Yet they are standing firm on their calling and persevering through the adversity that they understand is the very thing God will use to help them reach their communities for Christ.”

The retreat is an annual resource for EPC church planters, hosted by the Church Planting Team. For more information on EPC church planting, see www.epc.org/churchplanting.

Worship is a key component of the Church Planters Retreat.

Andrew and Norine Brunson celebrate third anniversary of return to U.S.

 

October 13, 2021, marks the three-year anniversary of Andrew Brunson’s return to the United States from his two-year imprisonment in Turkey.

An EPC Teaching Elder and longtime pastor in Turkey, Brunson was arrested in October 2016 and held imprisoned on terrorism charges until his release on October 13, 2018. He told his story in God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Endurance, published in 2019. Brunson currently serves as Special Advisor for Religious Freedom with the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

The entire EPC celebrates with you, Andrew and Norine!

Georgia pastor Walter Turner succumbs to COVID

 

Walter Turner

Walter Turner, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Rome, Ga., since September 2017, has succumbed to COVID-19. In addition to serving the Covenant congregation, Turner was chairman of the Undergraduate Department of Religious Studies at Beulah Heights University in Atlanta.

Please pray for the Walter’s wife, Margaret, their two children and their families, and the congregation at Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Memorial gifts or condolences cards can be sent to the attention of Dr. Walter Turner’s family, Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1645 Cartersville Hwy. SE, Rome, GA 30161.

Bob Stauffer named National Director of Church Health

 

Bob Stauffer

Bob Stauffer, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, has been named the EPC’s National Director of Church Health. This new role at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando will oversee the denomination’s strategic priority of Church Revitalization.

“I am excited to serve the EPC in this capacity of helping churches better understand how they can be healthy congregations,” Stauffer said. “We are already developing plans for a church health structure both nationally and within each Presbytery to give the entire process ‘rails to run on’ in the areas of evangelism, church health, and transitional pastorates.”

A member of the EPC’s first ordination class in 1982, Stauffer has served in a wide variety of roles in his 40 years of ministry. Among these are Associate Pastor of NorthPark EPC in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Planting Pastor of Carmel Valley EPC in San Diego, Calif.; Pastor of Tabernacle EPC in Youngstown, Ohio; Planting Pastor of Gateway EPC in Slippery Rock, Pa.; and several transitional pastorates. He also served as the EPC’s National Outreach Director; Church Development Coordinator for the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; a Church Health leader for Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic’s GO Center; and Regional Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. For the past 34 years he also has served as a high school baseball and strength and conditioning coach.

“I am thrilled that Bob is leading this critical effort in the life of the EPC,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk. “Those who know Bob know that his passion for the local church to be everything God has called her to be as the Bride of Christ is infectious. In addition, his vast experience helping churches all across the EPC through the revitalization process will be a tremendous benefit to the entire denomination.”

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Stauffer is a graduate of Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., and Pittsburgh (Pa.) Theological Seminary. He also holds a doctorate from Reformed Theological Seminary.

He and his wife, Debbie, have been married for 42 years and have three children—all involved in ministry—and eight grandchildren.

Hurricane Ida leaves communities, EPC churches in state of ‘relief, recovery, rebuild’

 

by Bill Crawford
Pastor, First Presbyterian Churches of Houma, La., and Thibodaux, La.

Bill Crawford

It’s been an amazing, intense, depressing, and glorious two weeks. Sunday, August 29, will sit in a long history of devastating storms as one of the most catastrophic storms ever recorded. I know as my family and I watched from the windows of First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux. I could see the power of the storm, but I had no concept of the scope. As we woke up and walked out on the streets of Thibodaux it was like people walking into Oz. We discovered that the loud noise we heard in the night was the collapse of a brick building downtown. Eventually we traveled home to find our home surrounded by broken trees but mostly intact.

It was typical of Thibodaux that we immediately started clearing trees. We spent an hour cutting a hole through my neighbor’s driveway so he could evacuate. That began the slow process of coming to grip with the truth that it wasn’t just us. Thibodaux and Houma are at the heart of a storm that left a trail of power outages from Morgan City—35 miles west of us—to Mobile, Ala.—200 miles east of us.

