Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church. Brian Harrison is joining us today from East Shore Baptist Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Brian, great to have you on the show today.
Thank you. Good to be here, Courtney.
Brian, tell us a little bit about how you came to your position as the senior pastor there at East Shore Baptist.
Actually, I’m a graduate of Ohio State University and spent several years, about 15 years, in the real estate industry and felt a call into the pastoral ministry. Started in the seminary and ended up pastoring in the church for about seven years in Florida. I came to a point where I realized my vision and calling for ministry was different than what my church perceived at that point in Florida. And I knew I was going to be leaving the state. I didn’t know where, I didn’t know how, I just sensed that. And next thing you know, I’m finding myself talking to a church in Pennsylvania. Strangely enough, I was talking to three other churches at that time about possibly being their pastor. God works in mysterious ways, but he ended up opening this door in Pennsylvania. And as I was leaving, I remember some of my friends, pastor friend, said, “Brian, you’re going to Pennsylvania. You’re gonna need a new doctor, you’re gonna need a new dentist, and you’re gonna need a shrink man. You’re leave in Florida.” But it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve actually served this church now for nearly 16 years, and I love this area. Pennsylvania is a great state, it’s a beautiful state. And one of the things I love being, I’m southern Baptist by affiliation, and I love being part of the southern Baptist church, or the things for the convention, but one thing that’s fascinating is here we don’t really get many southern Baptists. We get people from other denominations, other tribes. So, it’s just fascinating how God just opened the door for us to be here, and we knew we were supposed to be here. I remember our preferred church at that time was a church in Boone North Carolina, which we happened to think is Heavens other address. Anyway, we sat in the parking lot one day. We were actually on our way up here, and we were just trying to find a place to hang out and at least do the vacation we said we were doing. And I remember finding this church and city in the parking lot. And I asked my wife, “You think we ought to go in and introduce ourselves?” And she said, ”No.” And I said, “Well, should we hang around? We got an extra day, maybe tend to worship service.” And she said, “No, I think we need to go to Pennsylvania.” And next thing you know I received the call from the church that weekend. They asked me to become their pastor. And I had dinner with someone who became a good friend. Three days later, got a call from that church in North Carolina saying they wanted to talk to me.
Wow. Sounds like the path was ready for you.
Yes. And it’s kinda interesting, God has worked that way with me. Even our first church, we became parents and a pastor at the same time. We adopted our son and just the whole orchestration of events helped us to see that is precisely what God wanted us to do, where he wanted us to do it, and when he wanted us to do it. And yet, he would close that door and bring us up here. And from that experience, I think God has made me a better pastor and help me to see things to do things that I would not have done otherwise.
That’s fantastic to hear. I wanna go back and ask you a question about when you decided that your vision was different from the church in Florida. What was it like before you made that final decision or what was it, I guess, that kind of made you realize, “Okay, it’s time to transition somewhere else. This is not a good fit for me.”?
Well, kind of interesting things happened. We actually, in the first four, four and a half years, that I was at the church in Florida, we had watched it nearly double in size. And many of the people coming were younger families. That was neat. They were kind of growing. But what was also interesting is most of the new people did not join our church. They, for some odd reason, and I apparently embraced this at the time, we did not see membership as all that critical. But during this time, my wife and I were excited, we were committed. My philosophy is that when I came to that church I was committed to staying there ‘til God moved me on. And that had to be very clear. But we even tried to build a couple of houses, never got to move into either one. That’s a crazy story, but no time to tell that. But we were trying to do an evangelistic program. I was really passionate about trying to reach more of our community and I wanted to present this concept at the time. It was something crazy is doing commercials, of actually buying airtime and presenting commercials to maybe draw people to our church. And at this meeting, which happened to be a business meeting, I had people pushing back really vocally, and pretty earnestly. “Why are we doing this? We’ve had so many people come and we’ve had so many baptisms. Isn’t that enough? Why do you wanna bring more people?” And I remember one lady succinctly said, “Pastor, I’m thinking, your vision is not our vision.” And I remember walking away from that and thinking, “Oh my goodness. God, is this it?” And it was another year and a half, almost two years, before God would move me. But even though I sensed God was leading me away, I still begged Him to show me is this His will. And He did. Now, I found out years later, one of those fascinating things, that a lady told me that she and her husband had been visiting the church at that time. They heard me speak about my idea for commercials, my vision for reaching the community, and they wanted to come that night at that membership meeting, commit to becoming members, and they wanted to pay for all those commercials.
