At a recent Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) roundtable for students considering church revitalization, Pastor Justin Frank framed his ministry story with four words: Invigorating, Infuriating, Clarifying, Humbling.
Like many pastors “from away”, Justin first came to New England (from Oregon) to study at GCTS. It was in Massachusetts that he met and married Kellie, a teacher originally from Maine. For nine years, they served at Community Church of East Gloucester, MA where Justin was Associate Pastor working with Pastor Tim Bushfield. Community Church had experienced revitalization before Justin arrived, and he served during a period of quick growth. Justin said the combination of learning through serving, coaching from Pastor Tim, and the story of Community Church put “church revitalization on our hearts.”
Justin commented, “I knew I wasn’t a church planter, but I didn’t want to just step into a perfect church. That’s what I was fumbling around with when I met Overseed President Jim Harrell for breakfast. He listened to my story and then pulled out a piece of paper that explained the characteristics of a revitalization pastor. He put words to what I had been thinking about.”
In 2013, Community Church was in a healthy place. It had experienced growth and was blessed with many people serving. It was then that Justin felt a burden to serve another historic church somewhere in New England. He and Kellie felt that God had equipped them for revitalization ministry. Justin recalls, “On my way home from interviewing at Penney Memorial United Baptist Church in Augusta, Maine, we went to an Overseed conference at Alton Bay with other revitalization pastors. That meeting was incredibly clarifying and helpful.”
When Justin interviewed at Penney Memorial, the Church had been without a pastor for two and a half years and there had been a difficult ending to the last pastorate. In the Church’s recent history (the last 100 years or so), they had only hired seasoned pastors well into their careers. But, in 2013, the members were intentional about selecting a younger pastor with fresh ideas. They called Justin to be their Pastor.
Since 2014 Justin and Kellie along with their three children, have called Augusta home. Justin said, “I love history and, in New England, it’s accessible in every town. It’s just around the corner. While a student at Gordon-Conwell, I attended a church in Boston. Now that I’m a pastor in Maine, I see the cultural difference between Boston and Maine, a big difference. There are different cultural pockets across New England. I love the straight-forward attitude of Mainers!”
In his few years at Penney Memorial Church, Justin is very encouraged by people’s positivity and the arrival of some new families. He’s grateful that God has led them to trust the Scriptures, teach the Gospel, and set goals with unity. Baptist ministry in Augusta began in the 1830s. Penney Memorial was dedicated in 1907 and has had a rich history of preaching the Word of God, sending people into Christian ministry and outreach into the community.
But, the journey toward revitalization is not a race. At that GCTS roundtable discussion with students, Justin’s four key words highlighted the many curves and challenging yet inspiring vistas he has encountered along the way.
Invigorating – Penney Memorial Church, like many historic New England churches, has a prominent location in the community. Penney sits in the center of Maine’s capital city. It’s also had well-known people in its congregation for decades, people of influence in the community. This prominence opened many doors for a new pastor. As the pastor of an historic church, Justin is often invited to city-wide events and usually the only evangelical leader at the discussion table. There are four other downtown historic churches in Augusta, which are small with part-time clergy or on the verge of closing. Penney is a spiritual leader in a dramatically changing landscape. They want to reclaim the Gospel roots of their historic church.
Infuriating – Justin recalled “there was a lot of stuff I needed to learn about how the church worked and a lot that I can’t change quickly. God is showing me that this slow transformation may have less to do with the people I serve and more to do with what He is teaching me. If you feel responsible for change, then you will be infuriated at times.”
Clarifying – “I can’t change everything. What am I going to trust that will move us forward? In Acts 6, the Apostles devoted themselves to the Word and prayer. So, I will devote myself to preach the Word, minister the Word, visit and sit with people, and pray. Waiting and praying. Get to know who your people are and love them. Hear their stories. We have to get our church’s heart right first.”
Humbling – “to see God work when I didn’t plan or have any control over the situation. God is doing things to revitalize this church that are clearly Him, not me!”
Since moving to Maine, Justin has sought support and leadership training by being part of an Overseed Pastors Cohort specifically addressing revitalization in New England churches. Dr. Jack Daniel, Overseed’s Field Director, has also coached Justin around thinking long-term and being a patient catalyst. In addition, Justin is currently an Ockenga Fellow at GCTS and pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree.