Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin of The Potter’s House International Ministries in Jacksonville continues to serve parishioners and patrons through the church’s thriving mall and academy.
BY PENNY DICKERSON
SPECIAL TO THE COURIER
Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin keeps it real. He is the founder and senior pastor of The Potter’s House International Ministries and approaches evangelism with a Bible-based, down-to-earth approach.
A people-person who welcomes smart phones in the pulpit to capture baptismal moments, he is an ad-hoc comic with a servant’s heart. Moreover, he is an agent of change focused on economic empowerment – a multimillion-dollar community epicenter is his testament.
Preaching since 26
The Jacksonville-based church is an evangelistic powerhouse and manifestation of McLaughlin’s spiritual vision. An athletic scholar turned college dropout, he has since earned both a master’s and doctorate degree in theology from North Florida Theological Seminary.
He continued his studies at Case Western Reserve University as a Bishop-elect by Donald Hilliard, chief presiding prelate of the Covenant Ecumenical Fellowship and Cathedral Assemblies. Following successful completion from the Joint College of Bishops, he was consecrated into the office of Bishop on March 6, 1999.
At the age of 25, he felt empty. He said God called him to preach at age 26, so he surrendered his life to Christ and has exemplified obedience since.
“God saved me with a glass of Jack Daniels in one hand, and I was smoking a joint held in the other,” confessed McLaughlin during a recent Sunday morning service.
McLaughlin believed the same God who saved an alcoholic, cocaine-snorting sinner like him, could also transform the lives of thousands.
Marriage and ministry
His wife of 36 years is Narlene McLaughlin, who serves as Chief Administrative and Operations Officer of The Potter’s House Christian Fellowship, Inc.
Together, they are spiritual architects destined to meet the total needs of people beyond an altar and pews.
“When my husband told me God called him to preach, I cried,” said the pastor’s wife, who is referred to as Lady Narlene by parishioners.
Two days after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Martin, she transitioned from magna cum laude to married. Lifetime ministry is not how she planned to apply her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, but she submitted and prepared to serve.
“My husband wanted to change the hearts and minds of people,” stated Lady Narlene, who is keenly in tune with her husband’s purpose and posture. “He made it clear in the beginning that he wanted to emotionally impact folks and meet their needs. He didn’t want to just teach or do church.”
Her employment expertise in corporate insurance and real estate laid the groundwork for the necessary fiscal accountability and administrative foundation for her husband’s ministry. She also is the author of the poignant read, “My Best Friend’s Name is Grace.’’
Bishop McLaughlin’s forward-thinking approach helped him ignite a prodigious movement that transcends the catch-phrase “mega church.’’ Romans 12:2 inspired McLaughlin’s holistic vision to, “…not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”
McLaughlin further aligned with Romans 12:7 to launch his first ministry in 1988 -Word of Faith Church. It seemingly flourished overnight.
Word spread quickly regarding a charismatic young pastor whose spiritual messages offered candor and straight talk.
“We got out of the pews and went into the streets,” said McLaughlin, who both led and taught street evangelism. “I took teams into neighborhoods. We started food and clothing drives, offered free auto care and moving services,” he added.
Outreach remains the hallmark of McLaughlin’s community engagement.
Economic empowerment followed.
Three decades after his pastoral undertaking, McLaughlin remained steadfast to stay apace with growth that includes more than 48 acres of both developed and undeveloped land.
Purchased for 4 million dollars, the current value is $40 million.
In 2002, he acquired a 376,000 square-foot fledging shopping center known as Normandy Mall. It had become an abandoned eyesore for the surrounding Westside neighborhood, which is diverse, but predominately White – middle to lower class.
McLaughlin invested a total $7.5 million in renovations to fulfill his vision in measured phases.
In 2003, he dedicated 103,000 square feet to building a new edifice to accommodate the ministry’s growth. The final phase culminated in 2006 with 177,000 square feet of renovations to complete what is arguably one of the religious industry’s most innovative examples of economic development – the Kingdom Plaza.
“Many go to the suburbs to escape the blight, but we decided to do something about the blight instead,” McLaughlin explained. “Our goal was to transform the community and bring it back to life. Kingdom Plaza has brought the community back together.”
Bistro, bowling, fitness center
Anchored by three stable entities owned and managed by the church, The Potter’s House Soul Food Bistro is a neighbor-hood favorite as much as the 22-lane King Pins Bowling Center and Temple Builders Fitness Center complete with a lap pool, sauna, steam room, and Jacuzzi.
Successful entrepreneurs complete the mall’s marketing mix. Many are faith-based tenants.
“Every one of these businesses and all the people that are here, this is how they eat,” McLaughlin said. “The church should be involved in the economic development of the community and empower our people to become their own bosses and support themselves.”
The Potter’s House
The church and mall are adjacent and share a massive parking lot. A former Sam’s Wholesale Club is now a sprawling 4,000-seat sanctuary that includes a coffee shop, teen café, full recording studio, bookstore and administrative offices.
An onsite lecture hall has hosted forums with Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown while a wedding chapel and conference rooms are available for community rental. It includes an 11,000-square foot nursery and an 800-seat children’s church.
Success stories include a student scoring the highest on the Florida ACT in math; Brittany Roundtree, a University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) basketball guard boasting record-breaking Tar Heel stats; and Marjorie Williams, who attended from grades K-12 and is currently in medical school.
Ministry is not for the meek; it is arduous work and sacrificial.
As a young pastor in Green Cove Springs, Bishop McLaughlin earned $50 per week. Lady Narlene took a $10,000 pay cut, but continued to work full-time to help support the family. Diligence and humility have served them well.
Today, the business savvy leaders have amassed lucrative net worth.
They employ more than 160 full and part-time employees including their grown children – Angel and Stephen McLaughlin.
But managing Christians is a challenge. Lady Narlene reflects on a profound revelation:
“Saints were not living like Saints,” she lamented. “People use the church for resources, sex, or to find a mate. We joke that members are like roaches. They come and go, eat up everything in the house, then scatter when the light comes on.”
But without Saints, there would be no lives to transform.
Bishop McLaughlin is also a community unifier who thanks God for every soul he encounters.