Building by honoring
About eight months ago, Toby and Melissa Pegram first sensed God preparing them for a new ministry than the youth-oriented one they’d always known.
“At the time, we just didn’t know what it was,” said Pegram, who joined Triad’s pastoral staff Feb. 2, 2015, as middle school pastor, and now will lead its first church plant. He assumed leadership of all student ministry in 2017 when Jared Hoots left as high school student pastor to pursue a master of divinity degree.
In March 17 messages for Triad’s contemporary and traditional worship services titled, “My Life, His Story,” Pegram drew on the story of Joseph (Genesis 45:3-12) and his own life experiences to show how God draws near and uses people and circumstances to sustain, save, and accomplish his plans.
“Our lives are the best sermons,” he said. “Your life is not an accident. There is a special purpose for it. God is writing a story in your life. What is God preparing you for, and what is God doing with your life to take the gospel (forward)?”
In addition to the services, Pegram also met with more than 120 people who attended an information session about the church plant later at 6:45 p.m. in the Kids Street Worship Center. More than six raised their hands and said they had been involved previously in planting churches as he talked about plans to reach an area where 72 percent of the residents have no religious affiliation — one of the largest such areas in the Piedmont.
Prepared to serve
“Everything I have been experiencing in my life culminated in the moment when I shared my heart with Melissa about leading the church plant,” Pegram said. “She said, ‘Let’s go.’ There was no hesitation.
“I can see God’s faithfulness in the process of preparing me the first 30 years of my life to now take the gospel to a part of the city where more than 8,000 families do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Looking back over his life and 11-year ministry at three churches, Pegram can trace God’s hand in varied experiences preparing him to live in and serve a multicultural, inner-city community with three colleges, 300 French-speaking people, and large areas of poverty as well as affluence and a historic district (Washington Park).
Those experiences include:
- his father’s drug addiction and parent’s divorce;
- taking French courses at Northwest Guilford High School;
- learning a 2010 degree in the history of ideas and biblical studies from The College at Southeastern in Wake Forest, N.C., where he read the world’s thinkers and became comfortable with philosophical discussions;
- serving in a megachurch (Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Concord, N.C.) where he also met Melissa whose heart for missions led her to consider service in Africa;
- learning to manage a $1,500-a-year youth ministry budget at a church where half lived below the poverty line and where he often spoke, led worship and held other roles (Chesnut Ridge Baptist in Elyria, Ohio, near Cleveland);
- and his time at Triad, which, along with youth ministry, brought experience overseeing recreation ministry.
Pegram can see how God used the darkest time in his life — the death of infant daughter, Autumn, eight days after her birth Oct. 3, 2015 — so he could better understand the hurts of others, and help them move forward just as he’d had to do himself.
“I see how God used that to strengthen my faith to a point where if he called me to do this, I didn’t fear it,” Pegram said. “If I can endure the passing of my daughter, I know I can endure whatever I will face leading the church plant.”
Losing to gain
Lead Pastor Rob Decker announced Pegram’s selection as church plant pastor March 3 in the second part of a Vision 2020 series on the church’s future titled, “Blessed are the aggressive.”
Over its history, Decker said that Triad Baptist had done everything the Bible had instructed churches to do following the model that the apostle Paul had set forth in the book of Acts — except plant churches.
So in 2019, the church devoted much of its attention to laying the necessary groundwork to plant its first church.
“I know God will build His church if I let go of mine — my most precious resource which is the people God has sent me to serve alongside,” Decker said.
Members donated $120,000 in a special end-of-year offering to support the move, and Triad shifted from plans to hire a church plant coordinator to using the $60,000 budgeted for the position instead to hire Pegram as the plant’s pastor. A search committee will soon be formed to find his replacement as student-ministry leader.
Decker said that Triad also decided to partner with the Southern Baptist Convention, whose congregations plant more than 100 churches a year, for church-plant expertise. It will pay the SBC’s Cooperative Program $500 a month, and cover the plant’s budget for its first three years until it becomes self-supporting.
Deacon Jason Johnson and his wife, Julie, will leave Triad with the Pegrams to help plant the new church — providing key leadership support along with Decker, Executive Administrator Dennis Roberts, and the church-plant consultant, Old Town Baptist Church Missions Pastor Mark Harrison.
“As a sending church, Triad’s investment in the Great Commission will positively impact the congregation as the sending church,” said Harrison, whose own church has planted two new congregations in Winston-Salem since 2014, while supporting other plants elsewhere too.
Church plant insights
“Churches that plant become healthier and stronger,” he said. “When the sending church hears about the good things happening at the new church, they think, “Maybe that can happen here too?” So Triad Baptist and the new church can both look forward to an amazing future as they pursue the Lord and His plan together.”
Harrison said Pegram seems well-qualified to lead the plant, scoring highly on an inventory test given to potential church-plant candidates. Pegram will next undergo an intensive four-day training program March 11-14 at Caraway Conference Center.
