When I first received a phone call from Highland Park Baptist Church’s pastor search committee, February 2, 2012, I was sitting in a Walgreen’s parking lot in North Texas. A friend of mine thought I would be a good fit to pastor this historic church as Charity and I were open to moving closer to her family (in east Tennessee).
In an amazingly quick process, I preached in view of a call and accepted the pastorate of Highland Park. My first Sunday as pastor was Easter Sunday, April 8th.
Over this past year, we have seen a lot happen. I was initially trying to get my feet wet, but knew we did not have time to “wait a year before making any changes” as they, for some reason, taught me in seminary. As an aside, I think that line of thought may have been true years ago, but in today’s culture, in an urban or suburban church, waiting that long to establish any vision-casting is too long.
In May and June, I met with small groups of people from all different ages of the church, to have prayer and listening sessions. I learned of what they perceived as the strengths, weaknesses, and spiritual climate of the church.
Then, Charity and I went to Gatlinburg for a few days to pray in July. We sought the Lord on what direction He destined for me to lead the church. I established we had four options: (1) Keep the church the same and watch it die; (2) Lay off the entire staff (including myself eventually) and start an entirely multicultural ministry with a much more multi-ethnic leadership base; (3) Merge with Mt Canaan Baptist Church; or (4) Move the church to our Harrison property and essentially start a new church.
On our way back from Gatlinburg, we exited in Ooltewah and headed over to our Highway 58 property. It was at that moment that I knew God destined for our church to re-plant to that beautiful location.
Next, I had several meetings with our staff about our options. Eventually, we had a staff meeting in Harrison to pray about and dream about moving to Harrison. It was obvious the staff was behind us re-planting the church.
We had a deacons’ meeting, and we discussed the four options. I put together a long-range planning team to discuss our options. It was clear that the long-range planning team and deacons of the church wanted us to press the reset button and begin a new work in Harrison. We eventually had a meeting in August where the deacons unanimously voted to follow the Lord’s will for Highland Park Baptist Church to move to Harrison, become “Church of the Highlands,” and adopt a more progressive, 21st century model of ministry.
I announced all of this to the church September 9th on our vision-casting day. That day was one of the most difficult and exciting days of my ministry. I was 100% confident of the decision, but standing up in Lee Roberson’s historic pulpit and casting a brand new vision of this magnitude was quite overwhelming. Also, I had a policeman stand with me after the service because I didn’t know if someone would be really angry with what we were doing, and come after me.
Well, after the service, the church was so unified and excited behind this vision. It was so obvious that it was of the Lord. From September 9th through January 20th, we established a core group of people who would be a part of launching Church of the Highlands. We had weekly core group leadership meetings on Sunday nights. We quickly remodeled the Harrison property, developed and implemented a marketing plan for Church of the Highlands, and created a buzz in the community that we were coming.
We brought about 140 people with us from Highland Park. Now, we average about 300-330 people in our English-speaking ministry and 410-440 when you include our Spanish ministry. Last year, on my first Sunday (Easter), we had 220 people. We had 450 people at our three English-speaking Easter services this past weekend, and 570 total with our Spanish ministry.
The exciting news that we shared at church this past weekend is that we are about to become debt free. Church of the Highlands is currently in $2.85M debt, but once we close on this sale, we will have no debt!
As I begin my second year as pastor here, I reflect on God’s blessings in our church and look forward with anticipation to what the Lord will do over the next year. I feel like the foundation has been poured in the first year to bring unity and health, and now is the time where we can really build a steady structure of a church family.
Praise the Lord for His favor. I am honored to serve as Lead Pastor of Church of the Highlands.
All for Jesus,
Below are a few videos you may want to see: (1) My in-view-of-a-call sermon at Highland Park April 1, 2012; (2) Brief video of the vision from our Highway 58 property filmed in early September; (3) Vision-casting message at Highland Park September 9, 2012; and (4) First message preached at Church of the Highlands