When a new pastor comes to a new town, it's an important event because a pastor's role is to change lives, and changed lives can change a community.
That's the philosophy of the Rev. John W. Lewis, a new pastor who arrived Sept. 14 at Mill Creek Baptist Church, 12713 Upper Manatee River Road in East Manatee County.
For Lewis, 63, Mill Creek is the fifth church he has pastored in a career that has touched down in Algonac, Mich., Vacaville, Calif., New Richmond, Ohio, Independence, Ky., Catlettsburg, Ky., and now Manatee County.
He is the author of 13 books.
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His book, "Green Pastures and Still Waters," frames life and faith in golf terms, with such chapters as "Keeping It In The Fairway" and "Each Hole Like A New Day."
"I used to write for the local newspaper in Algonac, Mich.," said Lewis, who acquired his faith in Jesus when he was 11 while growing up in Portsmouth, Ohio, in the First Southern Baptist
Lewis also has created a correspondence Bible school using study guides and books but not on line, called Antioch Baptist Seminary. It has students in 28 different states and four or five foreign countries, Lewis said.
"The school is accredited and prepares people to serve in a church," he said.
Mill Creek Baptist had two interim pastors after nine-year pastor, the Rev. Ron Van der Weert, had to give up the pulpit in 2013 because of his battle with throat cancer.
Van der Weert has made himself available to help Lewis any way he can, Lewis said.
Lewis stepped into a church, whose strong-willed members decided to do some renovations even before they had a full-time pastor.
"We're a church of people who work together," said nine-year church member Don Ackles.
Over 11 days recently, pews in the 250-seat sanctuary were taken out, the sanctuary was painted, multi-colored carpet laid, and pews put back, Lewis said.
"That's pretty good for 11 days." Lewis said.
The pews have gotten new cushions and a new sound system has been installed.
The church also includes a fellowship hall of classrooms and offices and another classroom building.
Lewis has made it clear to Ackles and other members that they did not hire a pastor who will be in the background to just let the church float along.
Lewis said he will "make waves" but that those waves will be positive and life changing.
"I am not a stand-still preacher," Lewis said while taking a visitor on a tour of the church grounds recently.
Lewis surprised his congregation when he told them during a service that he wanted them to yell out, "God can!" every time he said, "Can God?"
There was lots of vocalizing that day in a church that may not have seen such spirit for awhile.
"I am not monotone," Lewis said. "I move around. I challenge the congregation. Every message I give requires a decision."
Another recent message from Lewis included the teaching, "Worry for nothing, prayerful for everything, thankful for anything."
"That's my message of how to get along in life," Lewis said.
Lewis said that he has been able to build attendance at every church he has been at, which is about a half dozen across his work years.
Right now, Mill Creek Baptist, which was started in 1962 after the heirs of Ella Harllee donated four and a half acres on Upper Manatee River Road to Manatee Baptist Church for the purpose of establishing a new church, has 60 active members out of a roster of 123, Ackles said.
"I want to see what it looks like to have a full house," Lewis said. "We have room. We have been sent here to see it grow."
Lewis is clear about what Mill Creek will be like under his leadership.
"We will major in the Bible," Lewis said. "I have a saying: 'Keep the main thing the main thing.' This is a traditional church. We are not confused about who we are. We are not trying to compete with the world. We have a monopoly on being a traditional church right here. There will be people who like it our way and will grow with us."
In one of his first decisions, Lewis has scheduled 10:45 a.m. Nov. 16 to be "Mountaintop Sunday," what he terms a celebration of new beginning when people can come and meet him and Vickie Lewis and learn about the church.
Lewis will take visitors and guests to a peaceful spot along Mill Creek behind the church, where church members often fish for mullet. There is also a 12-foot-long unchurched alligator who lives in the creek and often shows up, Ackles said.
"We have a lot to be proud of," Lewis said. "I've asked everyone to bring someone."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7075 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.