Carlton L. Coon Sr. Biography
There is a Life in Brief version and a second much longer version.
Carlton L. Coon Sr. Life in Brief
- No longer in my 40s.
- Married to Norma for several decades.
- Two sons, daughter-in-law, two grandsons, and one granddaughter
- Preaching more than 40 years, 8 of those years evangelizing, 25 years pastoring, 12 years a religious bureaucrat.
- We led three churches in growth and to own larger facilities.
- Author of 35+ books and developer of several training courses.
- Ministry Monday webcast is on Facebook and YouTube.
- Preach/Teach conferences, training events, and local church events.
Church: Calvary Pentecostal Church, 2850 North Park Ave., Springfield, MO
And More than You Likely Want to Know
A friend suggested I write an autobiography. I’m far too young for such.
My youth was in rural Louisiana. Living in the country is a good thing. A mentor said, “If you were not raised in the country, you ought to go back and be raised again.” It was indeed rural. So, during the summer months, my brother, Rodney, and I saw far more cows and hogs than people.
Our parents were devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ. If something was happening at our church, we were there. Both grandfathers planted churches. My heritage gives me much to be thankful for.
My scholastic effort at schools in Jena and later at Louisiana College, the University of Alabama, and LSU are nothing to celebrate. My teachers would all be surprised by my having written even one book.
And He Called Some . . .
People ask what I’d have done if not a preacher. I’m not sure how to answer. It would have been some sort of leadership. But from childhood, I gave devotionals and sermonettes. While a high-school senior, I expressed my call to preach to my pastor. Within days I was preaching in neighboring churches.
During that time, neighboring churches granted young preachers the opportunity to speak to their youth or midweek service. Unfortunately, those called to preach in the 21st century seldom have the same opportunity. What do you suggest we do to remedy this? I really want some answers.
Glancing at my early sermon notes is humbling. Yet, at nineteen, I was a full-time itinerant evangelist. Norma and I married two years later. So in total, eight years were spent evangelizing.
- For seven years, we primarily observed what “not to do.” Many of the churches we preached at were “stuck,” with little growth or revival. Knowing what not to do has as much value as knowing what you should do.
- In our last year of evangelizing, we preached in revival churches where a pastor led the congregation to revival.
While evangelizing, God blessed us with two sons Lane and Chris.
One long-term benefit of evangelizing was revivals at a single church, often continued for several weeks. An evangelist preached between six and eight services each week. The practice did not make me perfect, but preaching often helped me improve. I seldom repeated the same sermon. When I repeated a message, it seemed to lack the zip. So each day I was digging for the next thing to preach.
Vidalia Revival Center – Vidalia, Louisiana
Our next assignment was as pastor of the Vidalia Revival Center in eastern Louisiana. It was a baby church less than a year old that had started as a daughter church. A few months into its existence, the church became self-governing and led a very personable young man – the late Ken Mayo. Attendance exploded under his leadership.
When Ken relocated to pastor the mother church, the Vidalia Revival Center asked Norma and me to become the pastor. Ken had a gregarious personality, with the ability to make an incredible first impression.
I’m an introvert. The change was hard for the people. Quite a few of the young Christians at the Revival Center left. The financial support dwindled to a pittance as the most significant contributors departed. Since it was our first pastorate losing people was not anticipated.
Vidalia lies in the Mississippi River Delta. Immediately across the Mississippi sits Natchez, Mississippi. A beautiful and historic city. We enjoyed the beauty of both the river delta and the rich history of Natchez. In time, over half of the congregation traveled from Natchez.
In Praise of Plodders
At the time, I’d not read Warren Wiersbe’s book of the above title. But I learned much about meaningful accomplishment being the result of plodding on:
- Personal growth and congregational growth only comes through continuous learning
- We experimented with what Norma and I could do with our talent and the congregation’s abilities. Experimenting means trial and MUCH ERROR.
- The need to reach an understanding of what worked for us. Rather than using someone else’s plan or new (and often untested) resources.
- Then to plod forward. Constantly moving in the same direction and incrementally improving what we found worked for us.
Revival, Soul-winning, and Disciple-making are spelled W.O.R.K.
At Vidalia, nothing came easy. Any arrogance, presumption, or laziness would soon be left behind. Many of my peers became pastors of “done deals.” By this, I mean a settled congregation with an excellent facility and salary.
On occasion, Norma and I looked at how easy it was for some our age and younger to drive new cars, attend conferences and other events and fly away to crusades in Africa and Asia. It was disconcerting. Further, it was unwise. No wonder the Bible teaches us not to compare ourselves among ourselves. (2 Corinthians 10:12).
In retrospect, we were not ready to have it that easy. I was a decent preacher, married to a much better Christian than me. But I’d no idea how to win a soul, lead people, or take on challenging tasks. We learned to trust Jesus. We worked like it all depended on us and prayed like it all depended on Him.