Yet, to our amazement the assistance began to roll in from those who were also without power. I can’t mention every church and person who dove in and helped us, but First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge—in the person of TE Whitney Alexander—has been steadfast. We know he represents the whole staff and congregation.

The churches of the entire Gulf Coast have been amazing. Help poured in from Houston; Monroe, Covington, and New Orleans, La.; a nonprofit called Advancing the Call Together (ACT) from Ohio; the EPC Office of the General Assembly in Orlando; and from individuals from several states outside Louisiana. Pastors came with lay people like Korey Duncan organizing trips, and Nathan Edwards crawling in the dirt to fix our pipes. Will Shirley, Parks Lanier, and others came representing so many congregations. We were blessed to see brothers and sisters in the Methodist and even Catholic believers. Our cup runs over.

Damage from Hurricane Ida in Thibodaux, La. (Photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

The last two weeks have been a joint effort of those above, a small group of volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, community leaders, and—simply put—personal friends old and new. We have seen God move through the generosity of the Presbytery, local people, friends, family, and strangers from across the country.

Many individuals and congregations have made contributions for us to make sure we could meet expenses and meet needs. Thank you! By your gifts we’ve been able to do some amazing things.

We’ve paid to tarp three homes that had no available person to do it. Through a food pantry at First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux (FPCT) we have served 150 distinct households representing 554 people—in just the first 10 days after the storm. With the work of ACT we have helped serve 1,500 hot meals in Point Aux Chene (about an hour south of Thibodaux in the bayou)—where with your donations we set up a satellite relief warehouse larger than the one in Thibodaux. We’ve given food, water, and gasoline to hundreds of residents in the Point Aux Chene area, and built connections with the Dardar Indians and the local Fire Department.

I have to share one heartbreaking story. One of our deacons has an adult son with special needs. We discovered one of her son’s friends, who also has special needs, a few days ago. He was home alone with his dog, where he rode out the storm in a closet because his caretakers had abandoned him. Our deacon is currently housing both young men in her two-bedroom home, and we are providing some funds so she can buy enough groceries.

In addition to financial support, volunteers have helped clean out two houses and moved members’ furniture into First Presbyterian Church of Houma. The church facility is currently closed due to its own damage and loss of power and water, so we are using it as temporary storage.

Today (Monday, September 13) we are helping two widows pack up anything salvageable before we rip their homes to the studs. We are in a race against time with Tropical Storm Nicholas bearing down on us with the potential for heavy rain over the next few days.

Relief, Recovery, Rebuild

So what is next? The three Rs of a disaster are Relief (meet the basic needs of daily survival), Recovery (save the valuables that cannot be replaced and mitigate further damage), and Rebuild (help people rebuild their lives).

Damage from Hurricane Ida is providing an almost unlimited avenue for ministry in South Louisiana. (Photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

We are wrapping up the relief phase, which I have never seen happen so quickly. We have more than enough water. We have more than enough food (although hot food is a value). Gasoline has gone from a one-hour wait to almost no lines in Thibodaux. But further south, those down the bayou are catching up. By your gifts we have delivered more than 200 gallons of gas into Point Aux Chene. We have used about that in Houma and Thibodaux.

Recovery is going to be a heavy lift. As we say, “We’re all in the pot.” My home is still without power, and I am living at my neighbor’s house. I put the cook team in my house this week thanks to a generator generously provided from folks in west Louisiana. I might move home next week. But literally everyone has damage. We have only two members in the two congregations who have power. Several moved home, their generators failed, and they’ve moved back out. The damage is just astounding. I can drive for three hours in one direction without leaving this zone. As I go south it just gets worse and worse.

As you try to help us, please be patient. We can likely only handle one group at a time for now. Saturdays may be the best time, but we can’t handle all of you at once! There’s plenty of work—we’re literally surrounded by it—but knowing where to point you takes time and planning. It’s a 50-mile congregational parish and we’re all in the pot!

Further out is the next phase to help rebuild several homes. We will need skilled labor for that work. It will have to be a collaborative effort and will require an entrepreneurial attitude and an adventurous spirit.

I don’t even know what else is going on in the world, but for the last two weeks we’ve been living in the eye of the storm. We are grateful that the Eye of the Lord is on the sparrow and that He watches us to the point that He knows the hairs of our heads!