But what happened was they heard the pushback in the service and their comment to each other was, “Brian’s not going to stay there, he’s going to leave us.” And sure enough, not to pay for profits, but I guess they saw what I was seeing. And it was sad because I loved the people there. They were precious. They still hold just a special place in my heart, so many of them di. But it was just not for me apparently at that time.
That’s interesting. So, moving now into this East Shore Baptist Church, where you’ve been for 17 years, what is something that you guys have started there or implemented some kind of best practice that you’ve seen some good success with?
Actually, we’ve been doing several things. It’s kind of interesting how all this has morphed. One of the things that I get to look back now – well, first, let me tee this up by saying, we are in the process now of moving to a congregationally ruled elder led church. We’re in the process of working on this. And one of the reasons we’re doing this is because we’ve come to a point in our life as a church where I see men who are truly qualified to be elders. Truly who have stepped up, who show first Timothy and Titus qualifications for becoming elders. And there’s a passion in me because I’m 61 years old, I’m not gonna be here too many more years, and I wanna see our church remain as healthy when I leave as it is now. I want the transition to be smooth, I want it to be good. And I wanna surround myself with men who are qualified to lead, I think, in every respect as I am. Which sometimes I wonder, “Am I truly qualified?” I think that’s the thing is, I can’t do this without God. And these men also see the same thing. But what started – now I’ll go back to when I started – one of the things that was interesting is I had a friend invite me to start running with him and I ended up doing life with this guy. And we spent, I mean, I used to say, you say, “You saw me running before then, I would pray you picked me up ’cause someone had to be chasing me.” He got me running and then as we got older we ended up walking. And then he got cancer, and God got him through it. But we, in this man, I found that we were able to do life together, and I watched him grow. He was part really of another religion and he and embraced becoming, for example, a Christian, a southern Baptist. And he had just grew. And during that time, we were also working on walking alongside other men and just doing life with these men and talking to them, and going to – like every year, we go to World Life Men’s conference and we have conversations and we spend time together and I challenge them. And I remember in deacon meetings, which most of these men were also deacons, we would do what if scenarios. “What if this happened? How would you respond to that?” And so, just really, I think, really spending time working with men in particular, and also with women in larger settings, but just really doing life together, I think really was what made the difference. You don’t build relationships overnight. You don’t see men grow overnight. And for example, you don’t see a guy who starts at being kind of a modest, if you will, a modestly committed Christian to becoming a more mature Christian overnight. That takes time, that takes investment. And I think many pastors they leave too soon. They don’t stay long enough to see that investment pay off in the people they’re mentoring and walking along side.
That’s really great.
Yeah, I think of the time God gave me he allowed me to see how this worked out.
That’s really neat, how you said it started with this man asking you to go run and he wasn’t a believer at the time?
Well, no, he was, but he was a very casual believe. And kind of what was interesting too, is shortly after we did this, and part of what got me infused got me really, how shall I say? We are best friends now. And one of the things that really caught my attention was I came down in April of 2002, and in July my grandmother got sick and then she passed away. It turns out that this friend, Tom, his in laws live right in the same community my grandparents lived. And somehow I didn’t connect the dots, but they were going to Florida around the time we were. He showed up at my grandmother’s funeral, which I actually did, I actually spoke at that funeral. And just his showing up just blew me away. But then as we got to talking and knowing one another, we together attended a men’s conference. It was probably my first Word of Life men’s conference in Screw Lake New York. And while we were there, we heard a guy named Rod Handley. His ministry I believe is called Character Counts. And he had this thing, it was like accountability questions. And he talked about how we ought to hold one another accountable, just invest in other people’s lives. And Tom and I were already seeing it in our lives. And so he said, “Well, why don’t we start something where we can invite other guys to come?” And so, we started meeting at I think it was a Hardee’s, and we were just meeting with guys. And we started I think with maybe seemed like 10 or some crazy number. We ended up was probably about six of us. And interestingly enough, all six of those men ended up moving into leadership roles in our church, and some became deacons, some actually just – and deacons in our church, unlike in my previous church, they are truly servants. I’ve used them as sounding boards and counselors, but these guys really serve and they seek to lead in other areas of ministry. But out of that, we started growing a crop of men that started leading and taking responsibility in our church.
That’s a beautiful thing.
It’s a cool journey.
Yeah. Well, you mentioned this men’s conference that you go to once a year, but where are some other places or resources that you use to just make sure you’re staying sharp in your role as minister and staying healthy personally?
