Obstacles Can’t Stop Deaf Michigan Pastor from Reaching Hearing Crowd
June 14, 2018 |
Talk to anyone who has been effective in ministry for long, and they’ll tell you about adversity.
They’ll show you the valleys that preceded the mountaintops.
They’ll point out the pain that came before the fruitfulness.
Dig a bit deeper and you realize often the obstacle sets the stage for what comes next.
In his best-selling book, The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday says it like this: “The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”
Pastor Scott Blanchard, who leads Lakepointe Church in Macomb, MI, has embodied those comments.
For Scott, born 80 percent deaf with a call to start a church for the hearing in one of America’s toughest metro areas, obstacles have set the stage for a beautiful story of God’s faithfulness.
Obstacle #1: Can God call a deaf man to preach?
For some, the call to pastoring comes like a lightning bolt that knocks you to the ground. But not for Scott.
Scott first felt the pull toward pastoral ministry as a child, not long after becoming a Christian. He remembers practicing “church” services in his parents’ basement. The service included music and a short sermon. Scott’s mom, dad, and brothers all came.
“It was a cute little five-to-ten-minute thing,” Scott says. “There was this drag. I could sense this pull toward becoming a pastor.”
Scott loved the idea of “doing church.” But, born 80 percent deaf, Scott had a speech impediment that made him a bit tougher to understand at times.
Often, when he’d tell his Christian school friends about the sense of calling he felt toward pastoring, they’d look at him funny. They’d hear the speech impediment and they’d snicker.
“That’s not your calling,” they would say.
And, for some time, Scott believed them.
Once a month during chapel at Scott’s school, students could participate in the service by singing a song, playing an instrument, speaking a short monologue, or even sharing a 15-minute sermon.
Every week Scott would take a long, hard look at the sign-up sheet. He wanted to preach. Sometimes he’d write his name on the list, but then he’d chicken out and play the trumpet instead.
“Trumpets sound like trumpets,” Scott says. “I was a good trumpet player. I don’t have to talk. Trumpets make beautiful music.”
But each time Scott would chicken out, he felt awful. He’d listen to the other preachers-to-be get up on the stage, and he’d hear a whisper from God. “You need to get up there.”
Time was running out. 9th grade came—then 10th, 11th, and finally, 12th.
By the second semester of his senior year, Scott needed to preach now—or never. Next year, Scott would head to Bible college. He hadn’t declared his major officially, but he still knew he wanted to pastor. He had to make it through this hurdle. If he couldn’t preach at his school chapel, he might as well look for another calling.
“I had a sermon ready for three years,” Scott says. “For three years, I had said no to God every month. Finally, I went up there and scribbled my name on the sheet under ‘preach’ because I didn’t want anyone to recognize it.”
Scott preached the Bible fearlessly that day. He remembers little else of what happened, except that those same friends who a few years earlier had suggested an 80-percent deaf boy couldn’t preach wanted him to do it again.
Obstacle #2: Can a deaf man plant a church?
A few months later Scott started Bible college as a ministry major. After graduation, he took a position on staff at a large Baptist church in Florida. Few people still knew what to expect from a deaf minister who served among the hearing community.
But Scott flourished with every new assignment. He launched and grew a singles ministry. He led the church’s assimilation process. He showed a knack for developing systems and processes that helped people and ministries grow. All the while, he believed one day God would use him to lead a church of his own.
During a Purpose Driven Church Conference at Saddleback Church in 2004, Scott started taking interest in church planting. Over the next three years, the idea continued to incubate. By 2007, not only had Scott and his wife, Karen, committed to starting a church, but they believed God was calling them to uproot their young family from Florida and move back to metro Detroit, Scott’s hometown, to start the new church.
But to plant a church in metro Detroit, he’d need to solicit the prayer and financial support of others. Up first in that battle was a church planting assessment that would play a big part in deciding whether Southern Baptists would fund the effort. 12 church planters and their spouses gathered with 15 assessors for four days of intense questioning. Only the readiest planters would get funding.
The assessors asked tough questions of Scott and the others. At the end of every day, the assessors re-convened to rank the candidates. On the first night, although he didn’t know it at the time, they ranked Scott last.
“At face value, we didn’t think you had a shot,” one of the assessors later told Scott.
But each night, Scott crept up the rankings, to ninth, to fifth—and finally to the top of the heap.
Scott was ready, the assessors said. The funding would come.
Obstacle #3: Where will the people come from?
After selling their home in Florida (a challenging story itself), the Blanchards arrived in Detroit ready to engage a region in desperate need. In 2009, when the family arrived, Detroit found itself nearing the end of a 30-year tailspin. Two of the nation’s three largest automobile manufacturers, based in Detroit, needed massive “bailouts” from the US and Canadian governments in order to survive. Major news publications featured Detroit as a city in crisis.
Detroit’s decline extended to the surrounding area (the Blanchards planted their church in nearby Macomb, MI), too. People were fleeing Detroit and the area around it. Between 1950 and 2010, metro Detroit lost 61 percent of its population.
Add to those circumstances that Southern Baptists (the denomination Scott partnered to get the church started) historically struggled to launch new churches in metro Detroit.
Despite the not-exactly-ideal circumstances to start a new church, Scott and his team (and two other families who had moved to Michigan to help get the church started) focused on engaging people in the community.
Lakepointe often led with evangelistic events, like Vacation Bible School, Easter egg helicopter drops, and guest speakers ranging from a 9/11 survivor to a former mobster to professional athletes to engage guests. All seemed to bring new people into the fold.
Scott also leaned heavily into technology. The church posts regularly on social media, investing in both Facebook and Google ads. They use cutting-edge videos. Recently, they’ve also partnered with Pushpay to create a church app.
“Everybody has a smartphone these days,” Blanchard says. “It’s part of our culture today. I really like that people can give in 15 seconds. You don’t have to fill out 100 pieces of information in order to give.”
Thanks in part to mobile giving made easy through Pushpay, the church regularly invests in the community, such as the outreach to parents it does during an annual summer festival. Lakepointe provides a changing station, free diapers and water, and games for older kids. The church also operates a food bank that provides families in need a week’s worth of groceries.
The church has grown steadily and baptized more than 120 people in its first eight years. After a successful capital campaign last year, Lakepointe is looking for a permanent home for the church.
Yes, people still ask about Scott’s speech impediment when they first hear him speak. (He often jokes that he is from England when they do.)
But Scott is still the only church member who is deaf or hard of hearing. He isn’t just Lakepointe’s pastor. He models what it means to overcome obstacles in order to serve the church family.
“I think God uses me to inspire people to serve Him,” Scott says. “If God can use me, He can use anyone.”