HLG lectures feature noted church planter
By Brandy Campbell
HLG Public Relations
April 19, 2005
Hannibal – At Life Baptist Church there are no pews or baptismals, only slot machines and neon lights. Situated on the strip in Las Vegas, the church is home to people from all walks of life, from middle-class families to the homeless. Not your typical church. But then again, Paul Gotthardt is not your typical pastor.
Gotthardt, a native of Savannah, Georgia, helped plant Life Baptist Church in 2003. Recently, Gotthardt was featured as the guest speaker at Hannibal-LaGrange College’s Spring Lecture Series, where he shared the ups and downs of church planting in Sin City.
“I am asked by people all the time ‘Why Las Vegas?’ And to be honest, I’ve asked myself the same question,” said Gotthardt. “But each time I ask myself that, the answer is because of the unmistakable call of God. If you’re not following God’s call, it’s all in vain.”
Gotthardt told students about his successful church plant in North Carolina, and God’s surprising call away from that.
“We were very comfortable in North Carolina, and would have been thrilled if God had continued our ministry there,” said Gotthardt of he and his wife Brea, and their two daughters. “But in 2003 Johnny Hunt [the pastor of Gotthardt’s home church, First Baptist Woodstock] called and asked us to pray about starting a church in Las Vegas. Our first reaction was ‘Thanks, but no thanks!’”
However, Gotthardt and his wife took seriously their promise to serve God “anytime, any place, under any set of circumstances.” So Gotthardt says he laid out 21 specific prayer requests…and God gave 21 answers.
“When God affirmed all of those requests, the only thing I could do was go to the Bible and try to figure out if it was normal for God to work in one place then very quickly yank his servant to another place,” said Gotthardt. “And God quickly revealed to me that in the ministry of Paul, some of his church plants lasted three years, while others lasted only three weeks. It wasn’t how long, but what God accomplishes while you’re there. So although our time in North Carolina was short, that didn’t mean we had done the wrong thing. God was just calling us to serve elsewhere, and we couldn’t ignore his call.”
Gotthardt says that ministry in Las Vegas is unique because it is a city of extremes. Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in America, and in ten years is expected to grow from 1.7 million to 3.5 million residents. Ninety-percent of those living in Vegas are churched, with only 1/2% proclaiming to be evangelical Christians.
“We don’t attract Christians to our church,” said Gotthardt. “We attract strippers, homosexuals, casual Catholics, high-brow Episcopalians. And pastoring that group is like herding cats in a hail storm! But if we are seeking to follow the pattern of Christ, we must realize that Christ often hung out with the ‘wrong crowd.’”
Though Gotthardt admits that results can sometimes be disappointing when numbers aren’t what they’ve expected or events don’t go as they planned, he maintains his faith that God will fulfill his purpose in Las Vegas.
“I’m convinced that God can turn the City of Sin into the City of God. A true masterpiece of mercy.”