Every man called to plant a church understands the word, "Miraculous," because every church that God builds is nothing short of a miracle. Heritage Christian Fellowship is no exception.
It was Sunday morning, October 25th, 1998. Pastor Tom Long had "run his race" at a previous church and announced he was returning to the classroom to be a high-school teacher. He had been a pastor for 28 years, and now his work was complete. He and his wife Sandi were leaving the ministry...
...So he thought.
God had other plans. In five short days, God would introduce Tom to the members of his new congregation and begin a work that would surpass anything he had imagined.
It was a Friday morning when Pastor Tom found himself sitting in a Coffee House next to a strip mall near his home. I’ll submit an application today at the school district…, he mused. …and maybe start a Bible study. Just then he noticed the storefront church next to the coffee shop. The front door was open, and he decided to check it out.
Tom walked inside. He noticed a light at the end of a hall, and saw a man sitting at his desk. “Knock, knock… Are you the pastor?”
“Yes, I’m Pastor Bob,” answered the man. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, I’ve been a pastor most of my life, but I’ve decided to return to the classroom. However, I know a few people who would like for me to start a Bible study, and so I’m looking for a room to rent.”
The pastor didn’t reply right away but sat deep in thought. “Hmm… I think God sent you here. You see, this is my last Sunday here, and this church will be closing its doors next week, and…” He hesitated. “I think you should meet some people in the next room.”
Down the hall, a group of people was praying behind closed doors, “Lord, bring us a new pastor…” They had just finished making a list of the kind of man they wanted and committed it to prayer. “Lord Jesus, send us your man… Amen.”
“Amen,” answered Bob as he stepped into the room. “Hey, everyone, sorry to interrupt. This is Pastor Tom, and he wants to start a Bible study.” Everyone in the room was awed and speechless. Was this God's Divine appointment? Tom was convinced he was returning to teaching. Everyone in the room was convinced he was not!
Within a day or two Bob cleaned out his desk and was gone. His denomination paid off the lease, closed the church but left the sound system, all the chairs and the children's furniture at the request of the few people left. Tom took a job as a teacher, but taught the Scripture on Sundays.
Was Tom to be a teacher or a pastor?
In a matter of months, God would make the answer obvious. The first Sunday had 37 adults in attendance. Within a month it doubled. In two months, it doubled again. On December 27th, 1998, Heritage Christian Fellowship was incorporated. Within a year, the church had outgrown its facility.
"A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (proverbs 16:9) This verse took on new meaning to Pastor Tom. He recognized God was at work and after two years of teaching, he returned to full-time ministry.
Heritage moved into the largest square footage in the center, remodeled it and continued to grow. Although the church grew, so did the lease payments. Within six years it had risen more than 100%. It became obvious our landlord had different plans for the building. Heritage felt forced out. And then it happened.
The building went up for sale. Investors competed for the property, driving its price up to a full-cash offer of 2.9 million, not for one building, but for two. The elders, deacons and leaders came together in prayer. "God, do you want us here?"
The church didn’t have anywhere near 2.9 million, but we had a Big God and decided to submit an offer to the owners with the statement, “We submit this offer as an investment in people.” Soon after submitting the offer, we got a reply from the owner indicated he had already received our offer. Apparently in the bidding war among investors, one investor cleverly claimed to be working on behalf of the church. This display of deceit annoyed the owner, and so he submitted a response to all interested parties that he would sell his property to no one but the church! We raised our voices in thanksgiving to a Sovereign God who intervenes in the lives of people. There was one condition, though.
We had to raise an additional $260,000 in six weeks. An unspoken thought lingered: we had no business buying this building! It almost seemed irresponsible. But we also knew God was clearly leading us. Pastor Tom brought the challenge to the congregation, and after six weeks, we raised the full amount with about $100 left over.
Heritage was blessed more than it deserved. The church found favor with the city, favor with the neighbors, and now we were property owner! God allowed Heritage to be the modern-day recipient of Deuteronomy 28:2: “And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
God built a hedge of protection around the church. At one time, parking became an issue, and the church was threatened to lose it Conditional Use Permit. For several months the looming threat drove the church to prayer. Within a 24-hour period, a building in the center went up for sale. The wrong buying could further jeopardize the church. God said, "Why don't you buy it?" That afternoon, a donor stopped by the office and handed the church a half a million dollars.
God’s blessings continue at Heritage. People receive Jesus Christ as Savior. Water Baptisms occur quarterly. Young families are birthed. Children are born into strong homes. Families thrive in close community. People are growing in their faith. Hurt people find healing and the lonely find friendship. In days of calamity people find prayer. Friendship, laughter, tears and genuine fellowship abounds. The elderly are honored and not forgotten.
Heritage is committed to missions around the world. Since its inception the church has been faithful to tithe 10% in support to 20 different mission organizations. Today, Heritage partners with other local churches in the city to show the love of Jesus.
We are not a special church. We're like thousands of churches all over the country that glorify God through ordinary people. People, property, favor and influence are good, but our real prize is God Himself. God's Presence is our heritage and our reward. This church on the hill will continue to honor Jesus Christ for generations to come.
And that, indeed, is miraculous.