Raised in a Christian home Phil accepted Jesus at an early age, but the last thing Phil ever wanted to be was a pastor. Phil’s dad was a pastor, and it always seemed they had no money. Phil wanted to become rich until in 8th grade Phil attended a Christian Youth Ranch summer camp where Phil dedicated his life to the Lord. He no longer wanted to be rich in this world but rich toward God. Phil knew he wanted to attend FBC and make his life count for eternity.
At FBC, God made him willing to be a pastor by the time he was a senior. It was a case of partial surrender before this. Phil wanted to serve God, but he wanted to do it his way. Even then Phil still held back a portion of his heart in wanting to pastor only if he could do it a certain way. Phil met Sue at FBC, and they were gloriously married the summer of 1971. Two years later Phil graduated, and Sue was due with their first baby when they moved to Winter Haven, FL to have the baby, to be near Sue’s parents, and to plant a church. After two years of frustration trying to plant a church, having no training in doing so, and after the birth of their second child, Phil accepted a call to go back home to St. Petersburg and served as a youth pastor in his dad’s church, Grace Bible Church.
After two years Phil's dad retired, and they didn’t know where that would leave them. It so happened that the church called him to follow his Dad as the next pastor. Phil was learning to yield more and more to “God’s way.” He brought different gifts than his dad, apparently gifts the church was hungry for. they saw significant growth in numbers, added staff and expanded the building to house more worshippers.
All went superbly well in their lives and ministry until year 13. In year 13, they had a major church split, multiple staff resignations and a conflict Phil could not resolve without offending one half of the church. It felt like the ministry was falling apart and the family was suffering. This led him to ask the question “Does he want this sort of criticism and scrutiny to threaten his family?” “What would God have them do?” By God’s grace, an older local pastor gently counseled him and suggested a church Phil could pastor up north where he could attend seminary while doing so. Within three months they made a move to the suburbs of Chicago. What a lifestyle change! They arrived to 11 inches of snow and got their car stuck in the church parking lot.
Phil’s seminary experience at Trinity Evangelical was rich, and pastoring the church was a healing and helpful time for both them and the church. Meanwhile, the cold and cloudy weather got very old. Upon graduating an opportunity opened up to serve as an associate pastor in a large church in St. Petersburg under the tutelage of an older experience pastor. They accepted the call and moved back to sunny Florida.
After two years, they had the opportunity to plant a church in Palm Harbor, FL which they did. They saw the church grow from a Bible study to meeting in a rec center, to a storefront, to property of their own where they worshipped outdoors under a tent for four years while raising funds to build the church facility. They spent the last 15 years of their pastoral ministry in Palm Harbor.
All this time they remembered the problematic experience they had in the late 80s and wondered if God might give them the opportunity to minister encouragement to other pastors and their spouses who were going through difficult waters. That opportunity materialized in 2011 when Phil accepted an offer to serve as the executive director of a new nonprofit startup in Canton, GA called Grace Valley Ministries. This is where they have served since 2011.
About Grace Valley Ministries:
We minister grace to those who minister
They do this in four ways:
1. They offer getaways in peaceful settings free of charge to those in ministry. Currently, they offer a quiet apartment (The Oasis) for use, but they have 11.5 acres of land they are developing into a full retreat center with cottages and a lodge as God provides the funds. They currently have the infrastructure mostly complete, and they are hoping to break ground on the first cottage during 2018. See www.gracevalleyministries.org
2. They provide counseling when needed, both pastoral and clinical (if necessary.)
3. They connect pastors in peer-to peer-support groups in the Greater Atlanta area, so they have a safe place to do life and ministry together. So far they have seen 14 groups established and functioning in the surrounding communities.
4. They offer prayer support weekly. A Pastor’s Prayer Outpost is held weekly as several passionate intercessors who love pastors and ministry leaders meet together. A weekly email invitation entitled “How Can they Pray for You or Your Ministry This Week?” goes out and the specific requests that come in are held in confidence and lifted up faithfully. They have seen God do remarkable things in the surrounding area in answer to these prayers.
The ministry is a faith mission, funded solely by the generous gifts of dedicated believers who understand the hazards of professional ministry and desire to see the servants of the Lord encouraged.
If they can encourage the heart of a single pastor for ministry leader, they are impacting the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of others.