Q+A with Greg Peters, pastor of one of Palm Coast's largest churches
If your church were to close for good, would people in the community notice? Parkview Pastor Greg Peters has no intention of closing his doors, but if it ever were to happen, “I would want them to know and to be sad.”
To that end, ever since founding the church 23 years ago (it was called Palm Coast Baptist Church in the early days), Peters has attempted to keep the mission simple and the community involvement impactful. The church, at 5435 Belle Terre Parkway, throws the biggest trunk-or-treat in town, and it also hosts drive-thru experiences at Christmas and Easter — in addition to helping to feed those in need.
For the Christmas offering in 2020, the goal was $150,000, he said in a recent interview with the Palm Coast Observer. “We took up $214,000,” he said. Of that, about half was given to Flagler County charities or to provide camp scholarships for children.
In this interview, Peters discussed the state of faith in 2021, simplicity and his approach to unity and truth.
Do Americans have less faith today than they did 50 years ago?
It’s fragmented. In comparison to 50 years ago, there’s more faith available to people than ever before. All the apps, all the materials available, the TV station and radio programming.
Also, 50 years ago, there would be 10 churches in American that would run over 5,000. Now you would have hundreds of churches that run over 5,000.
Is faith less valued as a character trait than it used to be?
Sadly, I think you’re right. When I was a kid — I’m 50 now — I remember families going to church multiple times a week. Families prioritize a lot of other things now.
Sometimes we look at opportunities as things that bring success, but they can also be distractions.
The country is divided about abortion and gay marriage — both topics that are associated with faith communities. What can spiritual leaders do to heal instead of divide?
While our goal is to bring healing, we also know that truth can be offensive. A lot of times, I don’t want to hear the truth; that’s why scripture tells us we are to be full of grace and truth. When I’ve preached scripture, there’s some hard sayings in there; some of them have offended me when it points out my sin. Others are offended when it points out their sin.
I’m not here to win a popularity contest. I’m here to help people understand what faith is about, and how to access a home in heaven, and how to live the abundant life.
The more society deviates from the truth, what I have found, is people have a far greater appreciation for truth. I feel like the clearer I preach the
Bible, the more our people respond to it. Scripture is like a sword that pierces deeply, and there’s a big difference between different types of knives. A surgeon’s knife is used to bring healing; the thief’s knife is used to bring hurt. I look at scripture as the knife to bring healing. Nobody likes surgery, but sometimes you’ve got to have it.
Surveys have shown that Christians are more likely to believe some conspiracy theories like QAnon — this deep state conspiracy, darkness trying to control the government. Does that worry you, and what can be done?
It grieves me. We’re being bombarded by conspiracy theories all the time right now.
Psychology has done a lot of studies on this, and one thing they see is what they would call the cynical genius illusion. When I see people gravitating to conspiracy theories, they’re either super intelligent, or they are maybe below average and want to feel like the smartest person in the room.
The second reason why Christians gravitate to conspiracy theories is they’re not willing to trust that the Lord knows what he’s doing; we have to come up with a reason why these things are happening, and we have to put order to the chaos.
The third reason is because of social media. How many times do you go on Facebook and you did a search for untucked shirts, and then you’re getting ads for untucked shirts on your newsfeed. People start searching for these [conspiracies], and all of a sudden they’re locked in. I’m afraid we’ve stopped thinking and learning, and I think we’re buying in more and more to what we already believe and not searching out the other side.
You are the founding pastor of one of the largest congregations in Palm Coast. What is Parkview doing right?
We’ve very thankful to be able to minister to a lot of people. We’ve been hyper vigilant for 23 years around our mission, which is “Guiding people to life change in Jesus Christ.” I put up a slide on a screen in the beginning of the pandemic, and I said, ‘This is a list of the top 10 ways our mission has changed because of the pandemic.” And next to each number, it was blank. Because nothing has changed.
When organizations grow, do they move toward simplicity or toward complexity? I think everybody would say that as it grows, an organization tends to move toward complexity. You’re adding people and adding product. For me, one of the primary parts of my job description is to keep driving it back to simplicity. I don’t want us to be weighed down by overprogramming. We stay focused, If a certain ministry or outreach or schedule doesn’t guide people to life change in Jesus Christ, we have to say no. And we say no to some really good things. At the end of the day, we’re about preaching the Bible.
What principles guide your response when people come to you for help?
A lot of times when I meet with people, I realize I can’t solve their problem. And typically they’re coming to me at a point of crisis, and they didn’t get into this over night, and so we’re not going solve it overnight. But I try to let them know early on that while I may not be able to fix their problem, I do care. I do love them, and I want them to feel that.
I also live by this motto: Try to do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
And I have to recognize that I’m called to be a pastor, and yes, I took some counseling classes, and I’ve been doing this for 30-plus years of ministry, but sometimes situations are outside of my capacity. My theory is that sometimes we try to help people that we’re not able to help. So I try to have resources available that are better than what I could provide. Sometimes, I’ll say, “You need professional counseling, but come back eery 60 days and let me know how it’s going.”