Judith M. Dinsmore
Regional home missionaries are bestowed with a three-word title. They’re also funded jointly by the denomination and the presbytery, not by a congregation, and they spend an inordinate amount of time in their cars. But, at bottom, their role is still intensely pastoral. Just look at Lacy Andrews.
In his service for the Presbytery of the Southeast, Andrews meets with interested groups, shepherds new groups, encourages tired groups, and transitions mature groups. This means not only pulpit supply and leading Bible studies, but counseling sessions and sick visits. He is “pastor” to congregants stretched across the bounds of the presbytery. And, as a good friend chuckled, each congregation knows that it is his favorite.
Andrews’s is the first voice, booming and southern, that you would hear if you contacted the presbytery about starting an OP church. As regional home missionary—one of only six in the denomination (see page 16)—Andrews meets with and presents the OPC to groups interested in joining.
Over twenty years ago, he was on the other side of the table. A pastor in the PCUS, Andrews was “the last vestige of those who were both conservative and Reformed.” After years of fighting for renewal and for the Confession, Andrews, along with seven families in his congregation, was ready to consider leaving. His contact in the OPC was regional home missionary Jim Heemstra. “Jim was real,” Andrews remembered. “He told us the warts and all of joining the OPC, but he was encouraging.” A few months after Heemstra met with them, the congregation voted 55–2 to become a part of the OPC.
Just as Heemstra brought in their small church, so Andrews has brought in many more. In his eighteen years as regional home missionary, he has worked with twenty-four mission works, of which twelve are now organized churches and eight are active mission works.
The southern accent helps.
“An important reason why I’m the guy in the Presbytery of the Southeast is that I’m from the South. I grew up in Texas and went to seminary in Mississippi. All of my pastorates were in Tennessee and Virginia. I understand the southern culture,” he explained. That’s not necessary in every locale: in a city on the beach, the population is a smorgasbord. But in a small southern town, understanding the region is vital. “It doesn’t mean that a man from another culture can’t be a regional home missionary,” Andrews said. Heemstra, after all, was a Dutch guy from Michigan. “But that’s a hurdle I don’t have to jump over.”
There are hurdles enough when meeting with a new group. Not only must Andrews represent the OPC as accurately as possible and explain the steps of becoming a part of it, he must also read the room for any major red flags. Do they work together? Are they ready to roll up their sleeves? “There’s a difference between people who will come to an OP church if it’s there, and people who will help there be an OP church!” Andrews said.
Kelvin and Mary-Katheryn Monteith weren’t sure they were in the latter group. Friends with Lacy since the early nineties—Mary-Katheryn was a member of his church when it left the PCUS—the Monteiths lived in Gastonia, North Carolina, a city in which Andrews was eager to plant a church.
“The OPC had wanted to come to the Gastonia area for many years,” Kelvin Monteith said. “And Lacy knew that we would make a good starting family. He asked me off and on, ‘are you ready?’” Monteith kept telling him no, that it just didn’t seem to be the time. What Monteith remembers clearly now is that Andrews never pushed it. “He just kept being a good friend, a good confidant, a good resource.” He didn’t pursue them in person, he pursued them in prayer.
Years later, in 2009, a work was begun; the Monteiths were one of three initial families, and Andrews preached almost every Sunday evening. In 2011, it was organized as a congregation. Now an elder, Monteith watches Andrews labor throughout the presbytery, mission work by mission work, with the same unhurried kingdom focus.
“He believes and practices a godly process. It’s step by step. It’s not rushed. He really relies on the Lord’s movement,” Monteith said.
When working inside a denomination the size of the OPC, one can feel an urgency to church-plant quickly and successfully and grow the presbytery. But Andrews doesn’t want to just expand one denomination, Monteith explained. “Lacy longs for true churches. He longs for salvation. He longs for that growth in godliness and holiness.” When the work began in Gastonia, Andrews would pray not just for it, but for the other churches in the area and for the other pastors preaching the Word.
Once a group has decided to join the OPC—a decision which requires everyone to be “all in,” according to Monteith—the labor is hard. The few local congregants must faithfully arrive early to open the church building, stay late to close it, clean it during the week, maintain its heat and air conditioning, and warmly welcome visitors. Elders without a pastor must provide spiritual care, find pulpit supply, and teach.
“Sometimes, people are too tired, and you’ve gotta let them go,” Andrews said. “Sometimes, they just need reassurance. Encourage them in the gospel that the Lord rewards our labors. Remind them that Christ is at work, and Christ is using them. They’re not in this alone!”
Monteith used similar wording when he described Andrews’s work with the Gastonia group: “We never felt like we were by ourselves,” he said. “He was always there, even when he wasn’t there physically. He led us through the entire process. He communicated. He set the example of prayer. He set the example of energy.”
Andrews learned that energy early. When he was in seminary, he and his wife threw themselves into a work that was on the “cutting edge” of church planting in Clinton, Mississippi. “The two men there who became my pastors…had a zeal to reach the whole of the community, all ethnic and social strata. This was 1976 in the Deep South. That was pretty radical thinking.” Andrews’s job was to teach five-day kids’ clubs in neighborhoods all over the Jackson area. One was in an apartment complex of a fellow student, who continued contact with the kids. “We started a worship center in that apartment complex. About thirty of us met there for Sunday morning worship,” Andrews remembered. That summer shaped him. “A taste for church planting, thinking biblically but out of the box, was really cemented in my heart before I graduated,” he said.
However, it wasn’t until he left the PCUS that Andrews found himself once more in a church-planting situation, with “no building, no session, and at first, no denomination.” He approached it with such oomph that, eight years after joining the OPC, Andrews was called as a regional home missionary. Two decades later, he’s still an energetic force when he walks in the room—“even after a short night and a four-hour car ride all the way from upper Virginia!” Monteith said.
On a Friday night last December, Reformation Presbyterian in Virginia Beach, Virginia, held an organization service. Andrews led worship and gave the charge to the congregation. The next afternoon, two hours away, Knox Reformed Presbyterian in Mechanicsville, Virginia, was received into the OPC. Andrews again led the service. And on Sunday morning, Andrews drove an hour south to Yorktown, Virginia, to fill the pulpit before heading home to Meadowview, six hours away.
Andrews gives two weekends a month to the Yorktown work, one weekend a month to Marion, North Carolina, and one weekend a month to the work in Bluffton, South Carolina. He also serves on multiple provisional sessions at a time, working with the presbytery’s home missions committee to lend his wisdom and experience to the particular situations of several churches at a time.
“When we don’t have an organizing pastor, I’m in the work a lot more,” Andrews said. But even when a church is ready to have an organizing pastor, Andrews doesn’t wash his hands of the session. He has learned to stay longer in order to transition the work—because sometimes that’s exactly when issues come up.
One church brought in a pastor to candidate only to have baggage from a difficult event float to the surface during the interview process. “The enthusiasm was sucked out of the room,” Andrews said. The session stepped back and worked through the baggage before calling someone else.
“You don’t know the glue that’s holding the various members of the church here,” Andrews said. As he watches mission works mature, he wants to see a group starting to be a church, not just a gathering of people. “Usually the catalyst is a crisis in a family, so that the congregation must respond as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Andrews models well the work of the Spirit in the life of the church, Monteith observed.
“When I think of Lacy, that’s the example I see: he embodies the love, the joy, the peace, the patience, the gentleness, the kindness, the self-control. His foundational love for Christ and Christ’s church is what motivates him to then love what he’s doing, to do it so well, and to be so genuine in doing it.”
The author is managing editor of New Horizons. New Horizons, March 2020.