LARGO (FBW)—Heralding the guest of honor as “not only my father who happens to be a preacher, but also my preacher who happens to be my father,” Christian Martin delivered an emotional thanks to his dad March 9 at a two-hour Sunday morning worship service at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks.
Forty-one years after he accepted a call to ministry at First Baptist Indian Rocks as youth pastor and 37 years since growing the 300-member congregation to a church which now serves over 5,300 as senior pastor, Charlie Martin was honored in three weekend services for his upcoming retirement.
“As a young boy I spent a lot of time at my dad’s side as he was greeting guests after Sunday morning service. I was really only there for the donuts and the free juice,” Christian Martin, the pastor’s eldest child quipped emotionally as his eyes threatened time and again to fill with tears. “But the times I got to sit with him on stage … I got to see him as Pastor Charlie, as everyone else did.
“I think when I gained the most respect for my dad was watching him during our alone times which was most often either hunting or fishing or just driving along with him in the car,” said the younger Martin as he stopped frequently to catch his breath as his siblings and parents began to move from the side of the platform to surround him. “The Bible and the teachings of Christ were present in every lesson learned, every heartache and every happy memory. They have now become the cornerstone of my life.”
The weekend began with a Friday night banquet in honor of Charlie Martin and his wife, Stephanie. Over 700 were in attendance where videos were shared and various ministries of the church presented the couple with gifts. A Saturday night “Grand Ole Gospel Opry” drew over 1,500 to honor the Martins who were joined by four of their five children and many of their 11 grandchildren. The “Country Church” service normally runs about 700 each week with a full country band and the Opry takes place twice a year. In the service honoring Martin, four of his children and a grandchild joined him on stage with his guitar to perform a song.
John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, told Florida Baptist Witness Martin was a man before his time.
“Charlie Martin is a man of deep integrity that was lived out for 37 years in the Largo area. He was a visionary before it was popular to be visionary. His impact for God’s Kingdom will be felt for many generations to come.”
In the two-hour long service Sunday, musical tributes were mixed with brief presentations and testimonies by Stephanie Martin and some of Martin’s children—as well as others who have served alongside Martin and are familiar with the influence of his ministry to the church and the community.
Congressman C.W. Bill Young was scheduled to speak but was unable to attend due to illness. His chief of staff, Harry Glenn, called Martin a “powerful speaker” and said not a week goes by that a soldier or someone doesn’t remind the Congressman that they are from “Charlie’s church.”
Glenn said Young on March 6 read into the congressional record a speech and presented a framed copy of it to the Martins. Glenn read the conclusion of the speech. He said, in part:
“Pastor Charlie Martin is a friend to many and has shared God’s Word and God’s grace with countless thousands of people throughout his life.”
Mark O’Farrell, district superintendent of the Christian Missionary Alliance and president of Trinity College of Florida, quoted from Proverbs: “a man is valued by what others say of him.”
“There was a man sent from God whose name was Charlie,” O’Farrell said, presenting him with Trinity’s highest award for service. “There is something unique about Charlie,” he said, calling him “inspirational” and “influential.”
In a lighthearted moment, Martin invited his children, Christian, Somer, Samara and Colt, and grandchildren, onto the stage and introduced each of them as the youngest tried to find comfortable places to stand. His daughter, Shannon, and her family were unable to attend, he said later.
“You’ve heard me talk of tornado, cyclone, hurricane, earthquake and all. This is the gang right here; I sometimes get their names all mixed up,” Martin laughed as the crowd echoed his mirth. “They are not perfect kids, and we are certainly not perfect parents, but we have had a great, great relationship,” he said more seriously, “but we love each of these little people and it’s a joy and I’m so thrilled, guys, more than anything than I could be thankful for today … I’m so glad that my children, my grandchildren and their spouses and all could be here today for such a happy occasion.”
Stephanie Martin spoke of being married to Martin at just 18 years of age, 31 years ago, after a personal tragedy in his life. The church at Indian Rocks, she said, rallied around her and supported her, and them as a couple.
“You have made me what I have become today,” she said emotionally.
Happy to be a wife and a mother, she said she is often asked: “What do you do? … Do you sing in the choir? Do you teach something? Do you play? No, I don’t do any of that,” Stephanie said. “I just tell them God broke the mold. Not only did he get me young; I have no talent,” she laughed.
