Pastor and Cancer Survivor Talks Serving, Giving Back to Greenwood Community
Writer & Photographer / Heather Simpson
Chris Philbeck, who took the helm at Mount Pleasant Christian Church 15 years ago, has been a pastor for 37 years, starting out at a small Oklahoma church, moving to Texas and eventually landing in Indiana. Mount Pleasant Christian Church had a large congregation of more than 2,000 when he took over as head pastor, a number that has swelled to more than 4,500 in the last 15 years.
In late 2011, Chris was plagued with a sore throat that just wouldn’t go away, after an unsuccessful round of antibiotics Chris was diagnosed with cancer. While his son Andrew and other leaders helped fill the pulpit, he endured a course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that left him weak, often unable to talk and away from his normal church duties for almost four months. Now, five years later and cancer free, Chris admits, “I’d always thought of myself as compassionate, going through this helped me realize that if you haven’t been through something, aren’t living it, it’s impossible to know what somebody else is facing. This realization that every day is a gift, this experience, gave me a stronger sense of urgency about our work here at Mount Pleasant.”
Ministry and a heart for service seems run in the Philbeck family. His daughter Tricia often sings during services and shares her dad’s enthusiastic nature. Chris is also proud of his son Andrew who serves at Mount Pleasant as well.
Andrew, who lends a thoughtful counterpoint and grounding to his dad’s exuberant nature, heads up Mount Pleasant’s Home Groups that has the mission of “adding depth to the weekly message that is delivered from the pulpit. The Home Groups are here to create small communities in a big church and give members opportunities to share, grow and live together as a church family.”
Mostly, what Chris and Andrew wanted to talk about was their church. Every question led back to the church members and the community they have such a heart to serve. Fostering a culture of service starts at the top. Chris makes a conscious effort to be accessible and real, rather than hiding faults and struggles, he shares them.
“Being real, being able to relate is more valuable than appearing to have it all figured out,” he says. “Everyone has a story, equal parts good, bad and ugly. People need to know that everyone struggles, that even in the most difficult times it is always too soon to quit. God keeps his promises even if we don’t know what the timetable looks like. How can I share this with other people if they don’t know that I’ve faced challenges too?”
That example permeates this church. Mount Pleasant is passionate about its outreach programs, and the list is long.
The Impact Center started as a small food pantry and has grown into a full food bank and clothing ministry. Mount Pleasant harnesses an army of volunteers to serve the people who come to the Impact Center during three sessions each Thursday and one session on Saturday. They welcome people from the community four times a week with the goal of providing food, clothing and encouragement. Visitors are welcomed with an uplifting message, volunteers pray with them and listen then provide food or clothing, or both as is needed. Preparing for these guests is a week-long task that church members volunteer for each week.
“Change for a Dollar” is another way the church is living out its mission to “change the world one life, one family, one opportunity at a time.”
One Sunday Chris brought tip jars in for all of the services and shared the story of a family that needed help. He challenged everyone in attendance to give one dollar each Sunday in addition to what they normally give. One dollar doesn’t sound like much until 4,500 people put their dollars together and bless someone in need. Now, every Sunday, the church takes the number of people in attendance, multiplies that by one dollar and uses that money to meet a need in the community. Recipients can by nominated by anyone in the community via their website. This small change has made a big impact. Last year, more than $208,000 was given to help local families facing tough times.
Mount Pleasant also has a 65,000 square foot Community Life center with classes for seniors, sports leagues, fitness classes and even classes aimed at assisting those with Parkinson’s disease. There is a counseling ministry and during “Change the World Week” another army of volunteers prepare 400,000 meals that are sent to Cuba.
If Mount Pleasant was gone, if they didn’t open their doors tomorrow morning, would anyone be impacted? Without a doubt. How does all this happen? Cast a vision, show people what is possible and then change the world, one life, one family, one opportunity at a time.