We had the good fortune of connecting with Mark Plunkett and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Mark, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Changing from science to education as my major in college was a big risk. My parents were convinced that I should go into medicine and become a veterinarian (which had been a dream). However, college-level science was far too difficult for me to properly master. When I switched to education, I felt like I was putting on an old favorite coat that I had lost in the closet for a long time – and it fit perfectly! I had a long and enjoyable career as a public school teacher – 29 years. My long-term plan was to teach until I could draw a retirement pension from the state and then switch to either another state or a private school.

And then…something changed and another risk appeared.

I had spent about 7 years preaching in the small church I belonged to, as well as helping out other small churches when their pastors needed a vacation. I enjoyed it very much, but I never saw myself as a minister – I was a teacher! Then a friend became ordained and was called to her first church; when I wrote to congratulate her, she replied, “Thanks! Now when are you going to do it?”

After that, I could not stop thinking about it. But at the time, I had two kids in high school with college coming up. I was not yet able to retire with that teacher pension I mentioned earlier. I wasn’t even sure I should be thinking about it at all. I found myself very distracted for several weeks. When I finally got up the courage to discuss it with my wife, she responded, “I was wondering how long it would take for you to figure this out.”

It was a huge risk, much bigger than just changing majors in college. This meant night school for a few years, following a rigorous ordination track, and full-time seminary at some point. In the end, it all worked out, and today I am the pastor of a wonderful, small church in NW Houston.

I think that I am not much of a risk taker – but when I do take them, they have changed my life.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am not a traditional presbyterian pastor in many ways. I have worked very hard on preaching, and it is the main focus of each week when I prepare for Sunday worship. I have studied preaching in many different formats and settings in order to draw from each what might work for me in my current setting. Every minister preaches in a different way, so I don’t try to be like anyone else. In teaching, I definitely had my own style, so I am very comfortable being a little unorthodox at times.

I have had my current call for ten years, ever since I graduated from seminary. It has never been easy, and at times it has been heartbreaking. But I would not change it for anything; I realize that although my call is unique, so are all other calls. I advise anyone getting into ministry to be certain of their call and to continue developing their gifts. I also tell them bluntly that ministry is not for the faint of heart; just praying every day won’t cut it. Ministers are expected to be doers of the Word and not just hearers of the Word. They set that example for any congregation they serve.

Many of the challenges in this particular church revolved around my lack of experience. When I first got to Heritage Presbyterian Church, it was a church that had barely survived a terrible schism four years earlier. By the time I arrived on campus, the property was for sale, the 400-seat sanctuary had only 30 people attending weekly services, and the bills were drowning the church in debt. I was told by a local church official that “they had no business calling you for that job; you are not the right person they need.” While she may have been truthful, I was determined to do all I could to work with those people and help our church grow again. I relied on the small community and got to know every one of the very quickly. We worked together, battled occasionally, and were finally about to sell the property and pay all our bills. That challenge was the greatest one I faced…until Covid came along.

Fortunately, because of my extensive tech background while teaching, I was able to figure out how to live-stream our worship services on a very small budget. Our church also hired an office administrator whose first skill set was also technology. We worked together well to train our congregation to access on-line resources in order to stay connected to worship and our church community. It continues to be a challenge, but I am proud of the “pivot” we implemented.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would take him out to a different type of uniquely Houston restaurant several nights during his stay (Mexican food, barbecue, etc.). I would show him our various sports facilities and even take in a game at one of them. We would also hang out at my home with is comfortable and easy to be in, and I would invite the various members of my family to come and have dinner with us. (If he was truly my best friend, he would know all about my family!).

During that week, I would also allow him to “peek behind the curtain” as I prepare and post the various ministry messages I create each week (Facebook Live – children’s sermon, church webpage – Sunday Scripture and sermon video, church webpage – weekly devotional, Instagram 2-minute Bible lesson, and our Zoom component of our regular Sunday worship service.

It would be a full, busy week!

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Any credit I can give should go to my totally supportive wife, Jeanne, my two wonderful kids, and the Lord God who made it all happen.

Website: heritagepresbyterian.org

Instagram: mark.plunkett.14

Youtube: Heritage Presbyterian Church

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