On God’s Time –
The Cross Lutheran Church
Timing is everything — when it’s God’s timing and not ours, of course.
Such was the experience of The Cross Lutheran Church (branded as theCross), a growing church that was planted in Mount Dora, Fla., in 2010. The church held its first worship service in a rental space in a retail plaza in 2011. Since then, they’ve managed without a permanent location. Over the years, theCross held office and meeting space across six units in the strip mall, while worship services took place in a high school auditorium. That meant setting up and taking down, week after week.
It was time for something more permanent.
The church found 45 acres of land, made the purchase, and, in late 2019, started a plan to build a new church on the property. When the year turned the corner into 2020, however, their plans changed.
“COVID was a big hit,” said Rev. Jacob Baumann, executive pastor at theCross.
The timing just wasn’t right, so they hit the brakes on the large capital campaign they were about to launch, deciding instead to wait out the pandemic and pick up again later. Meanwhile, the church’s founding pastor, Rev. Zach Zehnder, was preparing to transition from his church role. Baumann and another pastor at the church, Rev. Mark Crossman, moved into their respective new roles. In addition, the landlord of one of their rental spaces in the plaza was becoming more challenging to work with.
The right place at the right time
During all of this, at just the right moment, Rev. Dan Lepley, LCEF district vice president for the LCMS SELC District, happened to be planning a visit to Mount Dora. As a new district vice president, Lepley took the time to sit down and really get to know the pastors and hear their story of what was going on at theCross.
“I met with the pastors in October ,” said Lepley. “Just took them out and saw their offices.” He listened to how these two SMP (Specific Ministry Pastor) pastors were navigating their church through a senior pastor transition, a pandemic, closing a campus location and halting a capital campaign. “They were reeling in many ways, and at the same time, felt they needed to be pouring into their people, not taking from their people. That is the heart of these pastors.” SMP is the LCMS’s distance education program that prepares men for specific pastoral ministries.
From Baumann’s perspective, Lepley had been “an incredible resource, partner and friend in all of this. I appreciate that about LCEF. It’s never just, ‘Do you have business for us?’ It’s relational—someone to bounce ideas off. It was cool to have advocates and people who know the industry—to have partners in ministry with us.”
These meetings may have taken time, but that time paid off in more ways than one.
“At first [Lepley] said, let me walk alongside you, and he got to know our story—got to know Mark [Crossman] and me on a personal level,” added Baumann. “It was incredible because through all that and those conversations, we figured out that we had a high [interest] rate on the land we owned—the 45 acres. So, we refinanced through LCEF and lowered the monthly payment significantly, saving about $1,500 per month.”
Worth the wait
And, as the timing worked out, those savings would come in handy for what unfolded next.
A wedding reception venue in town, Lake Receptions, had been hit hard by COVID; and the owners of the venue were nearing retirement and looking to sell the space.
“We had considered looking to buy it [pre-COVID], but it wasn’t the right time,” recalled Baumann. “But then one day last year, Mark’s mom randomly drove by and asked, ‘What about Lake Receptions?’
The church couldn’t buy a new space while they still owned the other 45 acres of property. The couple who owned the wedding venue was more than happy to offer the church a lease-to-own situation that would work well for everyone. The church plans to purchase the property within the next two years.
A new beginning, in more ways than one
The timing just couldn’t have been better. As it turned out, the church’s last worship service in the local high school auditorium took place at a significant point in the church year.
“The coolest thing that shows this is a God-thing is that they held their last service in the auditorium on Good Friday. The first service in their new home was on Easter morning,” shared Lepley. “Could you plan it any better?”
Since then, theCross has found their time significantly freed up for ministry purposes, rather than being spent setting up and taking down for worship every weekend. They now have a permanent space to call home.
“The biggest shift for us, especially on Sundays, is that now we can focus on people and worship,” said Baumann. The new space allowed theCross to dive into their vision and really really focus on it.
“We have the freedom to magnify Jesus through preaching, teaching and healing in a more powerful way. We have a beautiful garden/atrium, we’re right on a lake [and] there are beautiful sunsets every day. We don’t deserve this—it was not our idea. God’s plans are bigger and better than ours.”