Danny Lovett said he’s had a heart for the lost and young pastors for a long time. But the way those passions have fleshed out in the past 10 years has caught him by surprise.
First, after years of training young pastors and helping church planting teams at Tennessee Temple University and Liberty University, he ended up as a church planter himself.
When his friend David Wilson first asked him about planting a church in Shelby County, he said he checked to make sure Wilson remembered his age.
“I was 58 years old, not like a young man being a church planter — it was the old man being a church planter,” Lovett remembered.
But God gave him and Wilson a vision, and 10 years later the Church at Chelsea Westover is thriving.
A little over halfway through Lovett’s time there God started planting seeds for what would become a new ministry in his next season of life — a love for pickleball.
“It’s the fastest-growing racquet sport, and Susan [his wife] and I have traveled all over the country playing,” Lovett said.
Pickleball — a cross between table tennis, tennis and badminton — is played with a fiberglass or wooden paddle, a net and a Wiffle ball. For Lovett, it offers a lot of evangelistic opportunities.
“When I introduce myself as Pastor Danny and we get to know each other and play together, I get to share the gospel,” he explained.
He and Susan also set up a tent and hand out water and talk to people at pickleball tournaments. In May, Lovett will play in the National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale.
As people play with him and get to know him, Lovett said they often ask, “Are you a real pastor?” And they open up with prayer requests and questions.
“I like to say I’m a missionary to pickleball, or a pickleball chaplain,” Lovett said.
And in this next season, as he and his wife travel in their RV, playing pickleball and sharing the gospel, their home base will be another part of their new ministry — a retreat cabin for pastors in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The cabin will hold four families, and Lovett said it is meant to minister to pastors and their wives, and is under the umbrella of the Jesus is Awesome Ministry he organized before his time at the Church at Chelsea Westover.
“I want to work with pastors and encourage them any way I can,” Lovett said.
Ministry of encouragement
Rick Wright, now lead pastor of the Church at Chelsea Westover, said he knows what it’s like to be the recipient of Lovett’s encouragement. As he served alongside Lovett for more than half of his time at the church, Lovett poured into him as the church prepared him to become the next pastor.
“God allowed me to work with him and be mentored by him, and that has been such a blessing,” Wright said.
Not only that — Lovett left the church settled in a new multipurpose building on 90 acres of paid-for land in Shelby County, which it already is using for sports outreach and evangelistic events for the community.
In May, they’re starting connect groups, something Wright said is needed.
“We have had 40 people join the church since the end of last year,” he explained. “We have visitors every week and people saved every week, so we’ve got a job to do in discipling. I’m excited about that.”
Lovett, who was named pastor emeritus in late March, is excited about it too, along with the ministry he’ll be doing on the pickleball court.
He said the church’s transition to Wright’s pastorate has been “beautiful.”
Through all his different kinds of ministry, Lovett said the point has always been to get the hope of the gospel to as many people as possible.
“I’m always amazed at the opportunities,” he said.
Click below to read about how one Alabama Baptist church is using pickleball to reach out to its community.