Vertical Horizons: Ron Magnuson building a church from the ground up
By Susan Shinn
CONCORD ó Ron Magnuson holds a microphone and stands in front of a screen.
But the former television reporter is not delivering the news. He’s sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with a brand-new congregation at Vertical Horizons Church.
He’s a church planter for the Cabarrus Baptist Association. Other denominations call it a mission developer.
Whatever the term, it means you build a congregation from scratch.
Ron and his wife Andrea, are very much partners in this new endeavor. As he opens the service, she stands by his side at the keyboard.
“Forget about the problems of the week and let’s worship the Lord,” Ron says, as the praise band begins to play.
In college, Ron was a pastoral studies major. But, he says, the time wasn’t right for him to become a pastor.
Going down the list of potential majors, radio and television caught his eye.
“I thought, I could do that, I can talk,” says Ron, now 37. His wife is 32.
He got his degree, and for the next dozen years or so worked at radio and television stations up and down the East Coast, ending up as the Channel 9 reporter in the Salisbury bureau.
Magnuson’s last day at the station was Dec. 23. He’s made the decision to go full-time into the ministry.
It seems to be the right time now, he says.
Vertical Horizons Church has services Sunday mornings in the meeting room of the Cabarrus Baptist Association in Concord, near Carolina Mall.
The congregation started with a core group of five families.
Ron has had as many as 50 people attend services. Last Sunday, there were three dozen people present, about a third of whom were children.
“It’s crazy ridiculous how much work there is to do,” Ron says.
He’s making calls and visits and putting together brochures and mailing lists.
The church’s “soft launch” is set for Feb. 22. That’s the first Sunday after an initial mailing of 10,000 postcards will go out to households within a five-mile radius of the church.
Additional mailings will follow in a widening area. In all, 30,000 households will receive a postcard from Vertical Horizons Church.
In many ways, Ron is his father’s son, although he’s forging his own path.
Roy Magnuson pastored independent and evangelical free Baptist churches for 47 years.
“I’ve had all kinds of church planting experience,” Ron says.
In November, Ron’s contract with Channel 9 expired.
He felt like it was God saying, “Look, dude, you just need to go full-time and go out on faith and do it.”nnn
The last 11 months at Vertical Horizons, Ron says, have been great.
“I’m learning how to keep people’s attention,” he says.
Ron’s dad died in 2001, having no idea that his son would become a pastor.
Andrea and Ron met on a blind date, marrying in 2005.
“She married me knowing God was calling her into the ministry too,” he says. “We started going to church more, getting involved in dramas and a praise team.”
Ron is hoping to go back to school to receive a master’s degree in divinity. He already knows the Bible well.
“I don’t want to talk over people’s heads,” he says.
Instead, he wants to talk about how the Bible applies to real-life situations.
Vertical Horizons is being supported by the Cabarrus Baptist Association, the Baptist State Convention and Parkwood Baptist Church in Concord.
Ron acknowledges he’s working the same amount of hours as he did in the news business ó but for a lot less money.
Instead of using his creativity to produce compelling news stories, he’s writing sermons which he hopes will keep people’s attention.
He marvels at how many times he walked up to a house to console a family ó as a reporter.
Now, he says, “I don’t feel like the villain. When something bad happens, I don’t have to worry about the family thinking, ‘Well, he’s just using us.’
“I love the opportunity to be able to help people and not feel like I’m scrounging around for a story.”
One of Ron’s former competitors is not surprised by his decision. David Whisenant, who runs WBTV Channel 3’s Salisbury bureau, worked with Ron for several years.
“We were competitors,” David says, “but within the first few months, we figured out we got along as friends. At some point, we made the connection that we were both Christians.”
Several years ago, Ron said something to David about feeling the call to preach.
“I think he enjoyed doing the news,” David says now, “but I could feel that call was there. I do think Ron is called to be a preacher.”
Ron’s story, he says, reminds him of the story about Jesus walking on the water. At one point, the disciple Peter asks to join him.
“Peter had to have the faith to get out of the boat,” David says. “Right now, Ron’s out of the boat.”
Ron is working to build a rapport with his fledgling congregation.
His speaks often of them becoming a family.
“We love them as much as anything in the world and we want to be there for them,” Ron says.
Ron emphasizes that the service is “come as you are.”
“Just relax and just see what we have and what we’re talking about.”
The service begins with several praise songs before Ron, wearing a buttondown shirt, navy sweater vest and khakis, moves into the message.
It’s preceded by a skit and includes video clips and scripture passages on Power Point.
Today, on Super Bowl Sunday, Ron is beginning a sermon series called “Unstoppable.”
“If vision is based on an individual, we’re not gonna go anywhere,” Ron says. “But you know what? It’s the Lord. He’s gonna blaze the trail we’re gonna take here. We’re gonna build a church. We have to be on the same team and we have to be unstoppable for Christ.”Later, Ron turns to Acts 2:42-47, which chronicles the beginnings of the early church.
Verse 47 reads, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
“There you go!” Ron says. “That’s it! The vision, the mission.”
Barry Chambers is part of The Bridge, one of several praise bands at Trading Ford Baptist Church. Barry and other musicians have been playing at Vertical Horizons for several Sundays.
“It’s exciting to watch things change and grow and see God at work,” Barry says.
Tina Fesperman of China Grove and her husband Heath are part of the core group of members at Vertical Horizons. They have two children, Siera, 9, and Ethen, 7.
“God just led us to them,” Tina says. “We developed a friendship. We decided to hop on board. God’s been there ever since.”
Harris and Linda Elrod of Salisbury both point to Ron when asked why they’re here.
The Elrods and the Magnusons attended another church together before Ron formed Vertical Horizons.
“We’re with him all the way,” Linda says.
“He’s following his heart,” Harris says. “We believe in what he’s doing all the way. It’s a good opportunity to do God’s work on the ground floor and watch it grow.”Franklin Finney stands nearby. He’s a soft-spoken young man with a gentle spirit.
“I went through a lot of stuff,” Franklin says. He’s wearing a short-sleeved shirt, which doesn’t hide the tattoos covering his arms.
“My sister stayed on me to come to church. They welcomed me with open arms. I enjoy it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s very personal. We’re just a big family. It’s a good feeling.”
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