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The Summit Church celebrates 20 years, looks ahead to future ministry

J.D. Greear (left), pastor of The Summit Church, welcomed Sam James to Summit's 20th anniversary celebration Jan. 31. James planted Homestead Heights Baptist Church (which would become Summit) in the early 1960s.

RALEIGH, N.C. (BP) – This Sunday’s service (Jan. 30) celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Summit Church in North Carolina focused not only on the great missions work that has happened over those 20 years, but also on the anticipated move of God in the future.

J.D. Greear, senior pastor of The Summit Church and most recent past-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, reminded the congregation of the incredible work God has done through the church and implored members to continue to play a part in fulfilling the Great Commission.

“I ask the church to recommit to its original vision, trusting that the God who has brought them thus far will lead them the rest of the way,” Greear said. “The Summit Church responds enthusiastically and we become a part of this huge movement (the Great Commission) through history.”

When Greear became senior pastor in December 2001, the church consisted of 300 devoted and faithful members. Beginning with an influx of college students in the early 2000s, the church grew and now has 12 campuses with more than 12,000 members.

Summit’s leadership set the lofty goal of planting 1,000 churches by the year 2050. Hundreds of church plants have been launched both domestically and internationally since then.

On an average Sunday, more than 26,000 people worship in churches planted by The Summit. The church currently has more missionaries serving internationally than it had total members 20 years ago.

Greear said his anticipation for what God will do through Summit’s future ministry is based upon the miraculous work God has already done.

“Of course, I don’t know exactly what God will do in the next 20 years,” he said. “What we do know is that God promises to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or imagine. I’ve seen what He’s done in the last 20 years, so now I can imagine that; which means what I dream for the future has to be greater than what I’ve seen.”

The church’s journey began long before Greear’s arrival. In 1961, young couple Sam and Rachel James had plans to serve as missionaries in Vietnam. But a medical condition with their newborn child caused them to delay leaving the country and spend an extended time at Duke University Medical Center.

It was during that time that Sam James would plant Grace Baptist Mission, which would soon change its name to Homestead Heights Baptist Church. (The church relaunched as The Summit Church in March 2002, under Greear’s leadership.)

When the church launched as Homestead Heights on March 4, 1962, James preached his one and only sermon at Homestead – a sermon out of Isaiah 54 about the church’s particular role in getting the Gospel beyond its borders.

The Jameses would leave on a plane that very afternoon to Vietnam, where they served for more than 40 years.

Summit’s story came full circle on stage Sunday as James returned for the 20th anniversary celebration.

James, who turns 90 this year, expressed his gratitude and made it clear missions a major reason for the church’s founding.

“I don’t have enough words to express the joy that I have from the privilege of being here at this wonderful service today,” James said. “The first bedrock principle we (original members) adopted that became a foundation of that new church plant was wanting to be involved in carrying the Gospel to the entire world. To be a missions-sending church and a missions-supporting church from day one as long as the church exists.”

In his message, Greear recounted the church’s history but also talked about how the Gospel has been carried throughout history, beginning with the disciples until now.

He then offered multiple scenarios he envisioned for the future ministry of the church. Upon closing, he looked upon a picture of himself from the early days of Summit, saying the picture brings to mind not only what God has done, but what He will do in the future of the church.

“Summit, when I look at that picture, I think not of our past, but I think about our future,” Greear said.

“In truth, I don’t know what the future holds. I can’t even guarantee I’ll wake up tomorrow. What I do know is that we still serve a Savior who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and a Savior whose finished cross and empty tomb guarantees that He will be successful in uniting the nations to fear His name. This is not our history, you see, it’s His story.”