In hindsight it is not surprising that Josh Pool planted a church. His father, Terry Pool, was an Assemblies of God minister for forty years in Niceville, Florida, where Josh grew up. His mother, Joyce, was a teacher. The Word was an ever-present force in his life from the beginning. “I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and was saved at the age of eight,” he testifies.
But following in his father’s path was not what he expected to do. He attended Florida State University and studied history. He earned a degree in social science education and a certificate in math and returned to the local area to be a teacher, like his mom. He taught at Ruckel Middle School in his hometown and then at Walton High School in Defuniak Springs. “I thought ministry would be something I’d just be actively involved in. I thought I would do this teaching thing and just be a really active church member.”
But then he heard from a friend about Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. There was an amazing scholarship opportunity available. Why not apply? At the time, Josh was teaching high school math and had just found out that his wife, Mandi, was pregnant with their first child, Abigail. He was heavily involved in his local church, Destin United Methodist, and was teaching there on Wednesday nights. The prospect of abandoning everything for life in New England was daunting. But he heard a calling and applied for the scholarship. Before the start of the 2012-2013 school year at Walton High, Josh and Mandi were on their way to Boston.
Before attending seminary, Josh’s theology had been very much in keeping with his upbringing. His father had a lot to do with it. “He was a student of the Word. Very faithful to the text.” Before Boston Josh says he “had been on a very singular track – Pentecostalism – Assemblies of God.” At Florida State he was in an Assemblies of God campus ministry. So that’s what he knew. His experience at Gordon-Conwell showed him “there was a lot more history, variety, tastes available. All committed to the same God, savior, and scripture, but there were little estuaries of differences that I was able to explore, and on my own terms, reconcile the scriptures with what I was thinking.” By his second year of seminary he was committed to a new career path.
Josh had met David Huffman, an intern at Destin United Methodist Church, about 2008, between semesters at Florida State. They became fast friends. “Good, solid, Christian brothers.” They had kept in touch over the years. In the fall of 2014 Josh was in his last year of seminary. He was talking to David on the phone. “David said in his light, whimsical way, but dead serious, ‘just let us know when you’re ready to come back down here and plant a church.’” Josh already had plans to serve on the staff of a church in Boston. He had received an offer, “a pretty sweet deal.” Mandi was opposed to him taking the job. Josh was for it. He remembers telling her, “If God says one thing to you and another thing to me, one of us is wrong.” He admits now that he was wrong.
David and Josh started having conversations about the kind of church they would plant, if they were to plant one. “One of David’s big emphases was plurality. Let’s work together. Let’s have a group leadership style. And I had just experienced that for the first time in Boston. Here’s a group of pastors that operate together for the spiritual well-being of the church, which isn’t common. We both thought it was an appealing thing.”
“We officially committed to planting a church right around New Year’s. We moved home in May of 2015 and planted it in October.” The first church attendees were a small group from Coastline Calvary Chapel in Destin, where David and his wife Haley were attending. “David was very careful not to ask anyone to go with him to his new church. ‘If you want to come with us, you need to talk to your pastor. We’re not in the business of stealing sheep.’”
They started with just over a dozen people. Within two months there were more than thirty. To accommodate their growing flock, they rented the tack room at a horse farm. “The week we launched, October 19th, it jumped to ninety. At the stables. I still to this day don’t know how that happened. We spent zero dollars on marketing, zero dollars on social media. We don’t want you to come to Redeemer because it’s cool or new. We want you to come because it’s spreading the gospel in this town.”
Redeemer 30A has continued to attract new members. In October 2018 the church moved out of the stables and began holding services in the gymnasium of the Boys & Girls Club of the Emerald Coast, 427 Greenway Trail, off Highway 331 South.
So why Santa Rosa Beach in particular? “There’s a need for the gospel here. That’s the clearest way to put it. The purpose of a church is to exalt Jesus Christ by clearly declaring who He is and what He’s done, and we felt that this was a vacuum area. We felt that there were some voices that were speaking some truths, but not clearly. Santa Rosa Beach was sort of this no-man’s land of gospel preaching churches. A lot of the initial parishioners were commuting to Destin at the time. When someone has to commute 45 minutes to go to church, it’s something they can’t find in their town.”
What’s your favorite scripture? “I struggle to answer that because there are so many that genuinely have value in my life. I would say one of them that has meant so much because it never goes away is when Jesus said “if anyone would come after me let him deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me. [British evangelist] Leonard Ravenhill said something like this, and I agree with him: ‘We lead a lot of people TO the cross, but we forget to tell them that they’re called to bear it, too.’ He’s not saying that you earn your salvation. What he means is the gospel is good news for two reasons: the forgiveness of sins; also, you’re brought to life. I mean, you were dead. You weren’t breathing, and God breathed life into you. And so not only are your sins forgiven, but the way you live is different. There is a transformation that we often don’t talk about. Not only has He forgiven my sins, He makes me not want to do them anymore. He’s changed my appetites for them.”
“This is a good one: Colossians 1:28. One of my favorites. ‘We proclaim him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.’ I love that. There is a progressive growth that we should see. That’s what my job is as a pastor. That verse IS my job. I want to take people along this path of spiritual growth. If I’m looking back at the last four years of time at Redeemer and our people are at the same place they were four years ago … fire me. I’m not doing my job.”
What do you do in your spare time? “My favorite thing is and will always be reading. I love to read as much as I can. I love going to the beach. I’m a beach kid. Grew up on it.”
Recommended book? “To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, by Courtney Anderson. A biography of a missionary who went to Burma in the early 19th century. Whether or not you’re a believer, it’s a scintillating story.”
Where do you see you and the church in the next five years? “Hopefully doing the same thing. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Making disciples. Maybe in the next five years I would like to see us plant a church. Maybe in one of the other local communities where there is a need for it. Maybe like in Freeport or Panama City. Especially Panama City. There’s a huge need over there.”
Advice you would give to a crowd of people? “My advice would absolutely be Christ is life or death. Your life and your eternity hang in the balance with how you respond to Jesus Christ. So get serious about Jesus.”