By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
NASHVILLE — Ben Mandrell readily admits it was a difficult transition for his family to leave Jackson and head to the vast mission field of Denver.
Mandrell resigned as pastor of Englewood Baptist Church about two years ago after being called as a church planter.
Mandrell and his family moved to Orlando, Fla., where he served at First Baptist Church for about six months gathering support and workers to assist him in starting Storyline Fellowship in Arvada, a northwest suburb of Denver. Approximately 50 people, including some staff members of FBC, transitioned with him to Colorado.
“It has been an amazing experience for our family, Mandrell said. He was in Nashville Aug. 3-4 for the Send North America Conference at Bridgestone Arena.
Prior to the start of the national meeting, Mandrell joined other church planters from Colorado in a session at First Baptist Church, Donelson. About 120 attended to learn more about church planting efforts in Colorado and the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s Send Denver/Front Range partnership.
While the transition to church planter “was harder than I thought it would be,” it also “has been more rewarding than I ever dreamed it would be,” Mandrell said.
Once he and his family moved to Colorado they began building relationships with the families in their community. “We pray for everyone on our street,” he said.
While in Denver Mandrell has cultivated a relationship and friendship with an atheist couple.
He noted the man recently came to him and said, “I don’t go to your church but I feel like you’re my pastor.”
“God is working in people’s lives,” Mandrell observed.
Mandrell noted his work has been made easier due to the support given to him by Pastor David Uth and First Baptist Church, Orlando.
“When you are in a planting environment, the sending church provides love and support,” Mandrell noted.
“Every time we needed something First Baptist was there.”
Mandrell and his family actually moved to Arvada in May 2014 to prepare for the church plant. Storyline Fellowship launched on Feb. 8 of this year.
Through the end of July the church is averaging about 425 each week with about 125 of them elementary school children, he noted.
Denver is a hard area to evangelize, Mandrell admitted.
“The gospel is a mockery in Denver. People think it is an outmoded myth and that people who believe it are crazy.”
Yet, he is seeing people regularly “put themselves willfully in the vast minority” of the city by accepting Christ.
On the last Sunday of July the church baptized 18 people including his son and an atheist who was introduced to the new church by a mission team from Tennessee.
“When you put your heart and soul into something and when your family suffers together to plant a church, the day of harvest is that much more gratifying,” Mandrell said.
He is appreciative of the support he continues to receive from his former state. He noted missions teams from Englewood and Hopewell Baptist Church in Savannah have come to help.
In addition to missions teams, Storyline Fellowship also has a partnership with Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett, he added.
Having served as pastor of an established Southern Baptist church and a new church start, Mandrell said he has learned at least one thing he wishes he had done differently at Englewood.
“One of the hardest things in an established church is to keep people passionate about evangelism,” he observed.
“The best way to revive an old dog is to get a puppy. If I could go back to Englewood again knowing what I know now, I would lead the church to become a church planting engine.
“The investment in the Send City Initiative (North American Mission Board) is electrifying and revitalizing,” he said.
One of the goals of Storyline Fellowship is to start a church of its own.
Mandrell encourages Tennessee churches “to partner with us” to start churches.
He said Storyline “can be the boots on the ground” in Denver. “Tennessee churches can send teams and resources to launch new gospel outposts.
“Partnership is powerful. I’ve seen it firsthand and it is and always has been the glue that holds Southern Baptists together,” Mandrell concluded.