The first five years of NAC remind me of my mom‘s favorite verse, Ephesians 3:20. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” That is what God has done! His power has often been shown through our weaknesses, and His grace has been and will continually be sufficient. The Heidelberg Catechism describes God’s Providence as, “The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” This is a brief summary of God’s providential work before we even thought about planting a church and His orchestration of how it came about.
It all started before the beginning of time when the God of Heaven chose Mark McAndrew to be His own. Even Papa can’t remember that, so let’s fast forward to 1987. God gifted Bob and Phylis McAndrew with the little bundle of joy and energy on July 21. God had already providentially provided older brothers Chris and Scott to toughen him up and provide the needed character Mark would need to bring our Lord the most glory. Mark was blessed from birth with parents who loved the Word and taught it well to all three boys God entrusted to them. In Mark’s own words, many gospel stones were thrown on that frozen lake until God melted that icy heart, gave him a love for Jesus and allowed those stones to sink deeply.
As a new Bible teacher at Westminster, I met Mark in the Fall of 2001. He was a fun-loving, mischievous Freshman full of both laughter and shenanigans. In the Fall of 2003, when Mark came back to school, he was a remarkable brand new creation in Christ. It was obvious that the former things had passed away and all things were now new. He was still an enjoyable sixteen year old boy, but his affections and disposition were night and day different than the years before. Even though his attitude had been transformed, my brother Mike, Mark’s weightlifting teacher, sensed that he was still no Josh Cronic and weightlifting was not his forte. Bible class was, however, and Mark exited weightlifting with Mike’s prodding and started investing an extra period of each day bathing in the Word.
The first inkling of Mark’s tremendous giftedness to teach the Word came late in his Junior year. He and another student had the opportunity to teach passages from Romans 8. One taught on Romans 8:28 and the other on 8:32. I was not expecting the explosion of passion and insight that flowed out of Mark for that four or five minutes. I was intrigued to say the least. His desire for the Word has grown even stronger than his ability to teach it. After graduation, Mark chose to take his college classes in the evening and hang out in the Bible classroom all day. Needless to say, I was able to teach less and less and enjoy listening and learning from Mark more and more. My students were thrilled, too!
A very productive nine-month stint as interim youth pastor at Colbert Baptist confirmed what was quickly becoming increasingly obvious. Our Lord created Mark McAndrew to teach the Bible. Three providentially challenging but sanctifying years at Toccoa Falls followed before Mark relocated in Athens while looking for opportunities to teach and preach. At this point, Mark had had numerous opportunities to teach at the Black Mountain Men’s retreat each year in North Carolina. One year, we sat by a man at supper who told us of his ministry to high school students teaching the Bible through The Christian Learning Center of Gwinnett County. We began to brainstorm concerning the possibilities of Mark teaching a similar class in Madison County. God opened the door and Mark started with ten boys and a girl in the 2010-2011 school year.
The years of teaching the Bible class in Madison County proved fruitful. In fact, NAC current staff members, Ian Webster and Josh Crouse, were taught by Mark in some of the earliest classes. In 2014, God’s hand was again clearly at work as Mark’s high school alma mater, Westminster Christian Academy. Overlooking his first decade of craziness, Westminster hired him to teach and mentor high school students. Although greatly disappointing at the time, several seemingly promising opportunities to pastor a church in the area never came to fruition. Our Lord had better plans!
By this time, knowing of his unique giftedness, Vic Doss and our own Papa Fred of Watkinsville First Baptist, had installed the full court press of discipleship focused on Mark. 2010-2015 were years of tremendous sanctification and maturity as Mark joyfully served on the teaching team. Vic and Papa invested the priceless gifts of time and energy that it takes to disciple young leaders. Fight Club was the tool our Lord used to encourage Mark to fight sin by rejecting passivity, accepting responsibility, leading courageously and investing eternally. These were invaluable lessons for his upcoming roles as a husband, father and elder.
As much as WFBC was used by our Lord to train Mark to be an elder, He had even bigger purposes in mind. Kelly Smith, a fairly new believer on fire for Christ, caught Mark’s eye and soon his attention. Not surprisingly, one couldn’t have drawn up a better helpmate for Mark. Kelly’s love for the Lord, His Word, and His people made her both like-minded and thoroughly equipped for the rigors of ministry that they were called to. Her tremendous giftedness was also, not surprisingly, a perfect compliment to Mark’s own blend of gifts. As is always the case, the process of courtship and engagement was orchestrated by our Lord to sanctify both Mark and Kelly and confirm their commitment to each other. In November, 2014, the two became one in order to represent Christ, His church and the Gospel.
With two teaching jobs and ministry at WFBC, Mark had countless opportunities to learn, grow and pour into others. Folks at WCA and Black Mountain began to comment on how much they grew from Mark’s teaching hoping he could one day teach every week in a church. For the last half decade, I had often thought of how much I and my own family could grow under that kind of teaching. As Mark and I began to talk more seriously about planting a church, he seemed to be more and more open to the idea.
Early in 2015, several things began slowly piecing together. Vic gave his blessing for us to “steal” Mark from WFBC. Allen McCannon and Scott McAndrew agreed to serve as elders. More and more people showed interest in attending a church plant based on sound Bible teaching and a deep love of God’s sovereignty and grace.
We had unsuccessfully driven up and down Highway 29 between the Loop and the new Kroger hunting for a building in which to meet. A local pastor suggested we stop by and ask if Central Baptist might be interested in sharing their church building. The upcoming events were beyond convincing and almost dripping with providence. July 6, 2015 brought about what had to be a humorous sight! If we only had video footage! An old guy in a wheelchair and a young guy in a Jurassic Park t-shirt pulled into the Central Baptist Church parking lot thinking there was nothing to lose. We prayed and awkwardly rang the doorbell by the side door. Pastor Ric Veal, who had just been the pastor of Central for a year or two, opened the door and invited us to his office. No one even mentioned Covid-19 while Mark waited for me to finish the small talk and get to the question at hand. Pastor Ric was somehow instantly sold and exploded with excitement when he heard what we had deemed a wild idea with a slim chance of success. Mark and I both commented that after that twenty five minute conversation, Pastor Rick might have been more jazzed about the church plant than either of us!
On August 2nd, we received word that the deacons wanted to meet about the idea. On August 9th we laid out the vision and they seemed intrigued. On September 20, Central voted 30-8 to let us use the sanctuary every Sunday afternoon for $200 a week! On October 15, we received our first donation (it was from out-of-state) for $500. In December, another individual from out of town donated $2400 and a church gave us $3000. Comer Baptist became our sponsoring church on December 13. The ball was now rolling quickly!
By then, the gifted and still unmarried Ian Webster had agreed to be our worship leader which further confirmed to the elders that our Lord was graciously taking care of our every need. On January 10, (I think) we had a service that was unadvertised and unofficial, but brought glory to our Lord through a fantastic time of worship through music and preaching. The rest is five years of history as we joyfully met together for the first time on January 31, 2016. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” I’m thankful that NAC was ordained and planted for his pleasure!