WINTER GARDEN Scott Billue is stepping down as pastor of the church he built nine years ago so he can focus on growing Matthew’s Hope, West Orange’s homeless program. He likens this decision to a parent having two children and selecting which one lives.
Following months of prayer and plenty of guilty tears, Billue will deliver his last sermon as pastor of Next Community Church Sunday, Nov. 29. He is moving forward with plans to expand and strengthen the programs at Matthew’s Hope.
“These past 18 months have really taken a toll on me in trying to be a decent pastor to the people of Next while also being a solid leader at the ever-growing ministry of Matthew’s Hope,” Billue wrote on Facebook. “I was overcome with anguish of the idea of letting people down.”
But it was getting harder to shepherd the flock, he said.
After he chose to concentrate his efforts on Matthew’s Hope, he said, “God made me comfortable and gave me peace with my decision.”
Still worried about who would lead his congregation once he left, though, Billue reached out to his Christian friend Sean LaGasse, who had preached six sermons at Next when Billue was on sabbatical this summer. He remembers LaGasse telling him he fell in love with the congregation during his short time there.
LaGasse was actually at a church-planting session in Jacksonville when Billue called him recently and said, “What if someone handed you the keys to a church?”
Next has a reputation of being an outreach-driven church, and Billue didn’t want it to lose this important identity. Recently, Billue has been challenging his congregation of about 100 members to get outside the walls of the church and be of service in the community.
“I realized someone needed to tell them in more action and less words,” he said. “If I’m going to ask you to do it, then I’m going to do it.”
So, he has accepted his own challenge and is concentrating on that service beyond the church.
The homeless organization started nearly six years ago, when Billue and a few others began taking undergarments into the known homeless camps in Winter Garden and Ocoee. This small gesture had great impact. When the weather dropped to freezing temperatures that winter, Billue approached those living outside and offered them a warm meal and a warm place to sleep.
Thus, the beginnings of what would later be called Matthew’s Hope.
“When I started Matthew’s Hope, it was going to be half a day once a week,” Billue said. “Little did I know that five-and-a-half years later, I’d go from socks and underwear to a greenhouse and hydroponics.”
His goal is to make the new greenhouse a learning center, a place where the homeless can be trained in hydroponics so they can seek higher-paying jobs. The structure also will quadruple the amount of produce harvested and sold to area restaurants.
His plans for Matthew’s Hope include expanding the Hope Chest, located on West Plant Street, and increasing the amount of wood furniture that is refinished and sold. He would like to get more of the homeless honing their craft skills there.
He wants to set up a car wash and detailing business at its own location.
“We’re not trying to get people just jobs,” Billue said. “Jobs are where you work toward a career.”
Billue has complete faith in LaGasse to carry out Next Community Church’s original mission of impacting the community in a positive way and feels that he will bring much-needed new energy to the church.
“I see Next having a rebirth of meeting people where they’re at,” Billue said. “The gist of the church has never changed. (Sean) is the guy who will lead this new energy. He won’t just tell people to go and paint; he will be there with a brush, as well.”
LaGasse is prepared for this giant leap.
“Trying to step into Scott’s flip-flop prints is a big undertaking, and I think anyone would be intimidated by that role,” said LaGasse, who previously served as executive pastor of The Crossings Community Church. “I feel very confident that I will be able to step in behind him. And from a congregational perspective, it will be relatively seamless. We align very well.”
Dec. 6 will be LaGasse’s first day at the pulpit.
“My heart wants to speak to the hundreds of unchurched,” LaGasse said. “To find them and bring them into the community of Next and impact their lives. The things we are speaking on now really reinforce what Next is.”
LaGasse and his wife of 24 years, Maria, have lived in Winter Garden for five years, and they have four children ranging in age from 14 to 20. He started HomeRun Pest Control two years ago as a way to bring in residual income that would free him up to volunteer and serve the community.
The new pastor hopes to duplicate a similar financial revenue model within the church in a Monday-through-Friday for-profit format so more of the Sunday-morning tithes can be used in the community. He wants to build a drug and alcohol center and a Christian-based assisted-living center.
“People will be aware of God’s presence at Next,” he said.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].
"When I started Matthew's Hope, it was going to be half a day once a week. Little did I know that five-and-a-half years later, I'd go from socks and underwear to a greenhouse and hydroponics." Scott Billue