LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It's been a work in progress.
The church at 5600 Deer Drive, once known as University Baptist Church, later was one of two Sarasota Baptist Church campuses. Last summer, it became Lakewood Ranch Baptist Church.
This Sunday, the Rev. Lance Stack becomes the first senior pastor at the church since the break with Sarasota Baptist.
"I'm going to start a series called Crossing the River. It's about facing the future with courage. God has great future for us but getting there requires effort and some work," Stack said in a phone interview from Columbia, S.C.
Stack, 35, moves to Lakewood Ranch from Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, where he was an associate pastor for the young adults ministry.
He was drawn to Lakewood Ranch by the people in the congregation and the church's potential for growth, he said.
"The people have a great heart for their church, but they also have a great heart for their community," Stack said. "After meeting them and seeing the potential they have as a church, it was extremely exciting to me.
"We are going to be out in the community. We want to be inviting and engaging. We want to be able to impact Lakewood Ranch in a positive way. We want people to know it's a church that loves Jesus and the members love each other."
Lakewood Ranch Baptist Church is a member of the Southern Baptist congregation.
Mark Dunlop, a deacon at Lakewood Ranch Baptist, said the congregation was previously served by a succession of campus pastors whose tenure was usually short.
It became evident to members the church needed to set its own course in order to grow and reach the community, he said. That meant a break with Sarasota Baptist, which has been supportive during the transition, and hiring a senior pastor.
Martin Vreman, search committee chairman at Lakewood Ranch Baptist Church, said there was no shortage of candidates for the senior pastor job.
The committee started with a stack of more than 150 resumes, narrowing its search eventually to three candidates.
"We did a lot of praying and God led us to him. We looked at his qualifications, talked to his church references and got glowing responses," Vreman said.
Vreman said the search committee wanted:
1. A man of prayer.
2. A man of the word.
3. A man who sees evangelism as a command.
Stack met all prerequisites.
The committee also interviewed the wives of their prospective pastor.
"The wife is very influential in the life of the pastor," Vreman said.
Originally from Sullivan, Mo., Stack and his public school teacher wife of 13 years, Jessica, have three children: twins Noah and Elijah, 5, and a daughter, Havasah, 3.
While Stack is a lifelong Christian, his path led to the ministry after some personal angst and reflection, he said.
In his sophomore year at Truman State University where he was a psychology major, he became dissatisfied with his projected career path.
"I was walking with God at the time, but I was pursuing my desires over His. Life was easy but I was miserable," Stack said. "Later life got more complicated, but I was happy."
He transferred to Dallas Baptist University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree, before earning his master's degree in divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The church is welcoming the community for his first sermon at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. A free lunch will be served following the service. Visit lwrbaptist.com to register or for more information.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter: @jajones1.