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Pastor to deliver his first Easter Sunday sermon

Man juggles preaching, a full-time job and six kids

POSTED: April 3, 2010 11:00 p.m.

Worship services

Watch members of Living Stone Baptist Church during worship services.

SHANNON CASAS/The Times

The Rev. Mark McClain kneels with children at a Wednesday night service at Living Stone Community Church in White County. The children were learning about Palm Sunday.

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Don’t expect any bonnets or Easter lilies today, but they’ll be celebrating the Resurrection all the same.

For his first time as a pastor in an established church, the Rev. Mark McClain will be preaching his first Easter Sunday sermon this morning at 10:30.

But aside from the message, which will definitely be on the Resurrection of Jesus, McClain says it will be just like any other Sunday in Living Stone Community Church.

The bells and whistles are kept out of the service intentionally, McClain said, to make people who would not normally come to church feel comfortable.

Pastors across the Christian faith know that Easter Sunday is one of the biggest days of the Christian calendar. That means many people who don’t go to church regularly might show up today.

And while some pastors may prepare something extra special for those they might have one chance to reach, McClain wants his church to stay the same today as every Sunday.

By making Easter extraordinary, McClain says, “I think you hurt yourself in some ways, because when they come back to visit, everything’s different.”

Though Living Stone is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, McClain says his is not a traditional Baptist church. The whole reason he started a church was to get away from conventional church politics, he says.

And that’s what he hopes to convey when he tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection today.

“Jesus was the most nonjudgmental person that has ever walked the face of the Earth, and unfortunately Christians have gotten the rap — or sometimes have been — judgmental, and that has hurt people from coming into churches,” McClain said. “So that’s something that we try to show, that Jesus came to save.”

Mike Taylor, a church start strategist with the Chattahoochee Baptist Association, said more churches in the area are getting their start like McClain’s. While the trend once was “go big,” some congregations aim to stay small, with some even committing to keeping services in members’ homes.

“Our whole reason that we started the church was that we were tired of playing church,” said McClain. “... To get back to the foundation part. Church was to be about a family, and it was also to be about reaching to people who were lost. That’s the whole reason the church began, and that’s why Jesus died on the cross for us, was to give us hope. And right now, with how things are going in the economy, people need a hope that can’t be taken away.”

McClain calls the worship style at Living Stone Community “contemporary, casual and coffee,” and then he laughs.

“I’m very overdressed for our church right now,” said McClain, on his lunch break from his full-time job, dressed in a plaid button-down shirt and khaki pants. “I preach in blue jeans.”

Even the building is still a little unrefined. Located in the upper floor of a stone-facade office complex facing U.S. 129 on the White-Hall county line, McClain said the church building is “finished enough that we can be in it.”

There may not be time for much more, anyway.

Between his duties as the manager of the Gainesville Jackson EMC office, as a husband and as father of six children, McClain squeezes in his role as Living Stone’s lead pastor.

McClain said the other pastors also volunteer their spare time to the church, and he writes his sermons “late at night, after the kids go to bed.”

“That’s one thing with us: We have the barrier of time,” said McClain. “We’re all full-time employed in other jobs and nobody takes a salary, so all the money goes back into the mission of the church.”

More than anything, McClain wants his church to seem approachable to what he calls the “unchurched.” Much of his mission is to reach out to those in the North Hall and southern White County communities. He says doing so requires an unconventional approach.

Already, the church has gone into various communities in the area to hold mini-vacation Bible schools called “Backyard Bible Clubs” with the children. Reaching out to children is how he says the church has grown in the past year from three families to about 50 people.

Lori Grier, Living Stone’s children’s minister, said each Sunday is a learning process, but she finds unconventional ways to teach children about Jesus.

She starts her services with jump-up-and-down, kid-friendly songs about the Christian walk.

“I’ve learned from being a Christian that you can go and you can hear a preacher talk, and it’s good to know the Bible, but if you can’t put it into use in your everyday life, it’s kind of like head knowledge and no heart knowledge and what are you going to do with it?” Grier said.

Grier’s outreach to the children of the community has been the main means of growth for Living Stone so far, McClain said.

And though he won’t be setting out any extra chairs today, McClain says there’s room for a few more for those who want to celebrate Easter in a less-traditional environment.

“If we fill the chairs we have, we’re just going to be tickled to death,” said McClain.



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