This is a long report, but it is written out of a sense of amazement and joy. There is so much work to do; so many stories to tell. Each day full and each night restful. Clarity comes in the storm. What matters most is made crystal clear. But clarity comes and grows each day as we experience relief, recovery, and are rebuilt by the Holy Spirit.

God bless you all—we love you and we thank you.

TE Bill Crawford

Secure online donations to help with recovery efforts can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Prayer requested for COVID-stricken Georgia church

 

“Hear our prayers, O Lord, and raise up our brother and sister for the glory of Jesus our Lord.”

Walter Turner

Please pray for the congregation at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Rome, Ga. A member of the Session contracted COVID-19 and died last week. Covenant’s Pastor, Walter Turner, has COVID and is on a ventilator in a Rome hospital. His wife, Margaret, also has COVID and is resting at home.

Let us join hearts and voices in prayer for the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church, and for Walter and Margaret Turner.

Louisiana EPC church members suffer ‘total loss’ from Hurricane Ida

 

Hurricane Ida left downtown Thibodaux, La., strewn with bricks and rubble. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Reports of damage to EPC church buildings and congregation members’ homes resulting from Hurricane Ida continue to emerge in the days following the storm’s August 29 landfall in Louisiana.

Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Thibodaux, La., said several families in the congregation suffered “total losses.”

“One of our losses is just crippling,” he said. “She in her 50s, uninsured, and her husband died in December. Another family lives out in the bayou and it’s really bad.”

Crawford reported that he and his family were staying in the home of a church member who had evacuated and has a generator.

“My home has two trees that have fallen over the fence and are hanging on the neighbor’s power line, so I’m leaving them alone,” he said. “My roof has shingles missing everywhere, the garage roof is leaking, and the tarp I put over the damage is leaking. Thankfully it’s only over the garage, and so many people here are dealing with much worse. Some of these folks are just beside themselves trying to figure out what’s next.”

This home of a church member suffered significant damage. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Crawford said the church building escaped major damage.

“Structurally, the church building in Thibodaux is sound. The building has always had leaking issues, but they have been mitigated and we are good there,” he reported, adding that he and his family are using the church as a makeshift relief center.

“We are set up for relief and giving out supplies in the dark—but what’s how we roll around here,” he said. “For now it’s me and my family because the members of the church are dealing with stuff too. We have received an initial load of supplies from the Presbytery, and even though we are not advertising we’ve had about 30 households come through and pick up bottled water, tarps, and other things.”

Crawford also serves as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Houma, La., about 15 miles south of Thibodaux.

Bill Crawford

“The ridge cap blew off the roof of the church building on Houma, and there are leaks all over,” he said. “Bricks are on the roof, but they are not our bricks. If I can’t get the insurance folks over I’ll have to figure something out. As for our members, everyone is just coping. For the most part, people either evacuated or are in serious trouble. The big problem we are going to face is mildew—this is South Louisiana, so we are literally in a swamp.”

He said one family who lives in a trailer home “has a hole in their roof and no tarp” while another was “completely flooded when water overtopped the levee. Another family lost everything—they are in Florida now.”

The courtyard entrance for First Presbyterian Church in Houma was littered with roofing shingles and other debris. (photo courtesy of Bill Crawford)

Amid the devastation, Crawford noted that the area is “one of the most churched places in America. There are so many good Christians here jumping in to help—we are blessed.”

Northeast flooding

The news is better in the Presbytery of the East, where the remnants of Ida delivered heavy rains, flooding, and tornadoes across a wide area of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Glenn Marshall, Pastor of Park Avenue Community Church in Somerdale, N.J., said his congregation escaped significant damage.

“We are all fine,” Marshall reported. “We had storms all around us. One family who lives in Mantua Township had a tornado close to them, but they are thankfully unscathed.”

Mantua Township is about 4 miles from Mullica Hill, N.J., where a confirmed EF-3 tornado with 150 mph top winds destroyed numerous houses on September 1.

About 80 miles north in Kearny, N.J., Pastor Valdir Reis said the Closer to God Evangelical Presbyterian Church building’s basement flooded, but the members of the congregation fared well.

“Thankfully, so far no one has reported any loss or anything serious following the storm,” Reis reported by email on September 3. “There were members with minor leaks but that was all taken care of and everyone is healthy as far as we know.”

