Beginning with a monthly Bible study in the home of ministry partner Drew Bedics, Heston Blake started Centerpointe Baptist Church in Huntersville, NC on November 6th, 2011. Over the past two and a half years, the Lord has faithfully blessed Pastor Heston’s efforts. We want to share  with you Heston’s story and burden for church planting, with the hopes and prayers that many other young men would catch the vision for establishing Christ-honoring, Bible-preaching local churches.

When did the desire to plant a church begin? Explain your burden for church planting.

I never thought church planting was for me. When I thought of church planting, particularly church planting in the U.S., I thought it was for people who moved out West, maybe Utah, Colorado or California. I consider myself a social person, and the thought of moving to a place where we knew nobody was a bit overwhelming. While Rebekah and I were assisting the youth program at Cornerstone Baptist in Greenville, SC, I began to see that the majority of the youth who were mostly homeschooled and Christian school educated, were tired of the same old youth activities. But they would love service activities: raking leaves, helping the widows of the church, etc. So we began to draw an imaginary 3-hour circle around Greenville, where one day the teens could come and help on the weekends. We considered Charleston and Atlanta but neither drew much interest. It was then that I contacted Marsh Fant down in Rock Hill to see if there were any needs in Charlotte. I told him over a sandwich and chips at McAllister’s Deli that we were open to anything. It was at that moment, he pulled out a map of Charlotte and said, “I don’t know of a single conservative, Bible preaching church in Huntersville.”

I had never heard of Huntersville. Rebekah and I booked a Priceline hotel the next weekend and drove up to Huntersville. We fell in love with the town from our first visit. I find that you can’t separate a burden for future ministry from being involved in a present ministry. I didn’t want to be part of the statistic that finished a seminary degree and wound up in a big church fish pond enjoying the coral. I wanted to venture out to the ocean, to use what God had given me, and to begin serving.

What is your vision for your church? Do you have goals for numbers of people, finances or staff?

We chose basically by “accident” the mission statement: “Centerpointe Baptist Church exists to point the World to Christ, the Center of Life and Worship.” With that as our theme, it helps me focus on leading our people closer to Christ in their everyday lives, as well as being the central focus of our worship. We have members in our church who have served on the mission field, and those who have accepted Christ 2 months ago. The goal is the same, to point each of them closer to Christ. It sounds simple and really it is. I do not try to create miniature Hestons, just miniature Christs.

Our financial goal is to be self-supporting by the end of 2014. That is becoming a bit skewed because in our situation, we currently pay only $550 per month in rent, and we are rapidly outgrowing our current facility. We are trying to make provision for where our future location will be. As far as staff, we have been blessed with many lay helpers. No doubt we look forward to having another individual on staff as soon as we become self-supporting.

Who have been your biggest role models/mentors along the way?

No doubt, I will leave out different mentors, but I will break them down categorically: As far as my personal growth in Christ, ministry questions, etc., it would be my brother-in-law, Jason Ormiston. I met him when I was in the 5th grade when he was dating my sister. Since then he has encouraged me towards Christ, as well as become a close friend.

As far as my focus on worship, my model is Dr. Gary Reimers. He was the first pastor who demonstrated focused worship as well as what a church plant looks like. He was a profound influence on me.

Academically, Dr. Layton Talbert was my favorite professor. I have to admit, I steered away from him initially, but my last semester of seminary I had him for two classes: the book of Isaiah and the Synoptic Gospels. He would give assignments like, “Go home and read through Isaiah in one sitting.” It was perhaps Dr. Talbert who gave me a hunger to always learn and dive deeper into the Word of God.

As far as ministry partners, Dr. Ron Allen and Dr. Marsh Fant have helped financially and inviting me to different activities. The list could go on and on. They have become allies and friends as we each try to reach our corner of Charlotte.

What were/are your greatest fears about church planting?

Failure. When you think in the mindset of most Americans, particularly our conservative circles, the thought always crosses minds, “How is our supporting missionary doing and what is he doing?” Perhaps they don’t think or feel that, but when supported by outside sources, you feel the pressure to deliver. It was when I let go of that pressure that God began to work. Now it’s the fear to not mess it up. God has allowed me to be the shepherd. I must feed, encourage, discipline, watch for wolves, help the wounds, stay spiritually fit, and love my sheep.

What have been the greatest challenges?

The greatest challenges mainly come with learning to be patient. As a young pastor, I naturally have expectations of big crowds, being the next Spurgeon, or moving to the Time Warner arena for Sunday morning worship (O.K. the last is an exaggeration). For the first two years we had very, very slow growth. I tried everything that was in the church planting books- door to door, door hangers, community events, biblical counseling advertisements, etc. It was when I was at the end of my “creative genius” that I gave up. I told my wife that I was out of ideas, and maybe this wasn’t going to work out. She encouraged me to ask for more faith- novel idea, huh? I went to the Lord and said I’m done, not giving up, but I’m done with my own ideas. We saw five guests that next Sunday. My wife came to me in the lobby before the service as our new guests arrived and said, “You’re under conviction now, aren’t you?” Indeed, I was. We have since pulled our advertising dollars and stopped much of our promotion. Instead, we’re expecting God to bring the people, and He has. For the last 6 months we have seen around 40 people come to our church and join. It’s amazing. None have come because of me. It is through a church sign or meeting one of our members. It was Christ fulfilling His promise to build His church, and He does an amazing job.

What have been the greatest joys?

The greatest joy, beyond seeing souls come to Christ and baptized, is the way Christ is working in the families of our church. He is growing individuals and families in such an amazing way. Much of church planting is seeing God work in ways that are indescribable. From renting a church building for $550 per month, to having free landscaping at church, to nearly everything in our building being given, it’s like George Muller of Bristol—only Heston Blake in Huntersville. The reality is that Heston and George can’t take credit for any of it. When I’m tempted to take credit, things slow down.  I have found it best just to let God keep working and let Him keep getting the credit

How have you guided your family through this experience?

I recently read an introduction to a book that said, “I will never put my family before my ministry.” Anyone who is in ministry quickly looks back to see if it’s a misprint. The author went on to say that most pastors would say that family comes before ministry, but that is incorrect too. My family IS my ministry and the most important one. My wife, as all men learn, has been such an encouragement through the long lonely days and the one who knows my heart better than anyone else. She knows the discouragements and victories that are won each week. I try to do everything I can with my family. We are down to one car, so when  we need to make a Sam’s Club run, we all go; when we have to work on  bulletins my wife helps; everything we do we do together. It is definitely a perk of being a church planter.

What advice would you have for a college-age or seminary guy interested in church planting?

There are many things they don’t teach you in seminary. Some things you simply must learn on the field. Seminary teaches you how to study the Word, how to counsel certain situations, how to parse the Greek. But it can’t teach you how to clean the bathroom, how to paint the auditorium, how to deal with the emotional ups and downs of preaching to the same 12 people for the first year and a half.

To a guy interested in church planting, I would encourage him to start learning these things now. Yes, there is much to learn from larger churches, and I do not criticize large churches, but if you are looking to be in a church planting situation, go to a church plant. You will get the privilege of talking one-on-one with the pastor. You will learn how to choose a philosophy for ministry, and you will learn many of the things they don’t teach you in seminary. Many of my classmates would say, “Well, when I get my next degree I will begin looking.” We had chosen Huntersville before my last year of seminary. I wanted a plan in place, and it helps when you are up late at night working on papers, trying to take care of a family, and thinking you can’t be any busier, to have your goal in mind: I am learning for the church  that one day I will stand before in Huntersville.