When Jason Laxton steps on the platform at the new First Family Church this coming Sunday at 10:30 a.m., he may remember where he and his family were planning to settle in to continue their ministry. Tennessee.
Which if you have any grasp of geography is way east and some south of Albia. But it’s what happens when you keep your promise to pray about something. Two years ago he, along with his wife, Dava, were asked if they might be interested in planting (some might say replanting) a church in Albia. “We weren’t really interested,” he said. “But I said I’d pray about it and then didn’t.”
He went on a mission trip to Istanbul, Turkey. He had pastored a church near his wife’s home in Bethany, Mo., for four years longer than he thought they’d be there. He and Dava talked about taking a six-month break and hiking the Appalachia Trail with their two young children.
He left a lucrative business career in investments in Des Moines to answer the call of the ministry, earning a degree in theology from Liberty University in 2011. The family went to Tennessee where he did extensive pulpit fill at numerous churches before being introduced to Grace West Church in West Des Moines and First Family Church in Ankeny where he helped with several church plants and then was recruited by the Baptist Convention of Iowa.
There was this church in a town of 4,000 in the heart of whitetail deer country that had closed. An avid hunter and fisherman, that sort of piqued his interest.
Ownership actually wound up in the hands of the Baptist Convention of Missouri. It was sitting empty.
After a few months of not fulfilling his promise to pray about the Albia opportunity, he and Dava started to pray about it. They ended up visiting Albia during the Fourth of July week in 2018. They looked at the empty church building and the red brick parsonage next door, both needing extensive remodeling. They met people around the square. They saw Lake Rathbun and some area fishing holes (Jason and son Beau are avid fishermen) and something began to take hold. “As a family we felt a calling to come here,” he said.
And so they did, with the support of First Family in Ankeny and Cornerstone Church in Chariton. “It was some better than the tent we were planning to live in on the Appalachia Trail,” Dava said with a big smile thinking about the work needed to make the parsonage livable. That story was featured in last spring’s home improvement section.
After they got their home squared away, the couple, along with lots of volunteers and support teams from other churches in the Baptist Convention of Iowa dove into the church that was built in the early 1960s. The first thing they did was envision a new sanctuary. In looking at it now, clearly there are times when you can put new wine in old wineskins. They turned the sanctuary one notch counter clockwise, removing the baptistery from the south end, and creating a long worship platform. Seating is in chairs in a semi-circle around the worship platform.
The creative one in the family, Dava designed the front of the sanctuary with pieces of 1x4 pine boards, stained with three different colors of stain and plain pine. Everybody needs to have connections and their connections provided the church with a beautiful sound system.
Only two members of the old First Baptist congregation came back to the church, but doing weekly Monday Bible studies, getting around in the community and having God move people their direction, they have grown a beginning congregation of almost 40 people.
A worship team, keyboard, guitar, bass and drums have been raised up. A woman from the Cornerstone congregation in Chariton with incredible artistic talent, is helping Dava and others repaint Sunday School rooms in the huge fellowship hall to fit outdoor themes for their “Compass Kids” program for infants through fifth grade. FFC Youth will eventually occupy space on the second floor.
The new First Family Church, like the former First Baptist, is connected to the Baptist Convention of Iowa, which is part of the greater Southern Baptist denomination. But it is designed to grow in the community it is being planted in. Pastor Laxton has a conservative theological bent. “We’re not legalistic, but we do recognize total authority in scripture,” he said. The church will practice believer baptism (as opposed to membership baptism). “We’re going to become connected to the body through small groups,” he said. “And we’re going to connect ourselves to the missional community through outreach.”
With many church plants going after an almost exclusively younger group of people, Pastor Laxton embraces generational church plants. “I love seeing parents and grandparents and their children and grandchildren together,” he said.
There is a reason why the term “Baptist” isn’t attached to the sign out front. “There are all different kinds of Baptists,” he said (Wikpedia lists over 150 different Baptist denominations in the U.S. alone). “The word means lots of things to lots of different people. Some Baptist churches I would be proud to serve in. Others maybe not so much. ‘First Family’ better describes who we are and who we want to become.”
The first service for First Family Church in Sunday with Sunday School beginning at 9 a.m., the worship service at 10:30 a.m. followed by a meal in the fellowship hall.