In the northern portion of Brooklyn, N.Y., Pastor Jamison Galt said many parishioners of Resurrection Clinton Hill had flooded basements, “but nothing worse. We are grateful.”

About 5 miles south, Brian Steadman said parishioners of his congregation had their homes elevated as part of their recovery from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge in 2012, and only experienced minor issues. Steadman is Pastor of Resurrection Park Slope in Brooklyn.

Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk, said he has been in contact with church and Presbytery leaders across the affected areas.

“Several churches in the Presbytery of the Gulf South are coordinating relief efforts and work teams,” Weaver said. “As they assess the situation and start to be able to host volunteers, we will get that information out. In the meantime, we are accepting donations to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund to help with immediate needs. We’ve been told the most pressing items are fuel, tarps, bottled water, and Gatorade.”

Secure online donations can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief, which also includes instructions for donating by check and text-to-give.

Back in Louisiana, Crawford said they would continue to distribute relief supplies as they are delivered and looks forward to hosting work teams as soon as they can.

“At this point, we are just chugging along and accomplishing tasks,” he said. “We are a really small congregation and it’s a bit overwhelming. I can’t imagine how those with a large group are keeping up with everyone. Just knowing our EPC friends are praying for us and that they care is a huge comfort.”

Deerfield EPC celebrates sanctuary’s 250th anniversary

 

There are only a handful of churches that can claim they worship in a sanctuary built five years before the American Revolution.

When the Jersey Sandstone building of Deerfield Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton, N.J., was constructed in 1771, the “Founding Fathers” were young men. George Washington was 39 years old. John Adams was 36. Thomas Jefferson was 28. James Madison was 20. Alexander Hamilton was 16.

As it has for the past 250 years, the building stands as a testament of its members’ faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Though Deerfield’s sanctuary was built in 1771, the church has been part of the surrounding community since its founding in 1737 by Scottish immigrants. The church—which celebrates its 284th anniversary this year—is about 50 miles south of Philadelphia, Pa.

On August 8, about 90 current and past members gathered to celebrate God’s work through the church over nearly three centuries. The occasion also marked the completion of repairs and upgrades to the building that included a laborious restoration of the sandstone exterior, a new cedar-shingle roof, lightning protection, and other projects.

Ken Larter, Deerfield’s pastor since 2002 and the church’s longest-serving minister, said the congregation originally met in a log cabin near the site of the existing sanctuary. Led by the church’s second pastor, Enoch Green, the congregation completed the sandstone sanctuary shortly before the Revolutionary War. Larter added that in addition to being a pastor, Green “was instrumental in getting the congregation behind the revolutionary cause. In a sermon that he preached from our sanctuary, he was basically recruiting men for the revolutionary army.”

Ken Larter

Larter said Green served as a chaplain with the men who were recruited.

“Unfortunately, he caught camp fever when he was with George Washington’s troops and came back ill to this area, dying fairly young.” Camp fever—or Toxoplasmosis—is an infection that usually occurs by eating undercooked, contaminated meat.

Another notable Deerfield pastor was John Brainerd, brother of celebrated missionary David Brainerd.

“David Brainerd, if you remember your Colonial church history, was a missionary to the Native American Indians,” Larter said. “Unfortunately, he contracted tuberculosis and died quite young in the home of Jonathan Edwards. John Brainerd, his brother, was able to carry on David’s work and was minister at Deerfield for three years before he died in 1781.”

John Brainerd, Enoch Green, and a third minister from the era, Simeon Hyde, are buried side-by-side just outside Deerfield’s sanctuary.

Larter explained that in the 1700s, a deceased minister would sometimes be laid to rest under the sanctuary. This was done for Green and Brainerd, but their remains were later reinterred on either side of Hyde just outside the church building.

“In the very oldest part of the graveyard, in the space occupied by the old log cabin church, burials go back to the early 1700s. Then, directly across the street from the sanctuary, there are graves primarily from the 19th and 20th centuries. And a tenth of a mile away, in what is called the triangle, are 20th and 21st-century burials. So the church is surrounded by those who have belonged to us in times past,” he said.

As for the present and future, Larter noted that Deerfield remains committed to the authority of Scripture and the truth of the gospel.

