Jackson teaches congregation to “walk by faith and not by sight”

Communications Staff — October 26, 2006

What have you done in the last 20 years that can only be explained by the power of God?

That’s the question Rob Jackson asked the Central Baptist Church in Decatur, Ala., where he is pastor, when he wanted to challenge its members to trust God for greater things than they could ever accomplish in their own strength.

Many people in the church replied that they hadn’t done anything in the past two decades that could only be explained by God’s power.

But if you pose the question to Jackson, he rattles off many tangible examples of God’s gracious power at work in both his personal life and in the life of the church.

Jackson, who was among the first group of students to graduate from the Ph.D. program in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says walking by faith is a personal priority.

“In everything we’re doing, we’re going to be a church that either walks by faith and not by sight or we’re going to shut the doors and let somebody else do it,” he said. “I believe with all my heart that Hebrews 11:6 is true—without faith it’s impossible to please God.”

Jackson has taught this biblical truth to his family. Five years ago, he taught his four-year-old daughter Abigail about the power of prayer. Abigail soon began to tell her father of specific instances in which God had answered her prayers.

Walking by faith also extends to Jackson’s life in ministry. Until the year 2003, he worked for the evangelism department of the Alabama Baptist Convention and as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. But in the summer of 2003 he accepted an invitation to preach in Decatur at Central Baptist Church. After one service, he knew God was calling him to pastor the church.

“After the service I went down and called my wife and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this. God is leading us to this church … I just know in my heart that God is going to lead us to this church’” he said.

That is precisely what God did, he says. Even though Jackson did not fit the church’s stated qualifications, they began to speak with him and he started as pastor of the established downtown church within six months.

“I believe God wanted me to come here so the church could walk by faith and not by sight,” Jackson said.

As Jackson began his work at Central, he prepared to teach about the spiritual discipline of fasting. But before he began, God convicted him that he needed to fast and pray that God would show the church His will. During the fasting, Jackson says God made His will clear to him.

“God began to lay on my heart that He wanted our church to relocate,” he said, noting that the church had been in its location since 1892 and voted multiple times not to move.

Fearful of leading the church in a wrong direction, Jackson called two older men in the congregation and asked them to fast and pray until God showed them His will for the church. Without any prompting from their pastor, the men told Jackson they believed that God was leading the church to relocate.

Wanting to make sure he was doing the right thing, Jackson made similar requests to the staff, the deacons and the congregation, asking them all to fast and seek God’s will. Like the initial two men, each group sensed God’s leading to relocate.

Each group walked by faith and not by sight, Jackson said.

“The church voted 80 (percent)-20 (percent) to relocate,” he said. “We didn’t know where we’d get the money. We didn’t know where the land was, and we didn’t know if we could sell our property.”

But as the church prayed, something happened that could only be explained by the power of God, he said. It found a 29-acre location in the middle of Decatur with a 147,000-square-foot building, and the property’s owner was willing to sell for the cost of the land.

But once again there was a challenge of faith.

“People started to say, ‘You’ll never be able to sell this downtown property,’” he said. “So once again we started turning to God in prayer.”

Though no one had expressed interest in the church’s property for years, buyers emerged quickly—a phenomenon Jackson attributes to God answering prayer.

Then it came time for the church to raise money for construction on the new property. The church needed $4 million minimum to begin and $11 million for the entire building program. Consultants from the state convention, however, told Central it could expect to raise a maximum of $2 million.

Jackson once again admonished the parishioners to pray.

“I told the congregation this was the most exciting thing I‘d ever been a part of, and the reason is that God is going to show the world that it’s not about our money,” he said. “He doesn’t need our money.”

Adopting the theme “Mission Possible,” church members committed $6 million, and outside contributions may allow the church to reach the $11 million mark.

Through the whole process Jackson’s emphasis has been on prayer and revival, not money.

“If we’re going to be the church God calls us to be, we have to look at ourselves and say, ‘God, we’ve been prideful. We’ve been doing things in ourselves. We come to You humbly, asking for forgiveness, and now we’re going to seek Your face in prayer,’” Jackson said.

“Our church is doing nothing except turning to God in prayer and trusting God. And because of that, we’re getting the benefit. The blessings are pouring out on us.”

Walking by faith and asking God to do things no human can accomplish teaches churches and individuals that prayer is not just a ritual—it’s a powerful weapon in spiritual warfare, Jackson said.

Central will soon kick off a prayer ministry in which a church member is praying for revival and spiritual renewal 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We’ve always been a praying church, but now we’re believing in prayer,” Jackson said.

Are you ready to become a pastor, counselor, or church leader who is Trusted for Truth?

Apply now for summer or fall studies

Classes begin in June & Aug.