By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
For any pastor in transition Mac Brunson has this message — if you want to stay a long time, go slow.
“One thing I feel like God has shown me over the years is that it’s better to go into a new church with a process rather than a vision,” he said. “That process is that if I want to change their structure, I’ve got to know their culture first.”
So that’s what he’s been doing the last six months at Valleydale Church, Birmingham — he’s been getting to know how and why the church does things.
Brunson began serving as Valleydale’s pastor in July 2018 after resigning from the pastorate of 10,000-member First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida. It came as a surprise to everyone — including Brunson.
It started several years ago when church transition consultant Dan Hall came to help First, Jacksonville, walk through some things, Brunson said.
“At that time Dan was interim pastor of Valleydale, and he kept talking about how great the church was,” he said.
But Brunson didn’t really hone in on that at the time — he was focused on what was going on at his church.
Then Valleydale called Jason Dees as pastor. After Dees left Hall reached out to Brunson to see if he had any recommendations for a pastor.
“We kind of started that way — the conversation wasn’t about me going there, it was about me helping them find someone,” Brunson said. “But at some point that changed.”
As he began to talk seriously with Valleydale’s search committee he realized he was feeling pulled that way but he had one major reservation — his age.
“I’d be a 60-year-old coming to a young church,” Brunson said.
But two things quickly led him to make the decision to move. First, two younger members of the search committee told them that what their church desperately needed was a spiritual father.
Then after that he and his wife, Debbie, met a pastor while on a missions trip to Asia who made an impact on them.
“He was a 71-year-old pastor of a young church in Tokyo, and they were running five services every Sunday,” Brunson said. “When we saw that I felt like God was telling me to let Him worry about my age and the issues that surround that. I walked out of there that day knowing I would come back and call them and tell them that I would come in view of a call.”
That call came in April and Brunson began a new journey as the church’s pastor. Right off the bat they hired Auxano, a church-consulting ministry that walks churches through a vision-framing process.
“In just about three meetings I felt like I had been given more of a history to understand the church better,” Brunson said.
Jeff McGukin, Valleydale’s executive pastor, said the church is moving in a positive direction and there’s “an excitement in the air.”
“It’s an exciting time in the life of the church right now,” he said. “We’re really excited about the future of the church. There’s a passion for evangelism that we haven’t had in a number of years. Our visitors have increased, and our membership is increasing on a weekly basis too.”
Brunson is “settling in well and there are a lot of good things happening,” McGukin said.
When Brunson arrived the church was running around 700 or 800 in worship, but now it’s adding visitors by a couple hundred every week. They’re also seeing more and more people baptized.
“We have more young families and young people joining all the time too,” he said, which is building the excitement level at the church.
“If we grew much faster I don’t know that the church could handle it as we are — we are saturated in Sunday School space,” he said. “We’re having to be creative about where we put new classes.”
Brunson said he is just putting the pieces together and doesn’t plan to cast any kind of new vision for the church until sometime this year.
But he knows God is already at work.
“It’s a great church, and the people and staff here have such a depth. It’s the most missions-minded church of this size that I’ve seen,” he said. “There’s such a strong sense of community here. I’m excited to be here.”
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