“Shepherds don’t produce sheep, sheep produce sheep.” This is what I was taught when I was initially discipled as a believer in reference to sharing our faith with others and making disciples to Jesus. Later in my seminary studies I was told, in reference to planting new churches, “denominations don’t plant churches, churches start churches.”
CBF’s creation and my spiritual leadership journey crossed paths in the early ‘90s. The more I learned about CBF while still in missionary service half-way around the world, I began to dream of one day seeing a CBF congregation in my hometown of Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
When my wife, Yolande, and I returned to Fort Walton Beach to care for my dad, I eventually became the pastor of Bluewater Community Church (CBF) upon Dr. Haywood Day’s retirement in May of 2013. Our ministry there was to last until August 2016. But Bluewater Bay community is located 22 miles from where I live in Fort Walton. Bluewater church family enabled a wonderful spirit of fellowship, love, and cooperation, to the end, it would have been difficult for anyone to have considered ministry anywhere else. I loved those people, and still do.
However, I did not live there, did not shop there, did not have kids in schools, clubs, or sports there. But I loved the people of the community and the church and developed a ministry that reached beyond the church family. But the dream of a Fort Walton Beach CBF congregation was still ever before us.
In 2015, a ministry friend with an American Baptist background move to the area. After a few months, he shared with me that he was going through “ministry withdrawal.” His gifts were more suited to an established congregation, while I had spent a missionary career starting new churches in another culture. We met more regularly and a vision kept forming for what it seemed as empowering both needs: the nurturing ministry of the established church and the missionary ministry of a progressive believers’ congregation where none existed. The two of us worked with Bluewater Church’s former search committee to achieve something unique – a transition of ministry leadership in view of a new church start.
Watch how you pull this off though. The Lord may throw you some curveballs just to make things interesting. The reality was, I was about to lose a good part-time salary from Bluewater Church. But a week before my last scheduled Sunday as pastor at Bluewater Church, I learned that my other part-time employment as Adjunct Professor at our Community College was being cut back due to budgetary restraints.
“God is testing you,” my beautiful, party-waiting-to-happen wife said. “God wants to see if you are really serious about this dream you have.” But going forward was the only option.
“Where God leads, God provides.” I knew I’d heard that somewhere.
Yolande and I took four Sundays and visited a variety of churches that we had heard were doing “cutting edge” ministry. We learned a lot, particularly that “the welcome” means a lot.
In mid-October 2016, we invited our neighbors to join us for an informal coffee on Sunday morning. From the few who attended we began the core of Seeker Fellowship, now meeting in a local surf shop Sunday worship.
Please pray for our outreach and nurture ministry in a beach-tourist and military community.