“So, you have allowed me to be a mother, a wife. That was what I have always believed was going to be my calling. I didn’t plan on marrying a pastor, but that’s in my heart…,” she said. “I became an instant mother and went on to have a whole lot of kids and now a whole lot of grandkids. But you know that’s been my life.”
Crediting her husband with being a good husband and father, Stephanie said it was time to take the next step in life.
“Just know that you have a path lighted,” she said. “Follow the direction Charlie’s leaving behind, not because he’s a great guy, but because God has led him here for 37 years to do what God believed that he should do and now it’s time and … put on your seatbelts, guys, because a wild ride’s coming.”
Stepping up to the platform, Martin, 61, said there is no particular reason he began the process more than a year ago to transition for his eventual retirement and actually thought he wouldn’t retire until 70.
“Never had anybody told me to leave,” he said. “This was God.”
Martin expressed thanks for the church’s new pastor, Jeff Parish, and his family. “I’m so glad that God led you here and I’m praying for you.” He also thanked the rest of the staff, volunteers, members and faithful tithers.
“It has been a wonderful trip with the Lord . … [T]here are no indispensable people and I, certainly, most of all,” Martin said. “I love this place and I will forever keep you guys in my heart and in my thoughts.”
Referring to a tragic time in his life, Martin expressed his thankfulness.
“My heart had been broken and I looked at God and I spent many a night in prayer and in tears, but it was through that time that … one of the elderly ladies of the church came up to me and said, ‘pastor, God never leads you through deep waters to drown you, always to cleanse you. It’s just a time that God wants you to get closer to Him.’
“I could never in a million years, repay your kindness and I am so unworthy but God has been so awesome and so good in my life. I want to thank my wife and my kids.”
Preaching an evangelistic message, Martin urged listeners to “get plugged in,” “be faithful” and “be part of this wonderful church family.”
In presenting a gift to each of the Martin children, senior associate pastor David Joseph said: “You’ve grown up here before our eyes and kind of like with all preacher’s kids, often times, under the microscope, and you’ve done so well.”
Indian Rocks chairman of deacons, Cliff Nigh said on behalf of the church that Martin has been a “consistent, unfailing example” to them and he has “unashamedly and boldly” shared his faith in Jesus Christ. Since he likes to hunt and fish, and the church has been instructed to not get him anything sharp, “we bought him a gun,” Nigh joked.
A native of El Dorado, Ark., Martin received the honorary doctor of divinity degree in 1986 and a bachelor’s degree in religious education in 1967 from Trinity College in Trinity (Fla.). He served on the State Board of Missions from 1989-93 and was moderator of the Suncoast Baptist Association from 1985-86. First Baptist Indian Rocks was named the fourth fastest growing church in the Southern Baptist Convention in 1971.
The church initially was a mission of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater. In 2005, they opened a 61,000-square-foot worship center on a campus which now includes a bookstore, Christian school, thrift shop and medical clinic.
In an interview with the Witness, Martin said he believes advice given to him by a speaker at his college years ago was solid. That speaker told him to try and not get frustrated and resist the temptation to “bail out” and move on to larger churches—“I promise you, if you stay here you will build one of the biggest churches in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Martin recalls being told. He said he remembers being told to plow around the stumps—immovable people—instead of trying to blow them out with dynamite—because of collateral damage—and one day he would be plowing a field that would yield fine crops.
“I took that to heart and I found that a lot of those people joined my team and came along and later came to me and asked forgiveness,” Martin said. “I learned along the way I had to build trust. … I had to earn trust.”
Ultimately, Martin said he believes in what is now the church’s purpose statement: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
And what is that main thing?
“The main thing is Christ and His mission,” Martin said almost automatically. “We don’t want to lose sight that we are not here for ourselves. We are here for this and His mission; that’s the main thing. We believe that evangelism, discipleship and mission is the main thing that Jesus put us here for. The Great Commission is Christ’s greatest command.”
Martin, who has baptized over 7,000 individuals since serving at Indian Rocks, said “it’s been a joy” and he hopes to continue in ministry at Bethel Baptist Church in Vilas, N.C., where he has accepted a tiny pastorate. Martin said he and his wife have no ties in North Carolina but they just “fell in love with the country up there.”
At Indian Rocks, Martin said there is a lifetime of memories
“Everybody’s got a story. Every mission trip has stories. I’m so full of this. I could talk for a year and not even get started,” Martin said. “I’ve got more memories than any one man deserves and am so blessed.”
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