Childers’ First Church Plant Celebrates 40th Anniversary in OKC

August 21, 2017 — Leave a comment

Steve Childers, President of Pathway Learning

Forty years ago, Steve Childers became the founding pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City, serving there from 1977-1982. Steve began helping start Heritage in August 1977 with, what The Daily Oklahoman called, “a small, faithful band” of mostly elderly people who refused to leave their rapidly declining neighborhood near downtown Oklahoma City. Their church was called Northminster Presbyterian and they had been without a pastor since 1964. Their membership had dropped from more than 700 to a handful of 13 faithful people[1] who were meeting together every Sunday afternoon in their almost empty sanctuary for worship, bible study and prayer.

They also refused to give up their vision of having a theologically conservative, evangelistic, Presbyterian church, like the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) denomination, that would truly serve their deteriorating, multi-ethnic, high-crime area of the city. Just before they were about to be told to disband by retired pastor Robert Cox, who’d been sent by the RPCES to evaluate them, Cox received a phone call from a young man named Steve Childers, who just graduated from Oklahoma State University with a business degree.

Heritage Presbyterian Church in 1977

Bob and Steve began meeting in the basement of the old church building, that was literally falling apart, to talk and pray about the great need for a new church in that community. Rather than telling this small band of faithful people to disband, Bob recommended they call Steve to help them start this new church. With no seminary education, he accepted their invitation a week later.

On August 13, 1977, The Daily Oklahoman reported the story with the headline, “Congregation, Pastor Looking for a Miracle,” quoting Bob Cox saying, “I think there is potential here, but maybe the only possible answer is a miracle.” Bob then left Oklahoma City to return to his home in Alabama. Steve began serving as their full-time “Student Supply Minister” on August 17, 1979, according to the terms of his call these people wrote by hand on a piece of notebook paper:

[Steve is] to teach in Sunday School, conduct the Sunday morning worship services, have the responsibilities of the midweek bible study and prayer meeting and serve in a pastoral capacity for all members and friends of the congregation, especially the sick, feeble, and sorrowing, following up all contacts brought to his attention. Weekly remuneration for his ministry shall be $50 per week salary and $25 for pastoral expenses.

Childers preaching at Heritage Presbyterian in Oklahoma City

Almost two years later, the new Heritage Reformed Presbyterian Church was formally received into the RPCES denomination and Steve Childers was ordained as their first pastor. On April 1, 1979, The Daily Oklahoman reported this story with the headline, “Ordination Rites Slated For Sunday,” quoting Bob Cox again. But this time he said “It’s a miracle that he’s here.” Steve continued serving Heritage until 1982 when he and other church leaders determined the church was healthy enough for him to leave to attend seminary. During that year, the RPCES merged with the PCA to become one denomination.

After seminary, Steve was the church planter and founding pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Plano (North Dallas), Texas from 1985-1995. For the next 22 years (1995-2017) he was a resident practical theology professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, teaching courses in evangelism, discipleship, church planting, church renewal, leadership, and missions.

Steve earned Masters degrees from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, and a doctorate from Reformed Seminary in Orlando. He has also done doctoral studies in global mission and leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission in Pasadena. He and his wife, Becky, live in Orlando, Florida, and have three daughters and three grandchildren.

Training the Trainers in a Pathway Learning cohort course in Muslim West Africa (French)

As Steve traveled overseas as a seminary professor, he learned there are millions of church leaders around the world who don’t have access to high quality, seminary-level education. In response to this critical need, he founded Global Church Advancement, continuing today as Pathway Learning, with the mission to provide these under-served church leaders the training and tools they need to develop churches that transform lives and have a lasting impact on their communities.

Drawing on the latest educational technology, Pathway Learning provides a blend of online and onsite courses that increase the effectiveness of church leaders by providing them access to affordable, seminary courses–where they live, in their language, and for their culture. This allows them to receive their necessary education and credentials without leaving their families and the churches they’re serving. Pathway Learning courses include biblical, theological, and practical studies.

In June 2017, after 40 years of ministry on the field and at the seminary, Steve began serving Pathway Learning full-time. This year Pathway Learning is launching courses in English for North America, courses translated into French for West Africa, Mandarin for South Asia, Japanese for Japan, and Italian for Western Europe. The goal of these projects is to develop an effective, scalable model for educating under-served church leaders. To date, Pathway Learning has helped train thousands of church leaders from more than 300 denominations representing over 50 countries in 7 languages on 5 continents.

Steve is looking for prayer and financial partners to help him bring this solution to many more church leaders around the world. To learn more about Pathway Learning go to www.pathwaylearning.org

[1] This core group included Jim and Irene Franklin, a retired machinist, Jim and Lucille Donnell, a retired truck driver, Humphrey and Jennie Bard, a retired newspaperman, and several widows.

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