Life Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Benny TateBy Benny Tate16 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Defy the Odds: How God Can Use Your Past to Shape Your Future by Benny Tate

Chapter 9

Life Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Incredibly detail-oriented people are often criticized with this old idiom: “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” While I understand the common expression, I’ve never been able to relate to it. Before coming to know the Lord, I wasn’t much worried about the forest or the trees, but since salvation. I’ve always seen the forest and figured God will worry about the trees. I’m a big-picture person who focuses on what can happen when God is involved. My attitude has always been Don’t tell me about the labor pains; show me the baby! A good leader’s job is to cast vision, and the end goal has always been my focus. So I don’t get blinded by details.

To encourage my staff to visualize their dreams and goals in life and in ministry, I often share these words from my good friend Pastor Johnny Hunt: “If you don’t see it before you see it, you’ll never see it.”

In the early years of Rock Springs Church, most people stepped onto the property only to see a small brick chapel with a white awning covering the front steps that led to a tiny sanctuary with unfinished spaces. But each time I stepped foot on that property, I saw a forest and believed God would worry about the trees.

I saw hundreds of people in attendance, buses picking up children for church, a family life center full of activity, and a church campus sprawling with ministries to serve the wonderful people living in and around our community. God gave me a vision for Rock Springs Church, and I’ve spent my life since then allowing Him to use me in making it a reality. I knew just as He had defied the odds in growing my family, He had great plans to do the same with Rock Springs Church. So I began attending conferences and meeting with pastors to gain wisdom from their experiences and mistakes.

For several months Barbara and I saved money to attend our first Elmer Towns conference on church growth. Mr. Towns had written a book titled 154 Steps to Revitalize Your Sunday School and Keep Your Church Growing. One big idea I took away from the conference was Friend Day—a Sunday where each church member invited one unchurched friend to attend the service and other festivities. Hosting a Friend Day at Rock Springs Church seemed like the perfect way to reach people in our community.

After returning home, we began making preparations to host our very first Friend Day. The goal was to have 300 people in attendance, and as an incentive, I promised to swallow a live goldfish during the service if we reached that goal. Some people might think I’m a nut, but I’m screwed onto the right bolt! I wasn’t trying to get people to attend so I could have a good count; I tried to get people to attend because people count.

On June 2, 1996, more than 300 people attended our “Fishing for Jesus Day.” And yes, I swallowed a live goldfish at the end of the service. Of course, if I did something like that in a service today, I would have animal rights activists protesting on the church steps. It may seem like a silly gimmick to get people to church, but I’ve always said, “I’m for a dog…if he’ll bark for Jesus!” If swallowing a goldfish or taking a pie to the face will get nonbelievers to church, sign me up.

A Goal for Growth

As our church grew, I decided to attend a John Maxwell conference called Challenge 1,000. John Maxwell, along with other speakers such as Andy Stanley, spoke to an audience of pastors about leadership and church growth. At the end of the conference, John Maxwell led a special prayer over pastors who believed they were called to build a church of 1,000 plus.

The invitation was given, and I felt God nudge me to go down for prayer. He said I was called to build Rock Springs Church to more than a thousand members. As I stepped into the aisle, the pastors I went to the conference with began to laugh and whisper. Satan wanted me to return to my seat because he knew God was up to something big. I would be lying if I said the laughter didn’t hurt; I had battled insecurity all my life, so Satan knew just where to attack. I’m sure those guys looked at our little church in Milner, Georgia, and saw impossible odds. How could a church our size ever have a membership of 1,000, let alone more? What they didn’t seem to realize was that I served an odds-defying God who, again, “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

I left that conference with a clear vision and a new contact. Pastor Bill Purvis of Cascade HIlls Church in Columbus, Georgia, had spoken at the conference, and I decided to reach out to him for a meeting. While spending a day with him at Cascade Hills, he encouraged me in my calling to build a church of 1,000 members, and he expressed his interest in helping me in any way he could. He asked if I had been recording my sermons in order to sell cassette tapes, but I told him we didn’t have the resources to purchase that kind of equipment. Bill sent me home with a wealth of knowledge and a duplicator that would allow me to record my sermons and sell them to raise money toward a building program. The encouragement he gave me that day meant so much more to me than the duplicator.

