Published July 24, 2014
WOODSTOCK — If Matt Lawson is the prototypical church planter in the North American Mission Board’s church planting movement NAMB President Kevin Ezell’s goal of significantly reducing the lostness in North America could well become a reality in another decade.
Lawson, a native of Orangeburg, SC, is the senior high student pastor at First Baptist Church in Woodstock. He has been in that role for eight years. He admits that he found a home at First Baptist Church. It was a comfortable, secure place to minister. Matt and his wife Laura, who is from Jacksonville, FL, started their family in Woodstock. Their son, Deacon, is five years old and their daughter, Eden, is four years old. Their third child, a son, Roman, was born on July 17. Home is where the heart is and the hearts of the Lawsons have been in Woodstock for the better part of a decade.
From certainity to uncertainity
Matt’s ministry has gone exceedingly well. He has seen more than 1,000 students come to faith in Christ in the eight years he has been on staff at FBCW. The online videos of his messages to teenagers have been poignant, pointed, and powerful. He loves his pastor and is loved by him (Johnny Hunt).
However, in a few short months the Lawsons will be moving across the country to the greater Los Angeles area to plant a church in Burbank, CA, which is known as “the media capital of the world.”
It will be a move from certainty to uncertainty, from security to insecurity, from the known to the unknown, from friends and loved ones to unfamiliar faces, from the “right coast” to the “left coast.” In other words, it will be a quantum leap geographically, culturally, and no telling what else.
But then God did not call us to a cushion, but a cross; not to a buffet, but to a battleground; not to a life of selfishness, but a life of sacrifice.
Lawson grew up in a Christian home and was in church on a regular basis, but actually became a Christian at a conference at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly in North Carolina at age 17.
Lawson testified, “The preacher spoke on James 4:13-17 and emphasized the sin of procrastination and the importance of not putting off until tomorrow what should be done today. That spoke to my heart; and that was salvation for me.”
An outstanding athlete in high school, Lawson got a scholarship to play baseball at North Greenville University, but turned it down to go to Clemson University to study accounting. He admitted, “I wanted to be an accountant from the time I was a freshman in high school. Jonathan Dickson, an actor in New York City, and Roy Broughman, who was at Clemson with me and is the current pastor at First Baptist Church in Hinesville, came into my life and mentored me. Roy once told me, ‘I can’t see you doing anything but serving the Lord in ministry.’
“God used the ‘harvest is plenteous and laborers are few’ passage in Matthew 9 and the call of Isaiah in Isaiah 9 to call me into the ministry.”
From Clemson Matt enrolled at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC to prepare for God’s calling upon his life. During his seminary years he served several churches in interim and volunteer roles, but then became a part of Johnny Hunt’s staff at the Woodstock church.
Lawson remarked, “Pastor Johnny has influenced me so much in terms of leadership and in terms of relationships. He is not a ‘green room’ pastor. He doesn’t come into the pulpit from a green room and then return to that room when the service is over. He is the first one to come and the last one to leave, because he loves people. It will be tough to leave Pastor Johnny, because he is not only my pastor, but my friend.
“But about nine months ago God began stirring my heart about planting a church. I told God, ‘I am not interested. I want to be in student ministry. Everything is going well. We are seeing many people saved. Students are growing in their faith. They are making a difference in their schools. I am just not interested.’
“I took the month of December (2013) off to pray, get away from the rhythm of ministry, and think. During that time Laura and I went to a funeral in Knoxville and then decided to go to Gatlinburg to Xtreme Winter Conference. We got the only room left in the entire area. Tony Nolan preached on Isaiah 6 and God spoke to me.”
Lawson admitted, “I responded by saying, ‘If you can use someone else, please do, but if not, I am willing. Use me.’ That was New Year’s Eve 2013.”
God continued to provide milestones to mark the way for Matt to fully know His will. One milestone was from a sermon he preached at a conference in Oklahoma. The text was II Samuel 24:24 that relates the story about King David’s attempt to buy a threshing floor from Araunah to build an altar to worship God. Araunah wants to give David his oxen and the wood for the burnt offering and David replies, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing.”
Another milestone that helped mark the way for Matt was the song “Oceans” by Hillsong United that included the words, “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.”
In response to God’s constant entreaties Matt wrote in his Bible: “Los Angeles – my ‘yes’ is on the table – Exodus 33:14-15.” The Exodus passage is where God promised Moses, “My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest.”
At one point there were four cities under consideration: Atlanta, San Diego, New York, and Los Angeles. Lawson explained, “We wanted to be in a global city, a city with international influence, and Los Angeles was the city that surfaced.”
Shortly after returning from Oklahoma, Lawson told his pastor that God was calling him to plant a church. Two weeks later Kevin Ezell met with Hunt to ask if First Baptist Church would become the lead church for the entire church planting effort in Los Angeles. Ezell related that with great emotion Johnny Hunt responded with a strong affirmation.
Starting a Story
Los Angeles is the second largest city in the U.S. with a population of over 19 million people in the greater metro area. Burbank has over 110,000 people with less than five evangelical churches in the city.
Lawson exclaimed, “As a media center there are many stories told in Burbank, but we will tell the story of Jesus and our church will be the Story City Church.”
Lawson’s vision is the have a healthy, sustainable multiplying church in Burbank within four years. He is in the process of “partner development” currently, asking churches to help support his church plant, realizing that the sooner Story City Church is self-supporting the sooner they can plant other churches.
Currently, First Baptist Church Vidalia, Second Baptist in Warner Robbins, New Season Church in Hiram, New Victoria Baptist Church in Woodstock, First Baptist Church in Cartersville, East Newnan Baptist Church in Newnan, and FBC in Woodstock are among the partnering churches in Georgia committed to support Lawson in his efforts to plant a church in California.
The Lawsons are looking for fellow believers to join them by moving to Burbank, finding jobs, and being a part of a new church start and for other partnering churches that will agree to support their efforts.
This is a story of venturing out in faith, launching out into the deep, and starting something new and trusting God to birth another church – something He has been doing for over 2,000 years.
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