By Barbara Hoffman
Florida Baptist Witness
While most pastors depend on help from faithful church members to shepherd a congregation, Gene Gregory and Jeff Burnsed couldn’t do what they do without them. God called them to lead two churches to reach their communities.
“How do you do one thing at one church without appearing to neglect the other church?” asked Eugene Gregory, who serves as pastor of both River of Life Church of Volusia, Deltona, Florida, and First Baptist Church, Lake Monroe, in Sanford, Florida. “You have to have folks with a Kingdom mindset, a heart to serve and reach their community.”
Gregory, originally from nearby Enterprise, Florida, grew up in Sanford’s Central Baptist Church. After graduating from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tennessee, he led churches in Tennessee and Mississippi before returning to the Sunshine State in 2000 as a North American Mission Board church planter.
After planting River of Life Church in 2004, Gregory led the church to purchase 10.5 acres in Deltona. And a little more than a decade later, he became pastor of First, Lake Monroe.
While just 12 miles apart, the churches could not be more different.
First, Lake Monroe, is a 104-year-old traditional congregation with fewer than 50 in weekly worship.
River of Life is a nontraditional ministry where the congregation meets in an open-air pavilion that was originally a pole barn.
A large part of their ministry involves hosting a 4-H Club on the property.
For the past nine years, River of Life has sponsored a major community event, “Christmas in the Country,” held Friday and Saturday nights immediately after Thanksgiving until the weekend before Christmas. Other local churches also assist with the event, including the First, Lake Monroe, congregation.
Each year the two congregations have a joint Christmas Eve service at First, Lake Monroe. “The two churches partner very well together,” said Gregory.
Burnsed’s two congregations also work well together. They are located six miles apart in Jacksonville’s Southside.
For Burnsed, his background and training are integral for the ministry path God has given him.
Born and raised in Jacksonville, he grew up at Southside Estates Baptist Church — now Kernan Boulevard Baptist Church — and helped his father start Coral Ridge Ministries in 1980.
Then after graduating from Luther Rice Seminary in Stonecrest, Georgia, in 1987, Burnsed joined the U.S. Army Reserve where he served for 23 years as a public affairs officer for a combat support hospital and later as a chaplain.
He still uses his military experience.
“In many churches, people go and sit but really don’t do anything. I believe in delegating authority and taking time to mentor and train others,” he said. “Whatever talent you have, use it for the Lord, rather than just sitting in the pew.”
He created a junior chaplain program that draws children from both churches to participate in “Champions for Christ,” an emphasis designed to create well-rounded believers. The youngsters are taught a variety of skills, including computer, math, geography, Bible, public speaking and martial arts.
Helping the community
Together, the churches have helped start 14 language and culture-distinctive congregations to reach Filipino, Korean, Latino, Haitian and African American groups in their community. Included in the assistance is rent-free meeting space and usage of the church’s facilities.
Another ministry the two churches share is supplying cars and trucks for the needy in the community, especially for military families.
Both Gregory and Burnsed agree serving two congregations simultaneously requires incorporating time management and logistical skills.
Each pastor claims Jeremiah 33:3 as his life verse, acknowledging God has shown them “great and mighty things” while shepherding two congregations. Gregory said his ministry “has been about churches, the state convention and local association working together.
“I try to remind our folks that we can do more together than we can on our own.”
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