By Rick Robertson
Now there’s nothing particularly strange about laughing. Or even laughing at church. But most would agree that for an entire congregation to start laughing at exactly the same time during a prayer meeting is somewhat less than normal. And it’s also not normal for a person to come up to the pastor after such a service and hand him a check for $15,000 for the building program. But that’s just what happened on this warm summer evening eight months ago.
Not your typical church service.
But then, McCormick’s Creek is no typical church – and pastor Rick Robertson likes it like that.
And who can argue with results? When a pastor – like Brother Robertson – takes a congregation from about 45 members to over 200 in seven years, something must be right.
What makes this church different? “Two things,” Bro. Robertson responded. “We’re a friendly church, and we’re a happy church.”
Brother Robertson’s pastorate at McCormick’s Creek began in 1985. The church had been started in 1953 by Brother John D. Bault. After Brother Bault passed away in 1985, the congregation selected Brother Robertson as their new pastor.
In the years prior to that, Brother Robertson’s life – like his church – was not very typical. He was, in fact, a professional scuba diver. Not you typical occupation.
“I was raised in church, ” Brother Robertson said. “Although my mother and father were both backslidden, they made sure I attended regularly.” After being baptized at age 10 and receiving the Holy Ghost at 13, Robertson recalled drifting away from church in his early teen years. Later, in his adult life, his parents returned to church and urged him to do the same.
“I didn’t come back to God until I was 28,” he explained. “There were several things that brought me back to God. I was drunk one night and driving a truck with three scuba tanks in the back. The truck went out of control and flipped over. We slid over 300 feet, upside down, down the middle of the road, and I crawled out with just a cut on the back of my ear. That accident began the “breaking process” toward getting me back to church.”
Soon after, Bro. Robertson surrendered his life again to the Lord and began attending Brother Bault’s church in Spencer. he also expressed to pastor Bault that he felt a call to preach. This eventually led to his appointment as church youth leader and later, after Brother Bault’s passing, to being voted in as pastor.
The Lord blessed the church with revival. Not explosive, 100-souls-a-night type revival, but solid and consistent revival. “I am convinced,” Brother Robertson stressed, “that the best growth is slow and steady. Disciplining others to be like Jesus requires an emphasis upon quality growth as well as quantity growth – and that takes time.”
During his first year of pastoring, the attendance and church membership of McCormick’s Creek U.P.C. nearly doubled. So soon after, the sanctuary was remodeled and a wing was added for classrooms, new rest rooms and a pastor’s study. Since then, the congregation has continued to grow by an average of 30-35 members every year.
Of course, this growth has brought some predictable results. Because of the congregation’s steadily-increasing size, they have been forced to build. Before the church’s recent expansion, the sanctuary held approximately 230. But on March 26th of this year, the church held their first service in their newly built sanctuary which seats over 400. “I was worried about preaching to an empty church,” Robertson laughed as he recalled the large crowd he had that first night, “but thankfully we had a lot of visitors. It’s great to not be so packed in.”
But what brings people to McCormick’s Creek U.P.C. at such a consistent rate? Just what is so different about this rural, Midwest-ern church that draws people – first to the church and then to the altar?
“I think they are attracted primarily because of our worship,” Brother Robertson replied. “We really worship. And it’s a demonstrative worship. I preach worship and during service I focus on worship. We start with worship at the beginning of every service. And I feel that the intensity and freedom of worship we have is because the bulk of our people spend at least 20 minutes in the prayer room before service ever starts. They come in from a red-hot prayer room ready to lift up Jesus Christ in praise and thanksgiving. Plus, when they enter the sanctuary, the’re happy! You can see their joy. Our visitors are continually commenting on how happy and exciting our services are. That’s what makes us so different [from the other churches in town].”
Also, Robertson continued, the format of the church service never becomes commonplace at McCormick’s Creek U.P.C. “We almost never have the usual ‘three-song-and-a-special’ type of service. There are times when I walk in and preach first and people get the Holy Ghost. Other times we might worship and sing for thirty minutes or more. But however the service goes, we do it because it’s the right thing to do. It all boils down to being sensitive to the direction God wants to take that particular service.”
Pastor Robertson said he has enjoyed his ministry in Spencer because it’s not a vocation with him. “I feel there are too many people who make a job out of pastoring. This is a calling, not an occupation. If a person doesn’t have a true call of God, he needs to stay away from pastoring. A lot of young men feel that in order for them to do something for God, they’ve got to be a preacher. That’s wrong! A pastor should encourage his young people to labor within the gifts that God gives them. Too many think that the ultimate ministry is to be a pastor. But the worst thing they do is try to pastor when pastoring is not their calling.”
Along the same lines, the 40-year-old Robertson emphasized that the wise pastor will have some kind of program to train people to be involved in church leadership. “I think the best time is the time you take in instructing department heads and young preachers. I have weekly classes for all of our young ministers, teaching them how to handle themselves and I also cover the various problems they may run into. I don’t think that leadership development is focused upon enough in most churches.” Brother Robertson said that during these training sessions, he tries to put less emphasis on simple doctrinal training and more emphasis on what to do in real-life circumstances. He said he also tries to convey the seriousness of their calling, because “many times, they do not understand the extent and importance of their call to ministry for Jesus Christ.”
Also, Brother Robertson believes it’s important to provide quality training materials for each church ministry. “I spend a lot of time and effort compiling material for each department,” he said. “We use the Apostolic Information Service quite a bit. We give each ministry director instructional material and also try to keep them motivated to person soul-winning as well.”
And speaking of soul-winning, what outreach and evangelism methods does the McCormick’s Creek U.P.C. use to win the lost? Pastor Robertson stresses that they use several proven methods.
“Home Bible study is the best, most productive way of winning souls. It’s been our primary method for the past seven years.” Also, Robertson said, “our Sunday school ministry has developed to the point where it’s starting to be productive. And reaching parents through our bus ministry has also really helped.”
Brother Robertson acknowledged another big difference between himself and some pastors is his emphasis on ‘the personal touch.’ “Some pastors like to keep a distance [between themselves and the congregation]. I don’t. I like to be in touch. I’ve heard some say ‘if you’re that type of pastor, you can’t have a big church.’ But I don’t believe that. You can train assistants to help you maintain a personal touch with each church member.”
After looking at McCormick’s Creek U.P.C., one wonders just how well it fits the rural personality of this typical Midwestern farming community. The church seems anything but “typical.” But also like the farmer — who will carefully select the proper seed to fit the soil — perhaps it’s this churches special blend of worship, care, and evangelism that produces the harvest so important to the world around them.