After that, he’ll help plan and locate the plant, and disciple and train members who step forward to join the core church plant team in June when his replacement as student ministry pastor joins the Triad team.
He said the plant must be different from Triad since research shows those who live in the community have more favorable views about God and Jesus Christ than large churches which remind them of institutions and systems they feel have ignored or don’t understand them. Pegram said the new church won’t offer programs like established churches.
“The word I keep going back to is authentic — authentic Christ-honoring lives, service, preaching and teaching, and worship,” Pegram said. “The church is losing more influence in the culture every day, and people don’t ‘go to church’ like they used to and say, ‘Let me check that place out.’
“They are not going to show up at a building for an event but if we dedicate our lives to them outside of the church — in sports leagues and where they already gather and serve and work and play and love them — then the gospel can go forward even more,” he said.
“That’s what you see the early church doing and the Bible says God added to their numbers every day. Like the early church, we’ll be breaking bread and having the Lord’s supper each week and baptisms when people accept Christ then and there. The key questions we’ll ask are: Is what I’m doing today honoring the Lord? And is what we’re doing as a church honoring the Lord?
“A member who already has stepped forward to be a part of the new church told me that she had told a coworker where she works about the new church and they said, ‘It’s cool your church wants to invest in that area,’ ” Pegram said.
Passion for the mission
In Pegram, Johnson — a youth leader with Julie for more than two decades and longtime Sunday School teacher — saw someone with the depth and passion to face obstacles and build community to take the gospel of Jesus Christ far beyond the physical church’s walls.
For him, the evidence ranged from Pegram’s messages and focus to monthly community outreach events that allowed youth to love and serve others and put their faith into action.
“There is a passion when he speaks,” said Johnson, who first flagged Pegram’s church-plant pastor potential to Decker as Pegram found himself drawn to the ministry.
“Toby is passionate about the gospel and what he’s teaching,” Johnson said. “When you think about what he and Melissa went through in losing a child, this is someone who clearly has lived the depth of his faith in a way many of us have not ever had to in our lives, and you see the spiritual and personal maturity that has produced come out in his preaching.
“I had a confidence that Toby could do it (pastor the plant), and no one else had the same passion,” Johnson said. “The Holy Spirit clearly was moving in all three of us — me, Toby, and Pastor Rob. Collectively, we all came together in the direction we’re headed now as a church, and we’ve covered a tremendous amount of ground since we decided in November 2018 not to go forward with the church plant coordinator candidate.
“Those who know me won’t be surprised that I’m ready to go today and start tomorrow but the consultants we’re working with and who have done this before know there are things that help make a plant successful. So we’re going to be laser-focused on those leading up to the soft launch by the end of 2019 and official launch, at this point, on Easter Sunday in 2020.”
‘Like a parent to a child’
Harrison said that church plants need people, prayer, and financial and other support to be successful.
“The pastors, staff, and members of TBC play a vital role much like a parent to a child,” said Harrison. “The prayers for Toby, his family, Jason, and the core team, and the community provide the greatest form of support.
“Learning about the community and the vision for this plant is also crucial,” he said of Triad members. “What members know or learn and pass on about the area will inform the prayers and help encourage the team. For those who feel called to serve as part of the church plant core team, Pastor Rob, Toby, Jason and other leaders are available to offer counsel.”
‘Stepping out in faith’
As for Pegram’s qualifications to move from youth ministry to pastoral leadership, Harrison said, “Toby’s strong biblical commitment, his conviction of the gospel as the means of life transformation, his relational skills, and his desire to know and engage the people in this community are all among the traits a church-plant pastor needs to plant a church in one of the least-reached areas in North Carolina.”
Before he joined the deacon board earlier this year and Decker heard of his interest in becoming part of the church plant team, Johnson had been praying for many years that Triad would plant churches, and had been following, and reading about other church planting efforts.
“Everybody in the church should be excited about it and the possibility of reaching so many people just 15 minutes away,” Johnson said. “I know there’s an excitement level in my faith that I haven’t had in a long, long time.
“At the same time, it’s also hard to leave a church and people you’ve served alongside for 26 years and come to know as friends and fellow laborers for Christ,” he said. “This movement and direction is not ‘comfortable,’
This is a complete unknown. We’ve never done anything like this as a couple or as a church. It’s really stepping out in faith and, for me, really having that faith that relies on God. I don’t know what I’m doing so anything great that comes out of it is Him.”
Pegram said that he’s ready for the challenge, and knows he’s not alone.
“I am not a finished product by any means but I do feel God’s hand and presence in this more strongly than I have ever felt about anything in ministry,” he said. “I told the students, ‘When God calls you to go, you go.’
“The coolest thing that has happened is to see how God prepares you for this your whole life. It just blew me away.”