Panhandle, Texas is a town about 30 miles of northeast of Amarillo, with a population of around 2,500 people.
The church had burned to the ground in February of 1997 and we made the move to Panhandle in June of 1997.
The beautiful church building with an incredible history and countless memories had gone down in flames and was gone forever.
There was a mourning that took place concerning the loss of this building. There were many questions about the future and many questions about the cost.
I was only 24 years old and had a lot to learn. I was incredibly blessed to be lead and mentored by Dr. Jim Perkins. I will never forget those years and his focus on the actual mission of the church.
The worship services were held at the elementary school. The children and choir met at the Junior High School. The student ministry met at the high school. Our offices were at the local bank
Twenty years later, I live in Brooklyn, New York. It's a long ways and a lot different from Panhandle, Texas.
Yet, there are many lessons that I learned in Panhandle that apply to church planting in New York City.
There is a certain irony regarding planting churches and replanting churches in New York City. On one hand, we see the need for our church planters and replanters to have their own buildings.
Most of the churches in New York City are sharing space from other churches, paying a great deal of money for rent, and are limited on the times that they can meet.
On the other hand, for churches that own or have full access to a church building, the building itself can become the focus of the mission. There is the need for constant attention to the building. It has be cleaned, maintained, and repaired. The building may cost more money to operate than a small congregation can afford.
With that in mind, the church will often determine to rent out the building to another church. When this takes place, there are new dynamics involved simply to have a worship service or gathering.
In short, it does not take much to bring a church to lose sight of its mission.
Buildings can become the mission.
Raising money can become the mission.
Hosting Mission Teams can become the mission.
Absolutely anything can become the mission and focus of a church or church plant, and every pastor and church planter will deal with this issue on a regular basis.
It takes absolute resolve and commitment for a church to recognize and realize that the primary mission of the church is to see people changed and transformed through Jesus.
Most churches would agree that seeing people come to know Jesus is the most important thing that a church should focus on doing. Most churches will even have a mission statement to reflect this as a priority or a reason for the church's existence.
Yet, if we are not careful, the church can subtly shift priorities.
It's easy for churches to get short-sighted. That is why it is so essential that churches are lead by strong pastors and church planters who are not going to compromise the primary mission of seeing people changed and transformed through Jesus.
That is what took place twenty years ago at First Baptist Church of Panhandle, Texas.
There were inconveniences, shared space, the burden of setting up and tearing down, and the uncertainty about the future.
But, there was no uncertainty about the mission. Brother Jim made sure of that.
The church grew. Offerings increased. And, in one year, we baptized 49 people!
There are always going to be difficult circumstances and numerous distractions. Those are not going to automatically go away or dissipate.
But, the mission of the Great Commission always exceeds every other priority and has to be the focus of the Pastor, Church Planter and church.
As soon as it stops being the focus and the priority, the church begins its downward spiral to irrelevance and death.