The 48-year-old pastor of one of the largest churches in the Southern Baptist Convention told his congregation Sept. 11 he will “retire” as their pastor due to serious health problems but will continue his ministry as vice president for church planting and church mobilization at the SBC’s North American Mission Board.
“I talked to several pastors that left their pastorate and came to NAMB, and all of them said it’s significantly a less stressful situation than pastoring the local church,” Matt Carter told Sunday worshipers at Sagemont Church in Houston.
“I talked to several pastors that left their pastorate and came to NAMB, and all of them said it’s significantly a less stressful situation than pastoring the local church.”
Carter assumed the pastorate at Sagemont in May 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person worship worldwide. He followed Sagemont’s founding pastor, John Morgan, who had led the megachurch 53 years.
Before that, Carter was the founding pastor of Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, which grew from a core team of 15 in 2002 to more than 8,000 attending by his departure in 2020.
Sagemont ranks as one of the largest churches in the nation, with 20,000 members and reported pre-pandemic attendance of 17,000 weekly. The church’s history is a Texas-sized growth story similar to many of America’s megachurches.
NAMB’s upper-level leadership has been populated with several pastors of large churches recruited by NAMB President Kevin Ezell. Chief among those was Johnny Hunt, who resigned as senior vice president at NAMB in June after being named in an investigation of sexual abuse in the SBC. He previously was pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga.
Vance Pitman, president of NAMB’s Send Network, came to the agency after 21 years as a church planter and pastor at Hope Church in Las Vegas, which grew to 4,000 members under his leadership. Travis Ogle, senior vice president of NAMB’s Send Network, served on staff with Pitman in Las Vegas.
Bryant Wright, president of NAMB’s Send Relief, came to the agency after he retired as pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., which grew to more than 8,000 members under his pastorate.
Exactly where Carter will fit in NAMB’s overall staff structure is not clear. BNG asked NAMB’s executive director of public relations for clarification on the agency’s staff structure and how many vice presidents there are, and that information was not provided. The leadership page on NAMB’s website lists only four top leaders. Further information about NAMB’s staff structure is not publicly available.
A NAMB news release said Carter “will focus on mobilizing churches and church-planting missionaries across North America to help Send Network engage more local churches in the process of discovering, developing and deploying more church planters throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.”
Carter told the Sagemont congregation he and his family plan to remain in Houston and remain members there, and that they will not move to Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB’s headquarters.
Carter, who earned a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctorate in expositional preaching from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the congregation he is facing escalating heart problems caused by “rapidly growing” arterial plaque and multiple blockages.
“I use the word ‘retire’ intentionally, and I’m going to tell you why I use that … because I’m not leaving the ministry.”
Faced with a recent hospitalization, his doctor told him “Matt, you’ve got to make some radical changes in your life,” Carter reported. “And so, guys, long story short after a ton of prayer and a ton of prayer-wise counsel, I have decided to retire as a senior pastor at Sagemont Church. Now I use the word ‘retire’ intentionally, and I’m going to tell you why I use that … because I’m not leaving the ministry.”
Of his health, Carter said: “I’m 48 years old. I’m about to turn 49 here in a couple weeks. I’ve had cancer twice and I’ve got rapidly advancing heart disease. And it’s time for me to make a change. Um, what really put me over the line to make this decision honestly, was my wife. She did not move me to this. It was my desire to pastor her. My primary calling is to the person of Jesus Christ. My secondary calling is to my spouse, to my wife, and my third calling is to the ministry. And it hit me like a ton of bricks the other day that there’s 50, 60, 200 guys out there that can do this at this church as good or better than I can. There’s only one man that can be a passion to my wife. And so I’m going to make that my priority.”