EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.
EL CAJON, Calif. (BP)–Whether you’re a prison inmate or a police officer, single or senior adult, an off-road enthusiast or on the road to recovery, Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., has got you covered. With dozens of Bible-based, spiritually centered, evangelistically focused ministries, this Southern Baptist church in the San Diego area hardly misses any demographic slice. It even has its own educational system, from kindergarten to seminary.
And when you compare the church to its pastor, David Jeremiah, it’s hard to tell the mirror from the reflection. For the last 15 of his 25 years at Shadow Mountain, Jeremiah has preached at least three and sometimes four times a week at the church and once or twice more at other locales across the U.S. His radio program is broadcast on more than 2,000 stations worldwide, and his sermons are televised via 10 satellites, seven networks and more than 500 individual TV outlets around the world.
Best known for his Turning Point radio and television ministry, Jeremiah’s practical preaching, biblical exposition and winsome style have garnered such popularity that in 2004 Turning Point built its own ministry headquarters just a few miles from the church site — a 65,000 square-foot facility housing offices, recording studios, a warehouse of media resources and 85 employees.
The attraction of God’s work through Shadow Mountain and Jeremiah has mushroomed church attendance. The church’s 2,500-seat worship center, built in 1992, is filled to capacity for two Sunday morning services, and is more than half full for the Saturday and Sunday night services.
For Jeremiah and Shadow Mountain members, ministry success isn’t about personal hoopla; it’s about helping people in Jesus’ name — a practice that came through trials by fire, literally.
In late 2003, one of several wildfires sweeping across Southern California engulfed the nearby community of Crest. Shadow Mountain members immediately swung into action without any official appeal or initiation from church staff. Members established a distribution center for Bibles, food and clothing, and offered free $100 gift cards so residents who lost all their worldly possessions could buy life’s basic necessities. The church also contracted with several hotels to house displaced families. Hundreds volunteered to help with cleanup or serve as counselors and prayer warriors.
Jeremiah said he and the church haven’t been the same since, and they try to continue serving their community, practically and spiritually.
“This church has a heart not only to reach the lost, but to be salt and light in its community. We’ve grown together in that,” Jeremiah said, adding that in his ministry years previous to the fires, he “was very much into the light, and not nearly as much into the salt as I should have been. Now, I don’t know if there’s anything this congregation wouldn’t take on if they know it’s God’s will. They’re very encouraging to me. I am so blessed to pastor this church. I’ve never seen a congregation so responsive to do what God calls us to do.”
Last year church members personally distributed 35,000 copies of the Bible, reaching every home in El Cajon. And on March 24, the church undertook what Jeremiah called an “extreme school makeover” at Logan Elementary School in a drug-infested barrio called Logan Heights, situated in the shadow of the Coronado Bridge, south of downtown San Diego, about 20 miles from Shadow Mountain.
Church members refurbished the school with paint, new playground equipment, permanent classroom partitions, and also upgraded some plumbing and wiring, as well as planted sod on the dusty, brown playground.
In cooperation with the Oklahoma City-based Feed The Children ministry, Shadow Mountain members oversaw the distribution of more than 30,000 pounds of food among families associated with the school.
Prior to the project, school officials kept asking Jeremiah about the church’s motives. Even a few church members wondered why such efforts wouldn’t be expended on schools in Shadow Mountain’s neighborhood.
“I’m not sure anyone does anything with a totally pure motive,” Jeremiah told Baptist Press, “but as far as we can tell, ours is. We chose this school and this place because we cannot possibly get anything back from the project. There isn’t any way we can gain anything from it. It is totally a gift of love representing the heart of God to these people. That’s what Jesus did. He went to help people who couldn’t help themselves, and who had no way of expressing their gratitude.”
The project, said Jeremiah, takes biblical Christianity “out of the realm of theory and gets our hands dirty. We learned this through the fires. I don’t think we’d ever be who we are now unless the fires had come.”
Jeremiah has faced some personal trials also, intimating that his first four years at the church were difficult as people adjusted to his ministry style and objectives. He said there are still some who tell him of what they don’t like at church, but their number is very small, “especially when compared to the size of the church,” he said. “We have very little dissention here.”
However, when God is “about to do something great in what we’re attempting here, there’s usually a barrage from the enemy before that,” Jeremiah said. “And after God does something great, there’s usually a barrage to follow. I’ve gotten to the point that I almost expect it. That’s Satan’s mode of operation.”
Having also faced cancer, Jeremiah said such was not only a deeply discouraging time, it was also a purifying time. That ordeal taught him how to keep a journal of his spiritual insights, aspirations and prayers.
“Someone told me journaling was something I should do at that time so I wouldn’t forget what the Lord was teaching me, and I have literally thousands of pages of journal that I’ve kept since then. It’s been a constant tool that God has used to hold me accountable. And I just talk to God about what’s going on in my life.”
Satan, Jeremiah says, uses discouragement “to get to me more than anything else” but that Donna, Jeremiah’s wife, has always been his encourager.
“We made a deal at the beginning our of marriage that we’d try not to both be discouraged at the same time,” he said. “So, when I’m going through some tough times, she’s always there to encourage me and strengthen me. Donna was like a rock [when he faced cancer].
“I know in my heart that I never could have done nor continue to do what I do without Donna. She is my constant companion, my best friend. She’s a great mother to our children. She’s a very sweet, thoughtful, loving person. I don’t think you can do what I’ve done without someone by your side who loves you unconditionally,” he said.
Passion for ministry requires time management and a realistic assessment of one’s stamina, Jeremiah noted.
“I’ve learned how to say ‘no’ to so many things I used to say ‘yes’ to; but every time I do, three things grow back in its place,” he said.
As for his secrets of time management, Jeremiah said, “I’m sure there are some acceptable, pat answers for that, but I don’t have any. It’s always a struggle; it always has been, and it always will be.
“There’s the old adage: ‘Fatigue makes cowards of us all.’ If we let ourselves get too tired and too worn down, then the things we can normally take in stride Satan can use to really pull us down,” he said.
Despite the ongoing demands of ministry, Jeremiah says he maintains his preaching and pastoral schedule because “I believe this is what God has called me to do. And when God calls you and also gives you an opportunity of influence in the Kingdom of God, you have to accept that.”
One recent opportunity of kingdom influence for Jeremiah has been among military personnel. Jeremiah said God guided him in the last year or so to spend “considerable time” ministering to military chaplains and troops. So, he’s traveled to almost 10 military installations without honoraria and, many times, without reimbursement for travel expenses.
In advising others on how to be more passionate in ministry, Jeremiah said, “Here’s what I do: I study the Word. I read the Word. I preach the Word. I record the Word. I televise the Word. I write the Word.
“There are only two things I know of that are going to survive us, and that’s the Word of God which lives and abides forever, and the eternal souls of men. God has honored me to be able to spend all my time in both of those.
“So, I get up every day, and I live in a world that is pulling toward eternity with the Scripture and people. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t be passionate about that.”
Underscoring his primary motivation in ministry, Jeremiah said with tear-filled eyes, “When it comes to someone like Jesus, the more you know Him, the more you love Him. You can’t find out anything about Jesus that doesn’t make you want to love Him more.”
Jeremiah’s first-person columns are published by Baptist Press. Learn more about Shadow Mountain Community Church at www.shadowmountain.org. See also www.turningpointonline.org.