God used Bill Purvis to not only encourage me in growing Rock Springs Church but also to develop a passion in me for helping other pastors. My experiences with receiving help and encouragement from other local pastors had been quite negative up until this point. Once I wanted to print 30 bulletins for a Sunday service, and I asked a local church if I could purchase the materials and then run my bulletins on their machine. The pastor responded, “I’ll let you do it this time, but don’t come back.” No other pastors in my area seemed to have any desire to see my ministry succeed. Therefore, Bill’s support was monumental to me.

Making Room for Growth

With the duplicator I received from Bill, we began recording sermons and selling them in the foyer of the church. All proceeds from the tapes were put into a building fund for a multipurpose facility—a family life center that would provide additional Sunday school space, a fellowship hall, and a gym for youth activities. God told me to build the new facility debt-free—a much bigger step in faith than paving the parking lot—plus it would take $300,000 to complete it.

We decided to raise $100,000 before breaking ground and then raise the additional funds as the construction progressed. The chances of completing the facility debt-free may have seemed unlikely, but God’s work done God’s way never lacks God’s support. We just started raising money every way we could and trusted Him to provide.

The Alvis Butler Family Life Center, as it would be called, would be a 100,000-square-foot facility built with no architect and no professional plans. The plans were sketched on a piece of notebook paper during a board meeting as we discussed and decided on the desired layout. But while we thought we knew the most efficient design for the building, God had different plans in mind.

As construction on the building progressed, God began to move providentially. Just before finalizing the roof structure for the building, a member of the board casually mentioned that raising the height of the roof by one to two feet would allow for a second-floor addition in the future if it were ever needed. While many people couldn’t imagine ever needing that much space for our small congregation, we decided to increase the height of the roof. What seemed like a simple suggestion was in fact God’s provision for the incredible growth Rock Springs Church would experience within the next few years.

Fundraising and donations had been quite successful throughout the construction, but nearing the end of the project, the church lacked the final $10,000 it would take to pay in full. All fundraising options had been exhausted and new donations were few and far between. We had made it to $290,000 debt-free, and I just couldn’t imagine having to borrow the remaining amount.

The builder called me one Thursday afternoon to say he needed to receive the remaining $10,000 in order to complete the finishing touches and pay his employees, and I asked him to give me until Monday morning. I had no idea what difference the weekend would make—the Sunday offering certainly wouldn’t cover the bill—but that afternoon I sat at my little desk in the basement of our little sanctuary and prayed. God, I said, You told me to build this facility debt-free. You have provided every step of the way, and I know You will see this through. I just give this all to You.

As I say at my desk again the next morning, preparing for the Sunday service, I received a phone call from a lawyer’s office. He informed me that a man who wasn’t a member of our church had died and Rock Springs Church was a beneficiary of his estate. I was quite shocked by what the man was saying, because I didn’t even know the deceased individual, and he didn’t seem to have any connection to our church. The lawyer said a check would be sent immediately.

Not being able to contain my curiosity, I said, “Do you mind letting me know the amount left to the church?”

“I don’t mind at all. It’s $10,000.”

Upon ending that call, I began praising God right there in my little office. I knew He had provided that money for the building in His perfect timing through a way only He could receive all the credit. On April 26, 1998, the Alvis Butler Family Life Center was dedicated with a record attendance of 501, and God certainly received the glory, honor, and praise for all He had done.

I’m not one to believe in luck or coincidence but only in the providential hand of God. Someone once showed me a rabbit’s foot and asked if I knew what it meant. I responded, “Yeah. It means a rabbit is running around somewhere with only three feet.” But when I’ve told the story of that $10,000 check over the years, people have tried to explain how common it is for people to leave money to a church. But nothing of the sort had ever been done in the history of our church, nor has it been done since. There’s no explaining how it happened outside of God’s good hand upon Rock Springs Church.

God used that situation to build my faith and once again show me He could defy all odds. Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest” (NLT). There’s no perfect timing outside of God’s timing. If you wait until you have enough money to get married, you’ll never get married. If you wait until you have enough money to have children, you’ll never have children. And if we had waited until we had enough money to build the Butler Building, it never would have happened. God just wants us to step out in faith, trusting that He’ll provide.