He didn’t grow up in church. His mom was bipolar, twice divorced, and took her own life when Matt was nine, so he went to live with his biological dad. His dad sent Matt to a Christian counselor who ended up being a child molester. By the age of twelve Matt had been kicked out of school for bringing weapons, had run away multiple times, and was sucked into the Fairfax, Virginia, juvenile court system. He was one of the youngest ever to be locked up.
“I was almost 17 when I finally got out,” Matt remembers. “They put me in what was supposed to be a religious foster home that was actually really messed up. In less than six months, my foster parent announced that he was kicking me out. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go?”
Matt called his probation officer. “He told me that I was close enough to 18 so I was on my own,” Matt continues. “It was a confusing time. And then God came out of the shadows. Looking back, I’m sure He was working all along, but what happened next was huge.”
Matt called his probation officer. “He told me that I was close enough to 18 so I was on my own,” Matt says. “I was lost in more ways than one. And then God came out of the shadows. Looking back, I’m sure He was working all along, but what happened next was huge.”
The Pivot Point
A youth pastor couple took him in. They modeled the love of Christ in a genuine and practical way. Matt said, “YES” to Jesus. A friend invited him to get involved with Young Life. As a volunteer at camp, he watched far-from-God teens completely transformed. Seeing that kind of life change launched his life in the direction of ministry. Matt married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie (to whom he has been married now for 25 years) and eventually joined the staff of Young Life.
“You can’t figure out God,” Matt says, still amazed. “A church 50 minutes away from our community decided to plant a church. I was shocked when they asked me to be the lead pastor. I learned that half of the churches in America haven’t won a person to Christ in the past year. That broke my heart and convinced me that our community didn’t need another church; it needed a different kind of church. They promised that 30 families would go with me to help start the church. I said YES.”
Those 30 families ended up being 12 committed people, sort of like the “crowd” Jesus started with. The church had a private phase when they built teams, raised money, and made friendships with people who weren’t going to church. They launched in a grand opening – during a rare snowstorm – and over 200 people showed up. The church grew rapidly. They started a second service and then a third. In 2011, they bought property but construction prices were out of their reach, so they opened a second campus in a community of 50,000 people. Attendance on that campus ranges from 125-175. The church is on the verge of building their first permanent campus.
Today, SouthPoint Church in Leonardtown, Maryland, is a healthy, exciting, growing, multi-campus church that exists to connect the disconnected to Christ, community, and a cause.
What can we learn from Matt’s journey? We asked him these questions:
What went right? What would you make sure to do all over again?
“You have to win people. You have to build teams. You have to cast vision. And you have to guard the vision. The evil one is an expert at sending people to hijack the vision. Never give people titles or power until they demonstrate who they are. Remember that good givers are not necessarily good leaders.”
What did you do wrong? What do you wish you could do over?
“Two things: (1) We couldn’t afford enough staff, so everything was built around me. I needed to delegate decisions and authority more quickly. (2) When we could afford to hire staff, I set the bar too low. I made the mistake of saying YES to warm bodies, and that led to some hires that we regretted. I should have made sure there was a solid match in the areas of character, competency, and culture.
How about staying power?
“Your calling is what keeps you in the game. I would stand on the street corner in a bunny suit if it would help people find Jesus. The calling is burned into my heart and soul every day. I. Am. Called. Not everything goes the way you hope it will. Dark nights of the soul happen more often than you wish. But the calling keeps you going, keeps you fired up.”
What’s next for SouthPoint Church?
“We are going to build a permanent campus. We will continue to launch new campuses and start new churches so that more and more people connect with Jesus. Here are a few one-liners that keep us fired up:
- Jesus is honored by a future that is better than the past.
- The greatest danger to our future success is our past success.
- God’s not done, so we’re not finished.
- The best is yet to come.
Matt is leaving a legacy. His faithful response to God’s call is proof that God is still calling unqualified people to raise up churches where the name of Jesus is lifted high.
What say you?
What about you? Might you be willing and ready to say YES to helping Ministry Advantage invest in church planters like Matt who are starting new churches in challenging places?Donate now