“I think what is important is the very fact the congregation has survived for going on 300 years. That survival is ultimately tied to its commitment to the authority of Scripture and the historic Christian gospel,” Larter said. “Churches in so many places have compromised again and again on the essentials of the faith, but the theological heritage of the church remains solidly Bible-based and evangelical. I believe that is why the Lord has allowed us to stay here for so long.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Central Presbyterian Church models ‘parent, partner, patron’ in church planting efforts

 

The goal of the EPC Church Planting Team is “to cultivate a culture where church planting is embraced, encouraged, and celebrated by all EPC churches.” Central Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Ala., has embraced this goal and believes that the heart of church planting is making new disciples.

Randy Jenkins

Randy Jenkins serves as Central’s Pastor, and also leads the church planting network for the Presbytery of the Central South. What began as a committee for church planting has grown into a network of people and churches who are passionate about church planting and see it as an indicator of the future.

“When people see church planting and understand it, it is very, very exciting,” Jenkins said. “Church planters are the tip of the spear of the EPC. They are on the cutting edge of doing new ministries in a different way and helping the rest of us learn what it means and how to apply it.”

The EPC’s church planting strategy has been a combination of recruiting and leadership diagnostics. The church planting networks are trying to develop a pipeline of church planters that they then mentor, assist with fundraising, and support through the process.

“I am the guy who facilitates church planters and helps them raise money,” Jenkins said, explaining his role in the process. “Because they are our investment, we are trying hard to pick the right people.”

He recalled that when CPC joined the EPC in 2007, his new colleagues stressed the importance of church planting. Jenkins knew church planting was not his specific calling, but that did not lessen his excitement.

“I like success,” Jenkins admitted, “and if I can’t do it, then I want someone else to do it. And we’re talking about the Kingdom. I want to see them achieve for the Kingdom.”

As he began talking with the congregation about church planting, they expressed a willingness to invest. They started by partnering with existing church plants. Eventually, Central became a parent of Chelsea Presbyterian Church in suburban Birmingham, about 100 miles south of Huntsville.

Returns on investment

James and Larissa Daniels

James Daniels was a “parachute drop” into Chelsea. Daniels came from the education field and didn’t have years of experience as a pastor. Yet as CPC began to see Daniels’ vision for the community, they also began to see the realization of their investment of time and money in the process that started years earlier.

“We didn’t really understand what it means to be a parent, but that is exactly what it is,” Jenkins said. “It’s like delivering a baby who at first spends most of its time eating and sleeping. But one day it wakes up and needs lots of care and lots of time and supervision.”

While CPC continues to play an active role in the strategy of planting churches, it also provides structure that is crucial to existing church planters in a variety of ways.

Kirk Adkisson, planting pastor of All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., said his relationship with Jenkins and CPC has been “nothing short of amazing.”

Kirk and Deb Adkisson

“Under Randy’s leadership, CPC stepped in and provides accounting and bookkeeping services for us. I can’t overstate what a gift this is,” Adkisson said. “This gives us the freedom from some of the basic financial tasks and more time for other essential components of church planting.”

Jenkins noted that financial tasks, including fund raising, are a key factor in a plant’s success—with undercapitalization as the biggest hindrance to church planting. Without the funds in place, church planters must balance their time between fundraising and ministry. This is where the networks step in with more structure.

“We encourage our church planters to have $100,000 in the bank before doing anything else, Jenkins explained. “If your energies are spent on making sure you have enough money to exist, then that is a problem. CPC is very generous financially and always ready to be involved when it comes to giving to a church plant.”

Tom Ricks, leader of EPC Church Planting Team, ascribes CPC’s generosity to Jenkins.

“Some people are that influential with their congregation, and Randy has a great track record with his people,” Ricks said. “He has led them in a Christlike manner. When he stands in the pulpit and says that we have a great opportunity here, his people listen and follow. The relational capital that he has with his congregation has been put to use for church planting.”

Wide geographic reach

In addition to Chelsea and All Souls, CPC partners with Quest Church in New Braunfels, Texas; The Table in Little Rock, Ark.; The Table Project in Denver, Colo.; and a non-EPC plant, St. Patrick Church in Cedar Park, Texas. These church plants cover a wide range of geography and demographics—from suburban “Bible Belt” to suburban/urban transitional, to western suburban where religion does not play a prominent role in the community.

