TALLAHASSEE–A lot can happen in one year. Just ask Jacob Turner, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Tallahassee.
For his first Sunday in January 2022, Turner preached to just four people. Fast forward to January 2023, and Turner preached to approximately 60 people one Sunday, including one young man who committed his life to Christ that day and joined the church. During the past year he’s baptized 36 people, performed three baby dedications, and celebrated as one to three people joined the church each month. The church replant averages about 53 people each Sunday, sometimes 63.
But he’s not taking any credit for this. He gives all the glory to God.
‘I’m just showing up and watching what God is doing. God put this together, and we’re going to stay out of His way.’
“I’m just showing up and watching what God is doing,” he said. “God put this together, and we’re going to stay out of His way.”
While God is first on this thankful list for what’s happening at the church, he also gives big thanks to Scott Carter, mission pastor at Celebration Church in Tallahassee, the sending or sponsoring church; as well as Sean McMahon, executive director of the local Florida Baptist Association; and James Peoples, Send Network Florida director. The three have worked together to ensure Carter and Calvary get the help, training and resources needed in revitalizing the church.
“I’ve got a mission pastor as a brother in Scott Carter,” he said. “We have the best associational director in Sean. And James is 100 mph for Jesus in every phone call and text. The team – Scott, Sean and James – is a great part of the success at Calvary.”
Turner is also part of that success story, as are Wednesday nights’ Worship, Word and A Meal event that is popular with families and attract about 30 people each week. Carter says it’s a big part of the church’s growth.
“The goal is if you come at 6:30, by 7:30 you’ll have worship, word and a meal – and all your children will have to do is go home, take a bath, go to bed and be ready for school the next day,” he said.
Turner says the church is in a great location in the center of the community. Just within 200 feet of the church there are even 11 houses. Turner likes to stop by and speak with neighbors as often as he can, and he meets them where they are and works at getting to know them.
“If they’re playing cards, I’ll play cards. If they’re barbecuing, I’ll ask for a sandwich. Playing basketball in the parking lot, I’ll jump out and shoot some hoops with them,” said Turner, who’s been doing ministry work for 24 years.
“I am just hanging out with them. If the door opens for me to introduce Christ to them, I do. I am not waiting on people to look a certain way before I approach them.”
The church’s previous pastor retired in early 2020, and then the church shut down due to COVID and never seemed to recover. The church building was in rough shape when Turner started and Celebration church helped with financial resources and volunteers to make the repairs, update the sound system and provide a new air and heating system for the fellowship hall.
Turner was in bad shape himself after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma shortly after becoming pastor at the church. He began chemo treatments in March 2022 and finished his last in September. He’s now in remission and is thankful that is behind him, but it was challenging from week to week. He’s still overcoming fatigue these days and digging out from a year of chemo and being unable to work a second job as a bi-vocational pastor.
“I’d preach on Sundays and then lay on the sofa from Monday to Wednesday,” he said. “I was just not physically able to do the things I thought needed to be done. I’d pray, study and preach and come back and be like, ‘Wow, where are all these people coming from?’”
As mission pastor at Celebration, Carter has worked with Turner this past year, mentoring him, doing some fill-in preaching, assisting with outreach, and helping with finances and physical improvements, as well as connecting him with resources through the Florida Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board.
Helping with the revitalization of Calvary is part of Celebration’s 40/40 vision to help plant 40 churches globally and send 40 missionaries in the next five years. Calvary is one of the 40 churches, and Carter said he is hopeful the church can get involved in Celebration’s mission efforts.
“We helped rescue a church that was going to be closed,” he said. “It’s been cool to see our church come alongside Calvary and help them out.”
Looking ahead, Turner thinks it would be great for the church to build a gymnasium, which would be a much-needed resource in the community. “A steel-framed gym with a couple of hoops and some classrooms – that would place us as the only recreation center in a one-mile circle surrounded by 5,000 people. It would be a wonderful evangelism tool, and when we outgrow the sanctuary, we could just have church in the gym.”
While this past year has been quite the ride, Turner says he’s excited about what’s to come at Calvary Baptist.
“This is the happiest church I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “I’ll finish preaching and the service will stop about 12:45. Then it’s 1:30 or 2, and they’re still here talking, fellowshipping, and laughing. I’ve been part of some great churches, but I’ve never been part of a happier church.”
Praise The Lord!