I have a variety of things, I do some online devotions. My hobby, one of the ways I de-stress is I build models. I build plastic model ships, for example. And a lot of times when I’m doing that, I will listen other sermons. I will listen to the John Macarthur, James, McDonald, Tony Evans, just the whole host of guys I listened to. Once a year our church takes a trip to Lafayette, Indiana, where we attend the biblical counseling conference. And though I don’t do a lot of one on one counseling, I am always counseling. One of the misconceptions in ministry is we think that counseling is always when I sit down formally in front of someone with a notepad or something. Well, every time a Christian opens turnout to answer a question from someone else, we’re counseling. So, how are we counseling? How are we addressing a person’s need, or a person’s burden, or person’s concern? And so, one of the things I loved about this conference was it showed me so many different facets of areas that we deal with life that even I, as a pastor, speak to from the pulpit, but also speak to one on one with people. And so, we began a counseling ministry here that helps meet some needs, not only people in our church, but we offer it free to our community. I think I went to a gospel coalition conference last year. Every fall I attend a Nine March’s conference in southeastern Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. I hang out with, for example, we as a church or our multiplying church center, we have helped to plant – well, let me tell you about my successes. That’s not so good. Well, we helped to plant three churches in our area, and we’re looking to plant prayerfully, one in another city kinda nearby, and also praying about planning other churches. But one of the things that’s funny, I’d never planted a church in my life. I was asked to consider it, it captured my interest, really fascinated me, but I ended up feeling God’s call to come here. But what I wanted to do is I wanted to be part of planting other churches or reproducing ourselves, bringing incredible gospel with us to other communities, sometimes that are underserved. But what I recognized was, I didn’t know all there was to know. I found myself hanging around with guys that planted churches and guys that love doing that. And so, I loved to hang around, I call it with the get her done kinda guys, guys that don’t just enter into the ministry as a vocation, but they enter into ministry with a passion and a commitment to be part of advancing God’s kingdom. And so, I love being with those guys and learning from them and hearing about their journey and what they’re doing, and then capturing some of that and bringing it back and trying to reproduce it in the sense here. And so, I’m working with a young man now, and it was so funny. He is attending a bible college and was wondering what he was gonna do. And I said, “Well, have you ever thought about maybe planting a church?” And he’s in a community. He actually travels over 30 minutes to come to our church, because he couldn’t find a good church where he lived. And I said, “Well, how about let’s fix that?” And somehow, for some odd reason, he actually took me serious and back to Friday on the 22nd of December, we’re actually, I’m actually going to be at his house. He’s starting doing an open house for his community, and he’s trying to invite people and he’s advertising a small group bible study. And he’s taking my challenge to start working in an area and trying to build a foundation of what could be a church. And I’m so excited about that. I watch this guy on his own do a VBS without any input or anything from us. He just wanted to do it because he loved this community, and he tried something on a Halloween night to reach out to this community. And I loved his heart, loved his passion, and I wanted to be a part of that.
That’s really neat.
I probably blew past your question and got in a couple more.
No, no, that’s good though. That’s great. You’ve touched on this a little bit, but I wanna end with the question of what kind of encouragement would you give to other people in church leadership?
You know, one of the encouragements I would say is don’t sell short that God has placed you where you need to be for the long haul. I often wonder, “How do people choose the church they serve in? Are they really seeking God’s faith, are they really seeking God’s will?” Certainly, I’m not serving in the biggest church. There are bigger churches. I actually was contacted a couple times about maybe going back down south and pastoring a bigger church. But I don’t think that’s really what God wanted me to do. I don’t think it’s what He wants me to do. But when He brought me here, one of the things I do, Courtney, is I have a couple of things in my office that remind me of God’s call. I have a picture of my infant son who reminds me of God’s call on my life to become a pastor. And then I have a picture of events that happen when I came here, and they remind me that when things get hard, and they always do, anyone who thinks paying a pastor is easy they have no clue what being a pastor is all about. It’s hard and sometimes it gets ugly. People are people and we deal with falling people all the time. But what I have found is by staying this long and hanging in there and persevering, and it’s not me, it’s not my strength, it’s God. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit and move on, but by persevering, I have seen things that I would never see in a short-term ministry. I would never see even in five years time, it’s just I have seen men and women in our church step up to levels that have just blow me away. And yet I’ve also seen in this time, I’ve seen the carnality of people that I thought were spiritual. But nevertheless, I see the good, I see the good stuff. And so, I really think that when the going gets tough, persevere in Christ, don’t just throw in the towel. Just really ask God to help you to take those next steps and to just hang in there. Because I really believe that being here in the long haul is worth it.
It really is.
That’s great. Brian, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Well, thank you, Courtney. It’s been a joy.