By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
TOWSON, Md.— Calling church planting an “extreme sport,” Ron Sylvia, founding pastor of the Church at the Springs in Ocala, Fla., asserted that “God is good, but He is not safe.”
Sylvia, a keynote speaker for the opening session of the Nov. 8-10 annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware in Towson, Md., shared that he has grown the most in the hard times—not the comfortable times.
He noted that in Matthew 14, after sending the multitudes of people away, Jesus sent His disciples into the storm.
“We build this American theology around comfort and wealth, but God will send you into harm’s way to show His glory,” he stressed.
Sylvia noted that Christians either believe the Gospel enough to benefit from it, to contribute to it, or to give their life to it.
The disciples gave their lives for their faith, resulting in an astounding growth in Christianity.
“And yet, we want first century results with 21st century sacrifice,” he noted.
Sylvia shared how God called him in 1994 to step out of his youth ministry position at First Church, Ocala, to start a new church, The Church at the Springs in Ocala. He began with 21 people meeting in a basement of an office complex. The church has since met in 14 locations and has grown to over 3,000 people.
But it wasn’t always easy.
To illustrate, he showed a chart of the past 15 years of ministry, which pointed not only the times of explosive growth but also times of desperate decline, which corresponded with traumatic events in his personal life.
In 1995, after a season of incredible church growth, Sylvia faced false accusations of embezzlement and infidelity. Three years later, his mother died from cancer. In 1999, Sylvia underwent surgery for a benign brain tumor, which came back in 2008, when he had to endure 44 rounds of radiation in four months.
All along, his personal issues coincided with huge building campaigns.
He remembered thinking, “This isn’t exactly the best time, Lord!”
Looking back, Sylvia acknowledged that he wouldn’t trade the struggles “for all the money in the world.”
His whole family has come to Christ. Over 1,000 people have been baptized, over 15 churches have been planted, and over 400 pastors have been coached through a network that Sylvia and his church have created.
And most importantly, Sylvia learned how his valley experiences were “mountaintop experiences for God.” It was during those low, dark trials in Sylvia’s life that he spent the most time with God.
“It was as if God said, ‘We’ve never been closer,’” Sylvia shared. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”