‘Incredibly gracious and big God’ fuels partnerships between churches/regions

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FT. LAUDERDALE–The long, scenic miles across Alligator Alley could not hinder southwest Florida Baptist pastors from coming “right beside” Larry Brister, a pastor serving in Ft. Lauderdale.

During the 2020 fiscal year, the City of Ft. Lauderdale adopted a city-wide fire assessment fee. Based on square footage, the fee has priced out many commercial and institutional properties—including churches. Local churches, originally exempt from this category of fee due to their non-profit legal status, are now scrambling to allocate a portion of their budgets toward paying this new fee sweeping across the state.

Immanuel Baptist Church in Ft. Lauderdale is one of them.

In an effort to warn other pastors that this fee includes non-profit organizations, churches and properties, Brister reached out to Al Fernandez, southeast regional catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention, and his friend Timothy Pigg, a Florida Baptist pastor serving in the southwest region.

That one phone call changed everything. Without skipping a beat, both Fernandez and Pigg rallied local church pastors to come alongside Brister and Immanuel Baptist Church in what seemed to be “an almost impossible situation,” Brister shared.

With Immanuel Baptist needing to come up with thousands of dollars within a tight time crunch, pastors in the southwest region came alongside the church in its urgent time of need. David Gold at Crossroads Baptist Church in Ft. Myers, David Acton at New Hope Church in Cape Coral, Pigg at Fellowship Church in Immokalee and Ave Maria, James Hunt at Caloosa Baptist Church in LaBelle, Chris Butler at North Naples Baptist Church in Naples, and the Florida Baptist Convention all came “right beside” the Broward County church.

“They sprang into action and within literally 24 hours our needs were met,” Brister said. “What’s truly remarkable is that I never once actually asked for what they voluntarily offered and provided. They simply went into, ‘Let’s see if we can help,’ mode.”

Understanding that pastors often feel like they are on an island by themselves, Brister was quick to refute that claim among pastors serving in the Sunshine State.

“It is very easy, at times, to think you are alone and that you have it all on your own shoulders,” he said. “You don’t have to feel that way. Our leadership at the Florida Baptist Convention and the pastors and local churches all across the state are amazing and willing to help. Immanuel Baptist Church is so grateful to be a very small part of this great Florida Baptist team.”

He added that his own church family and wife have been a rock throughout his ministry.

“There are folks who simply have the heart of Christ and are willing to help … I have a team at Immanuel that God has specifically placed here to help in the work for Christ,” adding that his wife, Ruth Ann, “is the most incredible person I have ever known in my life.”

Friendships and kingdom-driven partnership in ministry keep Brister focused on pressing on in the Great Commission.

Committed to reaching the lost, the church has created a “one church—two languages” campus. To communicate partnership, unity and cohesion, the English-speaking service is live-streamed and translated by Spanish-speaking pastor, Carol Vidal. Convinced that they can reach more of its community by working together rather than alone, Immanuel combines the two language services several times a year and combines Sunday school classes weekly.

“There is absolutely no ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality,” Brister said.

From serving in the church as an usher, greeter and Sunday school teacher to a deacon, associate pastor and now pastor, Brister has learned a thing or two about who God is and how He loves His church.

'We serve an incredibly gracious and big God. Just when you think something may not be doable, God does something amazing. I have seen it countless times.'

Larry Brister Pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church, Ft. Lauderdale

“We serve an incredibly gracious and big God. Just when you think something may not be doable, God does something amazing. I have seen it countless times.”

Quoting 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, Brister shared his thankfulness for Florida Baptists and a word of blessing as local church pastors continue to serve faithfully and boldly in the days ahead.

“Pastors, hang in there! Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season. The Lord and His people are standing with you.”

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