Jim Huffman has served as pastor of First Baptist Church (FBC) in Pottsville for over 20 years.
When Huffman arrived in 2002, the church was averaging just 28 people in attendance. God began to grow the church and in 2003 they built a small “activities” building. Four years later, in 2007, the church voted to remodel their existing sanctuary, which had not been updated since 1974. At the same time, a neighbor had offered to sell some adjacent property to the church and the congregation voted to borrow almost $400,000 to purchase the land and complete the project.
Huffman notes that this was the first time in many years that the church had gone into debt. But he says God blessed their efforts as people faithfully gave and the debt was paid off in seven years.
The church continued to grow over the next few years, and something needed to be done to accommodate the increased attendance. The solution was to move to two services, and it remained this way until 2017. At this time, Huffman and several members of the church felt that God was leading them to build a new sanctuary.
There was no money to begin with, but Huffman says the church voted to establish a fund which would allow members to begin contributing to the future expansion of their facilities. They decided that they would not move forward with plans to build until they had collected a million dollars in the account.
In just two short years, Huffman says that God had blessed their building fund with just over a million dollars. They enlisted Elton Rowe, an architect from Harrison who designed another church in the area. After listening to their ideas, Rowe came back to the church with a drawing of what he envisioned the building could look like.
Huffman said the proposed building’s shape resembled a net cast into the water. This was especially significant because of something that happened during the 2007 remodel. As part of that project, the roof lines had been tied together and an additional exit door was added to the south side of the building. From the air, these changes made the existing church building appear in the shape of a cross. With the new addition being added to the east end of the current building, or the foot of the cross, the proposed plans made the sanctuary appear as if it were a net being cast to the right side of the cross.
Huffman says that when he saw the design, God immediately laid John 21 on his heart. He believed that God wanted to use this new building to help them fish for men and impact their community for the Kingdom. “The disciples had fished all night. They tried to do things in their own power, they did what they knew to do, and they caught nothing,” he said. “That morning though, when the sun was coming up, Jesus told them to cast their nets on the right side and they caught so many fish that they couldn’t haul the nets into their boat.”
With a goal of casting the net into their community, the plans were presented to the church in February of 2020, and excitement began to build. Just a month later, a global pandemic hit. Covid-19 shut FBC Pottsville down like it did a lot of churches. Many in the congregation began to question whether the new building would ever happen. But the church decided to move forward in faith with the plans for the new sanctuary.
Meanwhile, additional obstacles arose as the architects revealed the church would need at least another 1 ½ acres of land to build the proposed building. Huffman says that land is not easy to find in Pottsville. Once again God provided, and they were able to purchase another acre right next to the church. Another half-acre soon became available and one of the members of FBC purchased the property and deeded it to the church.
On Sunday October 25, 2020, the church held a pledge drive to help raise funds for the project. Just three days later, Huffman suffered a heart attack. In spite of all these setbacks, God provided everything they needed to keep moving forward. Huffman says God was faithful even during the pandemic, “God’s been good to us, and he still has me standing vertical.”
In July of 2021, the church faced a new challenge. Even though they had a good base to begin the project, they would need additional funds. So, the church secured a loan. Just seven days away from closing, the funding fell through. Prayers were lifted, and once again God provided as another bank approved the church to borrow up to $2.7 million.
On Sunday August 8, 2021, after the morning service and a church-wide cookout, FBC Pottsville officially broke ground on their new sanctuary. Since then, Huffman has led the church to remain focused on preaching/teaching the Gospel and on loving and serving others. He gives God the glory for the amazing growth that has taken place with many new additions and over 40 baptisms in the past 18 months.
Huffman knows that only God can build the church. He says there have been moments in the past few years that God had to remind him of this fact. He says he had to “give God back the pen” a couple of times. “In Hebrews 12 we see that God is the author and finisher of our faith. Since He’s the author, if we try to write our own story, we’re going to fail,” Huffman said. “We must make sure the pen is in God’s hands every day. Let God write the story. This is not Jim’s story; this is God’s story. I just had to let go of the pen and just say, Lord, I’m going to get out of the way.”
The story continues to be written as FBC Pottsville came together for the first time in their new sanctuary on Sunday February 19, 2023. Over 360 people met for worship in a building that, to this point, has been built completely debt-free.