There was not much money in the church’s coffers. So Norma and I held secular jobs for most of our pastorate in Vidalia.
- She baked desserts for a restaurant and grocery store.
- I managed the Eastern division for a chain of proprietary business colleges. This job provided me with the training needed two decades later in leadership, policy-making, management, structuring systems, marketing, and decision-making.
- Norma served as the registrar and assistant director of the same proprietary college in Vidalia.
- She later managed a medical transport company. Earlier, she’d worked for me. I now worked for her, transporting Medicaid patients to doctor’s appointments.
We worked. We worked hard! Often we left our job and went straight to church. Norma was our praise and worship leader, and I needed to have a semblance of content to feed the people.
Within a year of becoming pastor, our small congregation bought what had been a mechanic’s shop. In retrospect, it was likely not the wisest decision. Nothing matched 21st-century building standards when we moved in. It could not remotely be called a place fit for worship.
Despite the lack of a decent facility, the church grew. The growth was primarily good citizens. They had jobs. Several were in upper-level management, school teachers, welders, and more. However, life had not been a bed of roses for any. There were former inmates, druggies, and alcoholics.
Teaching What the Bible Says . . ., expanding children’s evangelism and follow-up visitation became the focus. It worked – but it took hard consistent work! For several years, Norma worked a bus ministry route on Saturday, and I was the bus driver each Sunday morning. She would teach the kids on Sunday while I taught. Later she’d lead praise and worship in preparation before I preached.
Getting the building where it was somewhat attractive was an ordeal lasting five years. After paying the mortgage, the church had little money left. When we had money, a limited group of people had carpentry skills. My construction skills are non-existent. Norma is better at such than me. But when there is nobody else to do, you bow up and do. So Norma and I as directed by a handful of others who knew more about construction:
- Laid tile.
- Set toilets.
- Hung sheetrock.
- Refinished oak pews purchased from a church in Hodge, Louisiana. In time each pew seemed to weigh a ton.
- HVAC work.
- Wired the building – when the wind blew just right, the lights flickered on and off.
- We salvaged a used suspended ceiling from a church that was remodeling.
- Hung the suspended ceiling – which was notoriously unlevel.
- And a few dozen other things I’ve chosen to forget.
We had to pay for what we owned and were now in the process of remodeling. Therefore, fund-raisers were essential to the Vidalia Revival Center’s survival.
- Barbecue dinners were cooked and delivered each month.
- The church’s ladies put together plate lunches one or two days of many weeks. Then a handful of people delivered the lunches to local businesses.
- The church owned and operated three fireworks stands five weeks of each year.
- We sold Krispy Kreme donuts before they were well-known nationally. So I’d drive two hours to Baton Rouge, arriving at 4:30 A.M. to fill our little station wagon with donuts. (It held 125 dozen.) Then back to Vidalia by 7 A.M. to get the donuts to wonderful people who would help deliver. Norma and I took care of delivering the rest. So for a long-time, our car smelled of Krispy Kreme donuts.
- One of our converts had a high-level black belt in Karate. As a fund-raiser, Mark taught Karate lessons in our tiny fellowship hall.
In retrospect, our family was sacrificing. We were also gaining a practical doctorate on effective pastoral ministry. However, we did not understand any of this at the time.
When God calls you to do something, you do what must be done. It was my full intent to be in Vidalia our entire life. I never looked for something bigger, brighter, better salaried through those years. The lessons of the eight years of leading the Vidalia Revival Center:
- Home Bible Studies work to reach the lost. But my effectiveness only came when I started teaching a topical series, What the Bible Says . . .. I continue teaching these seven lessons. Based on the desire of others to use What the Bible Says . . . it was published twenty-five years ago. Several thousand people have purchased What the Bible Says . . . to teach others. Interested in knowing more click here.
- Claim your mentors. Three men, all now departed, shaped me. Most of the shaping was done by me observing their focus, work ethic and imitating what worked for them. Did not Paul say, “Follow me as I follow Christ?” The word translated follow could as well have been translated mimic. Why should I mimic someone mediocre?
- From Crawford Coon, I learned the discipline of studying the Bible and looked to him for counsel while dealing with new situations.
- From T.F. Tenney, I observed and applied leadership principles, writing for change, communication skills, dealing with preachers, and looking at the big picture.
- G.A. Mangun was a consummate revivalist. His focus on prayer, evangelism, and developing people were approaches I took to heart.
- The priority of disciple-making. With my skill set, we would not have a 200-soul revival. So instead, we worked to develop those we won. It worked!
- The premise Sunday is for Sinners G.A. Mangun preached to the lost almost every Sunday. For thirty-five years, on Sunday, I’ve preached to the unsaved at least 95% of the time.
