Editor’s Note: The Week of Prayer for North American Missions is underway this week as churches will soon begin receiving gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering which supports missionaries across North America, including former Tennessee Baptist pastor Ben Mandrell.
By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
DENVER, Colo. — Ben Mandrell has been a church planter in Denver for three years and has learned a lot, he said.
“Living in Denver, in the West, requires a whole different paradigm,” said Mandrell, former senior pastor, Englewood Baptist Church, Jackson.
Ranked 14th in top post-Christian cities in America according to one study, Denver is “a missions field like no other,” he noted.
Christians and especially pastors are considered anti-intellectual, old school, and out of touch with society, he explained.
A good portion of his audience on Sunday mornings are “unconvinced that this book (the Bible) is even reliable.” Many reject absolute truth, Mandrell stated.
“Standing up and teaching the Bible in a pluralistic society takes more courage than anything that I’ve ever had to do,” he added.
Yet, with a lot of help from a church planting team, Mandrell not only has planted a church, but Storyline Fellowship draws about 700 each Sunday morning to a high school facility. He also has baptized 80 new Christians. Storyline Fellowship has met for two years.
Planting Storyline Fellowship
His church planting effort is somewhat of an anomoly, said Mandrell. For example, 65 fellow Baptists felt called by God to be on his church planting team so they moved to Denver with him and his family of six.
“That’s just unheard of, for that many people to uproot and move to join in this. … I don’t give any credit to myself for this. … God has had His hand on this church plant from the very beginning,” said Mandrell.
Half of the 65 people who accompanied the Mandrells were children who became key “because they invite their friends who invite their parents to church.”
Some of the church planting team members were from Englewood Baptist, some were from First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., the sponsoring church of the plant, and some were college students Mandrell had ministered to at Englewood.
“It’s a success story; it really is. It’s inspiring and should be to other church planters because it really can be done.”
Besides people, funding was another important factor in the church plant’s success, added Mandrell.
“That’s why we believe so much in the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions … . There’s just no way we could be anywhere close to where we are without the help of the North American Mission Board.” He added that the Cooperative Program helps fund NAMB. He also thanked First Baptist, Orlando, many Tennessee Baptist churches, other churches, and individuals who are supporting the church planting effort.
All of this support and success doesn’t mean that he and church leaders haven’t endured challenges, he reported.
“To go from a place where you are respected and endeared because you are a pastor, and to move to a culture where you really don’t want people to know is hard,” he noted. “If they find out you’re a pastor, it costs you socially.”
To take biblical stands on social issues publicly, he shares those views in the most “kind and loving way” that he can, he explained. Everything he says from the pulpit is public and permanent because his messages are online.
So it is understandable that Mandrell and others have worked at fostering relationships with the school officials where Storyline Fellowship has rented space. He asked for prayer for the current situation.
He also asked for prayer for the congregation as it makes building plans. Construction costs in Denver are about $250 a square foot.
“Evangelism out here looks like really good neighboring — caring about your neighbors; getting to know them; spending time with them; having them in your home for dinner.” The people here are “very relational,” partly because of the mild climate, said Mandrell.
The calling from God
The Mandrells were very happy at Englewood Baptist, which is “one of the healthiest churches in the Tennessee Baptist Convention,” he said. He was senior pastor for seven years and prior to that college pastor for five years.
Yet three years in a row as part of an AWANA activity, Mandrell and his wife Lynley realized that they didn’t have an unchurched friend to bring.
He called Kevin Ezell, a friend because Mandrell pastored his daughters while they attended Union University in Jackson. Ezell is president of NAMB. Mandrell explained that he might be suffering from an early mid-life crisis or that God was calling him to something new.
Ezell brought up church planting. “We weren’t church planters. We didn’t lead our church particularly to be a church planting church,” said Mandrell.
“God gave us a passion for Denver.” Lynley is certainly involved in the church planting effort, added Mandrell. Currently she is director of children’s ministry at Storyline Fellowship.
“We continue to celebrate our Southern Baptist heritage and multiply it with Southern Baptist churches because we believe so much in the cooperative work,” said Mandrell.