Our Story

Core Distinctives and Doctrinal Positions

God Birthed a Church

Anytime God births a church, it is a miracle. Our miracle began in December, 1998. Here is the story of our miracle.
I had pastored for 28 years, and it was coming to an end.  Leadership changes at my former church suddenly ended my ministry.  I found myself creating a resume and applying for a high school teaching position.  As far as the ministry was concerned, I figured God was finished with me.

I was never going to pursue the ministry again, but for those who are called, the ministry pursues them.

I resigned my ministry on a Sunday morning, and by Friday, I was called to interview for a high school teaching position at a local school district.  I was searching for a church to attend, along with five other families who followed me and desired to fellowship at whatever church my wife and I felt suitable.  They were our friends.  Looking back, I could have never started Heritage without them. 

The morning of my interview, I decided to grab a cup of coffee at a nearby coffee house.  I saw a storefront church adjacent to the coffee house.  It was a Methodist Church.  I noticed it over the years but thought little about it.  Its front door was ajar.  I decided to investigate.  I thought they may have an extra room for us to have a Bible study.  I walked inside to find a small, empty sanctuary, sound booth, Sunday School rooms and a nice kitchen, with a woman cleaning windows.  “Excuse me, Ma’am, is the pastor around?”  She pointed to the end of the hallway where a man sat alone behind a large desk.

I knocked on the doorjamb.  “Excuse me, are you the pastor?”  He stood and introduced himself as Bob.  I proceeded to tell him my years of experience as a fellow pastor, my circumstances at that moment and the need for a room to host a Bible study.

He rubbed his chin with observable interest.  “It’s very interesting that you’re here right at this moment,” he said curiously.  “This church has been failing for more than a year, and the Methodist central office has decided to shut it down and reassign me to another church location.  It just so happens, this Sunday is our last official service.”  He came from behind his desk and said, “Follow me.  I’d like to introduce you to a few people.”

We walked down another hallway and stood in front of a closed door.  Bob knocked gently and opened it.  A group of ten-or-so people sat around a table and were obviously in prayer as I heard the words, “In Jesus name...  Amen.”

“Hello everyone.  Sorry to disturb your meeting,” Bob said politely, “But I felt compelled to introduce you to Pastor Tom.”  He turned and gestured to me.  “He was looking for a place to hold a Bible study with a few friends.  I thought you might be interested.”

Like stones, no one moved or blinked.  They stared.  I felt a bit awkward, and then without a word a young lady slowly slid a yellow pad and pen in my direction.  Another man felt my awkwardness and said, “We’ll need your name and number, right, everyone?”  He looked around the table seeking confirmation.  A chorus of affirmations and nodding heads confirmed the request.  I wrote down my name and phone number, backed out the door, shook Bob’s hand one last time and went to my interview.

These “10-or-so people” had gathered that morning for prayer.  The close friendships they developed compelled them to ask God for a new pastor.  They wrote down all the qualities they wanted in a pastor, made a handwritten list; prayed over it, and surrendered their list to the Lord.  During their final, “Amen”, Bob and I walked into the room. 

“Lord, I’m done with ministry, right?” I said to myself as I drove to my interview.  I reminded myself, “You’d be crazy to re-enter ministry, especially with total strangers from a denominational church!”  I downplayed the whole encounter with the group of ten-or-so people.  While stuck in traffic, I had more time to think and to rant.  “They’re Methodists, for crying out loud!  I’m Charismatic, an independent, a Christ follower from the Jesus Movement!  We’d never get along.”

But no matter how convincing I was to myself, deep down in my chest, I longed for ministry.  I was meant for the pulpit, but at the moment, I was on my way to an interview.  I pulled into the district parking lot, put on a smile and approached my interview with confidence.

The interview went great!

Within a few days I was called for a second interview.  I found great favor, and the school hired me on the spot.  I was a teacher again, like the old days, making more money than I had ever made in ministry.  It was a relief to draw a steady paycheck.  A couple weeks went by and I was feeling at home in my new role.

I sat behind my desk in my classroom.  The memories of the classroom were all coming back to me- the smell of Pine-Sol; the lesson plans, cupboards full of curriculum; the seating charts and attendance taking.

And then my cell phone rang.  I couldn’t recognize the number, but I knew who it was.  Immediately, the Holy Spirit told me it was someone from that room full of praying people.  I almost let it go to voicemail, but I didn’t.  “Hello?”

“Pastor Tom, my name is Mark, and I’m representing about 25 people who would love to attend your Bible study.  Would you consider it?”

“Twenty five people?” I questioned.  “Combining your people with my five families would be too many to fit in my home.”  I thought Mark might pick up on my skepticism and end the conversation.

“Oh no, Pastor Tom, your home is not what I‘m suggesting.  We’re offering you the whole storefront facility if you want it.”

“You mean the whole church?”

“Yeah, the whole church.”  Mark explained, “You see, the Methodist denomination didn’t want anything.  They have no need for the chairs, the sound equipment, Sunday-school supplies, nothing!  All they wanted was the money we have in the bank.”

“So, the church is not being used at all?” I questioned.
“That’s right.  They left everything.”  Mark waited for my reaction.  “Plus the denomination paid off the lease for the next three months.”

“Three months?”

“No bills for three months,” he said.  “We’re a church without a pastor, and you’re a pastor without a church.  We thought maybe...”

“I’m Charismatic,” I interrupted.  “And you’re Methodists.  That might be like oil and water, ya think?”

“The church was Methodist, not all of us.  Besides, last time I checked, Methodists love Jesus, too.  This group loves God, and they love His Word,” he affirmed.  “And all the families just want to stay together.  We thought maybe God answered our prayers by sending you.”

How could I say no to that?  I thought.  I told him I would pray about it and get back to him.

I told my wife about my conversation with Mark.  Her response was predictable.  “How could you say no to that?”  That evening, I got the five families together and told them the whole story.  Miles, one of the five husbands, known for carefully choosing his words, said, “How can you say no to that?”

 Everyone started brainstorming the possibilities.  I looked at the excitement around the room, and surprisingly, I felt dread.  Was I the only one scared out of my mind, right now?  Statistics were not in my favor.  Only one-in-five new church plants survived its first year.  For me, I couldn’t start a church just to watch it fail.  That would kill me!  And then God whispered to my heart, “I’ve got this, My son.  Trust Me.”

The next day, I called Mark back and told him let’s try it.  The words almost stuck in my throat.  In less than two months after leaving the ministry, I found myself back behind a pulpit with 37 adults and a handful of children; a fully furnished church, Sunday school rooms, a sanctuary complete with chairs, a sound system and a lease paid in full for 90 days.  Our first offering was over $6,000.  That same week, I sat in the lawyer’s office writing out a purpose statement to incorporate as, “Heritage Christian Fellowship”.

I taught school, too, and found great favor on my campus.  My principal was a Christian, and called me into his office every week for prayer.  Within a year, my church grew from 37 adults to well over 150.  Within two years I was a department chairman and Heritage had over 250 people.  After two years of teaching, I resigned, and once again found myself behind a pulpit.