– By Rev. Rick Carder
A Savanna is a grassy plain in a tropical or subtropical region, with few frees.
This statement was the vision seemingly given to Jennifer sometime before they were even considering Church Planting. “I had a crazy dream that we had a third daughter and her name was Savanna,” Jennifer announced to her husband, Pastor Joe Jackson on a Saturday morning. This was not just a coincidence. They discovered that God was at work on them years before Joe left his successful sales job with Hershey Company.
A local publication, Resident Magazine.
January edition 2016, provides the backdrop for this feature and announcement about this week’s Pastor of the Week.
The next day at the new church when Jennifer was taking their two very young daughters to the children’s program, a young girl walked right up to her, looked her in the eye, and said “Hi, my name is Savanna.
Later in a restaurant again the confirmation came as the waitress introduced herself as Savanna. A bit later they were surprised to see a license plate with the letters “SAVANNA” on it.
But that day when he walked into the new job the first sentence out of a guest speaker’s mouth that day was this: ‘Today, I’d like to tell you about Savanna.’ Less than one hour on the job and Joe knew he was exactly where he was supposed to be.
What began in 2005 with a gentle nudge, Jackson began to prepare for ministry. The direction of their call to ministry was seeded by a deep desire to discover and journey in faith to a place of ministry that was confirmed the day they received the invitation to join in a new church plant in Florida. Furthering his studies, he enrolled with Wesley Seminary. Graduating from Ball State in preparation for his successful role with Hershey in Sales and Management, Jackson found himself back at school preparing for a journey of faith that would lead his family a thousand miles from home.
“We didn’t know anyone when we first moved to Wesley Chapel (Florida),” confessed Jackson. It was a journey that God had been preparing he and his family for that now includes a growing congregation in a new building, newly remodeled as a place of worship. The congregation is running at about forty, but the impact of their partnerships in ministry includes serving over 250 families with clothing and providing Bible Studies and weekly worship ministry events.
The ministry has developed to help training and prepare others for ministry. In an article published by Tampa Bay news. (“Path for Savanna Church founder led from Indiana to east Pasco” September 9, 2015):
Savanna Church is a modern Christian church launching in Wesley Chapel. Our mission is to start a community of believers in Wesley Chapel that will lay the foundation for a new church that will offer hope to the hopeless and bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus. We believe that starting new churches is the most effective way to reach people for Jesus. We want to reproduce believers through the multiplication of disciples through apprenticeships in all areas of ministry, in an effort to multiply churches down the road.
Having to build the church from literally nothing meant sacrifices both physically and financially. The culmination of their vision has now effectively raised nearly $25,000 to remodel the building where they meet weekly.
“We are blessed to have such a great location,” said Jackson. “God has given us a place of worship in a location that provides great parking space on the weekend that meets our needs,” he added.
His focus in not unique, but he is intentional about two key values; “Preach from the Bible and tell others about Jesus,” With enthusiasm, he tells me how God has called him and confirmed over-and-over that his ministry is off to a great start. Even his children have captured the spirit of this ministry. His oldest daughter, who was 7 years old at the time, loved to tell people about the ministry. From Resident Magazine:
…Jennifer was having an unrelated conversation with their oldest daughter Julie…asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Julia responded swiftly that she wanted to be ‘a missionary in Florida.’
Reported in Wesleyan Life on-line article:
Through years of trial and error and experiences, Rev. Jackson has continued to see God’s hand in every circumstance as Savanna Church grows in order to serve the surrounding area. He is meeting community members and the church’s name is becoming known throughout Wesley Chapel. Another couple has also joined the church to serve alongside the Jacksons. Life change continues to occur as ministry opportunities grow.
The ministry is located in Wesley Chapel and you can visit them virtually find more information about the worship and ministries at www.savannachurch.com.
Read more about the interview here:
How did being a student at IWU influence your future?
It helped shape my philosophy of ministry, gave me confidence in God’s calling, and prepared me practically for the challenges that I would face in planting Savanna Church in Wesley Chapel, FL four years later.
Do you have any favorite professors, classes or stories that reinforce your opinion?
Dr. Bob Whitesel was such a huge encouragement to me and still is. In addition, Chris Bounds was incredible at helping shape my theology, and I thank him immensely for it.
Can you illustrate a time when you knew you had chosen the right path in becoming a pastor?
Yes, the moment my wife and I knew where we were called and began the lengthy process to answer that call.
What has been one of the biggest difficulties you have overcome for your congregation, yourself, your family, etc.?
Definitely starting a church from scratch a thousand miles from home, and from relationships, and from support has been extremely challenging. In addition, my wife has blossomed into our worship leader (and is doing OUTSTANDING) and only four years ago taught herself to play guitar. She is the greatest gift from God in my ministry. She truly is my partner in this mission, and God is stretching her into what He has planned for her too. God is good all the time. All the time God is good.
Tell us about your church and congregation.
We have finally purchased our first building and are growing into this great place. We are made up of families that originate from all over the country. Most of our people are transplants from somewhere else up north, but are young and working. Our youth pastor Danny Vegueria and his wife Tori have started our new youth group called Elevate Student Ministries and we are expanding and growing our children’s ministry too.
What makes your job, church, etc. unique?
A parachute drop church plant a thousand miles from our families that has been able to secure our first building is very unique.
Any stories or illustrations on this point?
The very week I arrived here, living in a camper temporarily, I met leaders from a new developer (at a Chamber of Commerce event) that later allowed us to begin services in the clubhouse of that residential development for our first year. That location was right by the place God had told us to come to “the savanna”. That was confirmation that God was leading us.
Any words of wisdom for current IWU students?
Don’t be afraid to follow God into the deep weeds. He has you in the palm of His hand and you can trust Him.
Written by Rev. Rick Carder, Director of Alumni and Church Engagement, Indiana Wesleyan University.