BREINIGSVILLE, Pa. (BRN) — “For me, I love seeing them [pastors] succeed, probably more than I long for my own success. My success is wrapped up in their success and that’s the greatest joy for me,” said Rev. Hal Hopkins, a church planting catalyst for the Baptist Resource Network (BRN) of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

Hal Hopkins 25th Anniversary recognition
Pastor Hal Hopkins was recently recognized for 25 years of service as a church planting catalyst for the Baptist Resource Network and the North American Mission Board.

For 25 years now, the “Philly-born and Philly-bred” pastor, now serving at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, has faithfully served as a mentor and guide for church planters across the Pennsylvania and South Jersey region, as well as within the continental bounds of North America.

Prior to stepping into his role as a church planting catalyst, he served as a pastor in the Philadelphia area, leading his first church when he was only 23 years old.

“It began with my own heart-passion for God. It happened late in my high school years, where I really got a heart – a passionate desire – to study God’s Word [and] to share it with other people. So, I started doing that,” he explained.

After first pursuing a career in music, God quickly led Hopkins to the conclusion that he was meant to be in ministry.

“That [music] was my agenda, but the Lord had something else. He used a lot of other circumstances to bring me to the place of surrendering to His call.”

Hopkins cited one of these affirming “circumstances” as a stranger on the subway, who asked if he was a minister.

“I said, ‘No, ma’am.’ I didn’t know this lady; I’d never seen her before [and] I wouldn’t know her if she showed up today. It was one of those seminal moments that the Lord used to just kind of speak to my heart about ministry,” explained Hopkins.

A few more instances of affirmation and a couple of opportunities to teach later, and Hopkins was sold on entering ministry.

“I just finally concluded, after a number of different issues, that this is what the Lord wanted me to do. And, if I thought I was going to continue to live life, then I better do it in obedience for Him.”

Heading into his 15th year of pastoring, Hopkins had a healthy relationship with his congregation and his church was doing well, but something was different. He felt the Lord stirring something new within his heart.

“I had really begun struggling, because I thought the Lord wanted to do something different with me. The Lord just began to stir in my heart, and it just didn’t satisfy the way it used to. So, I just began praying, ‘Lord what do you want me to do?’”

Initially, he just thought God was going to move him to another church, but then he heard about the Pennsylvania/South Jersey Convention (now BRN) looking for what was, then, called “an African American Church Starter.”

At first, Hopkins was not interested in the new position and was recruited by Dr. Stan Smith to find some pastors that would be interested in the role.

“We pulled together several listening sessions, [and] I was there as the host. Guys came together and shared their perspectives.”

Hopkins continued: “He [Smith] says every time they would offer a recommendation of what the position or person might look like, they would look over at me. Now, I don’t remember all that, but that was his perspective.”

Church plant assisted by Hal Hopkins
Church plant assisted by Hal Hopkins

Post-listening sessions, Smith approached Hopkins and asked him if he would consider taking the church planting catalyst position.

“I’m not a denominational kind of guy, [so] that was so far into me. As an African American, when we go into ministry we go into pastoring, we don’t have all these other options to work in a denomination. That was just never on our radar,” explained Hopkins.

He continued: “But, I felt like – earlier I had asked Dr. Smith to pray for me – so, I felt like I at least owed him the obligation to explore what he was asking me to consider. So, I did.”

Convinced that he would never make it through the entire interviewing process, Hopkins was very much surprised when he was, in fact, offered the position.

“I just felt like it was a God thing, because I wasn’t the guy for this. I didn’t know anything – I knew very little about church planting at the time. But the door opened…and I said, ‘Well, Lord, if this is the door you’re opening for me, I’ll go.’”

Hal Hopkins in ministry
Hal Hopkins in ministry

Heading into his new role as a church planting catalyst, Hopkins was not quite sure what to expect.

“I didn’t have any expectations – I didn’t know what to expect. What I knew was, at that moment in my life, I believed [that] this is what the Lord was doing. I trusted Dr. Smith and I trusted Dr. Waltz – Dave Waltz – we had developed a friendship over the years.”

At the time, Dr. Waltz was the executive director for the BRN, and Dr. Smith was the point person for the church planting movement.

“They [Waltz and Smith] lived up to their promise. I got involved, [and] I learned a little more about church planting,” said Hopkins, explaining he was specifically responsible for the African American churches.

“We were divided into silos – there was a white church planter, there was a black church planter, [and] there was a language church planter – that’s what they called them then.”

Hopkins continued: “So, I was going across the whole state into African American communities trying to plant churches, and then we had other guys who were doing the same thing with their particular people groups. So, I learned a lot about the communities across our state…we had some successes, but it was just exciting to see God build these relationships.”

Along with building relationships, Hopkins says watching “God do the unexpected” is one of the best things about his role as a catalyst.

“Sometimes, church planters just come from unexpected places; where you have not been necessarily cultivating a particular place or a particular group of people, [but] then, all of a sudden, from somewhere else God brings you a church planter.”

He continued: “Just to watch God do that and be able to thank Him for it, because you know, really, you had nothing to do with it. This was a God thing, and it just emerges and you just join God in His activity and watch Him do it.”

Pastor Hal Hopkins and friends celebrate his 25 years of service as a church planting catalyst in Pennsylvania/South Jersey.
Pastor Hal Hopkins and friends celebrate his 25 years of service as a church planting catalyst in Pennsylvania/South Jersey.

For 25 years, Hopkins has been motivated by the pastors God has placed in his life, whether expected or not. He has come to love the day-in and day-out of being a church planting catalyst, the position he never expected to accept.

“I guess the thing that keeps me motivated and excited about this work is I love – I love! – seeing pastors succeed. I love to hear their vision about what they want to see God doing and then, in some small way, being a part of getting them from where they are to where that vision becomes a reality,” said Hopkins.

“To see guys willing to take that step, willing to step out on faith…that’s what I long for, that’s what motivates me, [and] that’s what excites me. I don’t know anything I love doing more than seeing them succeed.”

Listen to the podcast interview.

The “50 Stories of Transformation” series, told in honor of the Baptist Resource Network’s 50th anniversary, highlights the many ways God has moved throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey and beyond. Your generous support of the Cooperative Program makes this ministry possible and fuels evangelism and outreach in our local churches and all over the world! Thank you!