Tom Ricks

Ricks loves that CPC is willing to support church plants outside its own Presbytery.

“I love the diversity of the church plants that CPC is supporting” Ricks said. “They couldn’t be more different, and I love that. We need more of that diversity.”

CPC’s generosity and connection involves much more than finances. Each of the church planters that Central partners with highlighted the importance of the spiritual support they have received.

In Nashville, sent a mission team to assist with clean-up and distributing supplies to the neighborhood residents after a March 2020 tornado hit the largely under-resourced community that All Souls serves.

In Chelsea, CPC members routinely dropped in to attend worship services prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Some from CPC stop and visit as they are passing through to lend moral support—sometimes physical support—and to see what God is doing here,” Daniels said.

Mark and Stacey Grapengater

Mark Grapengater, Pastor of The Table Project in Denver, described Central as having “a real Kingdom mindset.”

“Their ministry for church planting extends well beyond Huntsville,” he said. “That posture is key for us as church planters. Randy and the church always make sure we have everything we need.”

Investing where God is moving

Central dedicated 8 percent of its total budget to church planting in 2020—evidence that the congregation shares Jenkins’ enthusiasm.

“If your mission is only within your own four walls, you won’t be there very long,” Jenkins warned. “If you see the vision for the gospel moving forward both locally and in other areas, you want to invest where God is moving. God is moving in church planters.”

Jenkins acknowledged that church planting can be lonely and stressful, and emphasized that CPC wants to “walk alongside the planters” and remove as much of that burden as possible so they can be caring, welcoming, and opening doors to relationships.

“Church planters are taking people from that secular point, with no knowledge of Christianity, and speaking simply to them so that they will understand,” he noted. “Church planters love to see eyes open, and people begin to believe and grow in faith. If we can help make this happen, we want to help them any way we can.”

Ricks said the denomination’s goal is that every EPC congregation is involved in some aspect of church planting. He said he will “continually be shooting for every church, no matter the size, to participate in being a parent, partner, or patron.”

“Randy and CPC exemplify a congregation that gets this, and the congregation gets it because Randy gets it,” Ricks said., “If I could have a ‘poster child’ for what I believe is a great attitude for church planting, it would be Randy.”

For more information about EPC church planting, see www.epc.org/churchplanting or contact Ricks at tom@greentreechurch.com.

by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
EPConnection correspondent

Michael Davis named EPC Chief Collaborative Officer

 

Michael Davis

Michael Davis, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Central South, has been named the EPC’s Chief Collaborative Officer. This new role at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando encompasses strategic leadership with particular emphasis on strategic priorities and senior leaders; collaborative networking at all levels of the denomination; and development and innovation with a focus on missional “best practices.” Davis begins his responsibilities on August 2.

“Michael’s primary responsibilities will be to identify where God is at work inside and outside of the EPC, and help connect and network ministries, Presbyteries, and congregations to the missio dei in order that we might fulfill the EPC’s mission,” said Dean Weaver, EPC Stated Clerk.

Since 2017, Davis has served as Associate Teaching Pastor for Downtown Church in Memphis, Tenn. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor for Memphis City Seminary. He previously served as an adjunct instructor for the Memphis Center of Urban Theological Studies, Assistant Pastor to Young Adults at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, and Chaplain for Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis.

“I am incredibly energized and excited to be the Chief Collaborative Officer for our denomination,” Davis said. “This potential for innovation and collaboration will cultivate a thriving, gospel-driven denomination that will see fruit for years to come. God has provided our denomination with an abundance of opportunities that will benefit our communities, nation, and the world all for the glory of God. It is an amazing honor to serve in this capacity.”

Davis is a graduate of the University of Missouri in Columbia and Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He has served as the Board Chairman for Advance Memphis since 2015, and also is on the Boards of a variety of Memphis-area ministries, including Service Over Self, Presbyterian Day School, The Center for Executive Leadership, and Memphis City Seminary. He has served on the EPC’s Church Planting Team, Next Generation Ministries Council, and Presbytery of the Central South Ministerial Committee.

He and his wife, Serena, have two children. Their third child is due in late November.