Pastoral Duo Leads Michigan Church Toward Sustainability, Greater Impact

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Great Lakes

By Mark Butzow

Most know of the contaminated water problems that hit Flint, Michigan, in 2014, but not everyone is aware it hit a city already reeling. The automaker GM downsized its workforce in the area from 80,000 employees in 1978 to less than 8,000 by 2010, and the city’s population declined from a high of 197,000 to its current 81,000.

“When GM left, the student population in the city of Flint went from 40,000 to 3,500,” recalls Brad Walker, a teacher at the time. When the water crisis hit, his church used its parking lot to distribute bottled water for years, at a cost of $2,000 per month. The suffering affected everyone and everything, including that church, West Court Street Church of God, which saw attendance drop precipitously from about 600 to about 50, but no drop in costs to maintain the property. When the pastor moved on in 2019, the now-retired Walker agreed to take over in the pulpit temporarily while the too-large church building was put up for sale. Oh, and the building needed about $90,000 in repairs.

Bernard Drew, Brad Walker

Instead, the church has found ways to stay in the building and stay solvent, while still serving their part of the city. Walker says a pastor in Lansing suggested West Court Street offer its spaces to other organizations, and that strategy worked. Almost immediately, two other churches in need took up residence—one that had been meeting outdoors, and another meeting in a storefront that couldn’t afford the commercial space.

“After six months, it became clear we could do all the repairs and stay,” Walker said. And all that space is being put to good use, housing Heart of Worship Dance Studio, Yahweh Yoga, the neighborhood association, and Love INC (Love in the Name of Christ), a provider of food and other assistance. Three years later, Walker is still in the pulpit, but only half time. Another has joined the ministry staff to ease share the load.

Bernard Drew was redeveloping some nearby property on the west side of Flint and got drawn into helping with food distribution at the church. “I was seeing great community service there,” he said. “West Court, even with challenges and decline, was blessing this neighborhood.” Two years ago, the leadership team extended an invitation to Drew to join the pastoral team.

West Court Street Church of God exterior.

This isn’t a senior and an associate arrangement. Each pastor does two Sundays a month, and whomever is available does the visiting. Walker says Drew has more energy for outreach, which includes a polished-looking website touting the many services and ministries of the church and organizing events like Trunk or Treat.

Drew said, “When people see we are alive, we are healthy, it gives them space and encouragement to step out for each other.”

Three years into his tenure, Walker marvels at the interesting ride he’s on. “It means someone else is driving. God’s always in charge. He’ll find a way.” Walker says he’ll stay on at West Court Street “as long as God keeps giving me things to teach about.”

“Harmoniously aligned” and “Divinely Assigned” describe the pastoral duo at West Cross Street.

Pastor Brad Walker’s December newsletter message to his congregation reflects on the three-year journey:

God’s Great Plan
By Pastor Brad Walker

It is with great confidence that I go into the end of this year and the beginning of another. I have confidence in the Lord and all that he has done at West Court to further his kingdom. Yes, at times I questioned the wisdom of some of the plans that were presented because, logically, they didn’t make sense, but God was faithful in all of them.

When I look back at the past three years, I am amazed by all the things that have happened. I never could have guessed that we would be in the position we are in now, three years ago. I never could have even thought of a plan that would have us impacting the neighborhood around the church the way that we are now. God is good and he reminds me every day that his plans are not my plans; they are much better than anything I could possibly imagine.

While we celebrate the birth of Christ this season, I hope we will all remember that his plan for our salvation included love and sacrifice for all of us. When we demonstrate our love for others, are faithful, obedient to his Word, and worship him from the heart, we see the promises of the Scripture come alive.

It is with great awe that I look at all the blessings God has poured out on West Court in 2022. I believe that, as he is looking at the faithfulness of the people of West Court, he is smiling. I know that he will continue to bless the continuing work of this church and help us to be a lighthouse for this community long into the future.”

Mark Butzow operates Mark My Words Ink, a freelance writing and editing service, and is a former journalism instructor, broadcast journalist, newspaper reporter, and copy editor. He lives in Madison County, Indiana, with his wife, a first-grade teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson.

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Feature (top) photo: Fall outreach event at West Court Street Church of God.

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