God blessed the Vidalia Revival Center (VRC) with revival and growth. Churches with lovely buildings, and mature congregations led by good pastors and preachers surrounded us. When people relocated and visited VRC it was immediately apparent that choosing our church as home would mean work. Only one family, Robert and Debbie Parker, ever made that decision. Our growth came via new converts. Any pastor whose objective is to grow the church via transferring members needs to do something else.
I’m thankful for the people we won. We had wonderful people who were willing to work hard and break barriers. We did things that were not being done. Our church was integrated. By the time our tenure ended, thirty percent of our congregants were African American. We started a discipleship program when only one church I knew of had such a thing. That church had over 10X as many in attendance. Leadership training started!
The church grew from 20 or 30 committed people to over 100. Unfortunately, an economic downturn dropped us back to 70 or 80 when we departed in the late 90s.
Truth Tabernacle – Springfield, Missouri
Thankfully, a new pastor does not know the challenges just ahead.
On my first service as pastor in Springfield, I preached “First of all Prayer” and declared pre-service prayer was a non-negotiable for anyone who would be on our platform. So who can argue about the priority of prayer?
The first two years were complicated. In the first 24 months, I had to address 13 cases of sexual sin. Those types of counseling and church discipline sessions grow you up in a hurry.
In the first six months, we lost several good families. As was the case in Vidalia, my approach to ministry did not fit everyone. So I’ve decided it is suitable for people who cannot see my vision to be elsewhere.
The early emphasis on prayer was like an accelerant on a fire. The strength of the focus on prayer led to a weekly prayer each Monday, a monthly prayer chain for twelve hours, then for 24 hours. Later, we had a quarterly prayer chain that lasted seven days. During the quarterly prayer chain, each shift lasted three hours.
Soon, the parking lot was full. Some guests could not find a parking spot and would drive on. So we added a parking lot and then an auditorium that would seat 600. When we departed, the body of called-out believers worshipping at 2848 North Broadway in Springfield averaged over 300.
We established a robust disciple-making effort. If interested, you can click the link to get a free eBook, The How and Why of New Convert Care. The ideas in the book have recently been updated.
North American Missions
A call came to join the leadership team of North American Missions of the United Pentecostal Church, International. Norma and I felt it was right and that God had prepared us for the role. My initial position was as Secretary for the Division. However, before accepting the appointment, a solid and passionate leader, Jack Cunningham, told me that he would be stepping down as General Director.
Thus a few months later, the United Pentecostal Church elected me to serve as General Director of North American Missions. I was clueless about most things but felt there were four specific tasks I was to accomplish.
My work in the corporate world had provided business training that benefited me. I’d sat on a corporate Board, led the relaunch of Vidalia’s Chamber of Commerce, and served on other boards representing the Association of Independent Colleges and Schools. So I knew the importance of not listening to every critic.
Norma and I spent twelve years with North American Missions. She was alongside. I would be away from home for several years for 150 to 220 nights each year. Anybody who tells you being a missions director is a cushy job is addled.
We got the four things done. An exceptional group of people served as District Directors and on the governing board of North American Missions. They were strong and willing to challenge me when they disagreed. It is never wise to surround yourself with yes men. The Bible says, “Iron sharpeneth iron.” Marshmallows do not sharpen iron. We all need people near us who challenge our thinking and stretch us.
General Superintendents Kenneth Haney and Dr. David K. Bernard supported our North American Missions church planting plan in every way possible.
Twelve years of this service allowed me to accomplish my goals. But, as I saw it, the next major project for my administration would have taken five years to institute in a way that assured its survival. Taking on another five-year project was not in me. It was time to step aside.
Calvary Pentecostal Church – Springfield, MO
Calvary Pentecostal Church in Springfield invited us to become their pastor.
Calvary was blessed with good people, and had little debt. Today, we celebrate growth. But as was the case in our two previous pastorates, there was a significant loss of people. Between 75% and 80% of the original congregation departed. Not all at one time, but as a slow dribble.
No longer a novice, I knew this would happen. Few of those who departed are bad people. Unfortunately, they did not share my vision for the church.
We established a decent Home Bible Study effort and a disciple-making effort that remains imperfect. We had growth but were limited. Our one acre with no overflow space at hand limited us. We could seat about 110 but had parking for no more than 80.
Today Calvary is blessed!
Ten years ago, the church had 7000 square feet.
God has blessed us with 37,000 square feet.
Ten years ago, the church had one acre.
Today the church has 9 acres.
Ten years ago, the church was in a neighborhood setting.
Today the church’s nine acres are along Interstate 44.
These days my focus is on life transition. At Calvary, I’m Co-Pastor. I no longer make most decisions and do around a third of the preaching and teaching. So 33% to 50% of my time is spent away preaching and teaching. However, my desire to develop leaders and help pastors be influential will never go away.
I also have a fire in my belly to provide growth resources for every Christian. My list of future books has well over fifty book ideas.
If you read all this – you know more about me than most. I look forward to getting better acquainted.