Access Church – A Local Calling
“I always knew that I was called to ministry, and why. SEU gave me the ‘how,’” said Jason Burns, Practical Ministries, ’03 and Master of Arts in Ministerial Leadership, ’05; lead pastor of Access Church in Lakeland.
Jason and his wife Elisabeth (“Lis”) met at Southeastern. “The great thing about getting our degrees and making friends here at Southeastern was that we all understood that we were called to be hands and feet for Christ,” said Lis, who also graduated from SEU in 2003 with a degree in Church Music.
Called to Stay
The couple started what became Access Church in 2007. The church emerged out of a challenging circumstance they encountered just six months into their marriage. Lis had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and underwent her treatments in Lakeland. Jason and Lis recall how people in the Lakeland community brought them meals and looked out for them during this time. By the grace of God, Lis is now cancer-free.
“It was a turning point in our story. We had been presented amazing ministry job opportunities around the country, but we felt God put it on our hearts to stay here. We fell in love with Lakeland,” said Lis. The couple wanted to start giving back to the community that had given them so much, so they began a small Bible study group in their living room.
Giving Access to God’s People
This small Bible study grew exponentially and before long, they realized they were actually serving as a church for the people who came. True to their hearts for building a community of believers and the Burns’s knowledge from their time at SEU, Access Church began with the goal of creating a life-giving environment.
The congregation began meeting at the then-Lakeland Center (now the RP Funding Center) and is now holding weekly Sunday services at George Jenkins High School. In 2013, Access took another leap of faith and planted an additional location in Brandon, Florida.
Jason and Lis take the servant hearts that they cultivated during their time at SEU and apply it to Access Church. Their congregation embraces this lifestyle of servanthood by participating in service to the local community throughout the year. “We keep our hearts empathetic toward others, as they have done for us,” said Lis. This year, Access celebrated their tenth anniversary at the Polk Theatre, where they were presented a key to the City of Lakeland from the mayor in recognition of their service.
“We are playing a small part of what God is doing in Lakeland,” said Jason. “We want to continue what He is doing and multiply it.”
SEU Laid the Foundation
Jason feels that SEU gave him the right balance of Bible, theology, practical ministry and organizational leadership to be successful as both a lead pastor and church planter.
The professors here truly molded his confidence in his calling and his ability to preach. Dr. William Hackett, now the provost of SEU and a member of the faculty of the Barnett College of Ministry & Theology, was his homiletics teacher and also served as a mentor. Jason recalls the best compliment he ever received, which was from Dr. Hackett.
Dr. Hackett always sat with a notecard when he listened to his students preach, and would make notes on things for them to work on. He semi-jokingly sat down with one on the day Jason was speaking at chapel at SEU earlier this year. But after the service, Dr. Hackett came up to him, smiling, and ripped up the notecard. “You did an amazing job,” he said to Jason. “I don’t have any notes for you.” Jason left campus that day “on a cloud” with a heart full of renewed gratitude for these professors, who invested so much in him and continue to give him the drive to continue in his calling.
Jason encourages young people to not determine what they want to do before they discern who they want to be, and who God has called them to be. “You can get a degree anywhere; the challenge is setting yourself up for a life of success. SEU helps you build your character so that you can sustain the weight of your calling, and to know what to do with it,” he said.
Jason also has advice for people who are considering whether to begin a church plant. “Access is unique in that we didn’t actually start out to plant a church…it’s where God led us,” said Jason. “However, that experience taught us that before you start a church plant, or make any large decision, that you should take time to pray and discern whether you have been called by the Lord for that purpose.”
“Pastoring is really challenging, and church planting is different because it takes the heart of a pastor combined with the leadership and vision of an entrepreneur. You have to do both; start a ‘business’ and pastor people,” Jason explained. “There will be difficult days, so on those days you have to have something to fall back on, which is the knowledge that you’re fulfilling your calling. Failing isn’t an option, so you need to be able to lean on God.”
Jason appreciates that his time at SEU gave him the ability to further develop and cultivate his relationship with God, which has sustained him throughout this journey and allowed Access to reach thousands of people for Christ. “At SEU you’ll find your identity in Christ and get the excellence of an education behind it. What SEU does … masterfully … is tie your soul to your education.”
About Access Church
Access Church holds services on Sundays in Lakeland at George Jenkins High School and in Brandon at the Campo Family YMCA. Access houses its main office in the Dixieland Historic District of Lakeland and currently has 15 staff members, eight of whom are SEU graduates.