We have some great pastors in Naples, Florida, but how many of them would be willing–and brave enough–to jump out of of airplane for their church?
That takes a lot of faith. Faith in your calling as a pastor–albeit the kind of pastor that apparently jumps out of airplanes. Faith that you have a destiny in Christ: a destiny that isn’t finished yet. But most of all, faith in God. Knowing that, no matter what happens, you are in good hands, and God is in control.
But exactly who is this exciting, brave, death-defying, unstoppable pastor and how is it he now is prepared to jump out of an airplane flying high in the sky miles above planet earth?
His name is Eric Cox. He was born with a mission. Now, before the spy music really starts taking off in your head, you should know that Pastor Eric is absolutely terrified to make the skydiving jump.
Yes, you heard right. Terrified. Excited, yes. But also (word has it) “a little anxious”.
Who wouldn’t be?
“Of course I’m apprehensive. If that parachute doesn’t cooperate, I’m going to meet Jesus real soon,” Eric joked.
Not that Pastor Eric has anything to worry about when he comes face to face with his Maker. Even so, few of us are in a hurry to exit this life, especially by first hurtling toward the earth.
Then why is he doing it? Or more precisely, how did it come about?
How a Pastor Comes to Contemplate Jumping Out 0f an Airplane
It all started when a visiting betrothed couple at Community Congregational Church–known more informally as C3 Naples–shared their plans to go skydiving as part of their honeymoon package. There may have been a joke about an extra parachute for Pastor Eric to join in the fun. This all happened back in March, before the countdown toward the big “Easter Sunday,” one of two major days in church attendance in America–the other being, of course, Christmas.
C3 Naples was apparently so delighted with the thought of their pastor jumping out of the plane that the man (having, ironically, just concluded the month prior a sermon series entitled, Taming the Tongue), made then and there the vow which shall indeed go down forever in the archiving halls of pastoral history, the vow of all Easter Sunday vows:
The eruption of adoration that ensued from said vow in the congregation was apparently enough opiate to deaden the cold reality of what it really means to jump out of a moving airplane into dead space.
Or perhaps, in the back of his mind, Pastor Eric thought they wouldn’t make the 1000 mark.
They made it.
(The final count was 1175 or 1176–we’re not entirely sure Naples Noteworthy was counted, as our representative arrived very late.)
At any rate, the terms of the vow were met, and thus, Pastor Eric is now gearing up to make a literal “leap of faith”–an event which we’re promised will be recorded for all to enjoy, and which we’ll share here with you on Naples Noteworthy in a few weeks.
Naples Noteworthy asked him if he was indeed truly going to do it.
“I said it. I’ll be a man of my word,” Eric answered. “I’m actually excited about it, and I can take it off my bucket list now. I love my church and I want to honor everyone’s hard work in bringing in new people for the Easter services.” The congregation was so enthusiastic about the idea of Pastor Eric taking the leap that they made sure enough people came to make that vow a reality. “We had 1175 total people attending services on Easter, which is great, but the greatest number of all are the six people who crossed over from darkness to light.” (A number of people were baptized that Sunday, and six of them professed Christ for the first time–hence the reference to crossing over from darkness to light.)
In part for his willingness to make the leap out of an airplane, Naples Noteworthy has named Eric Cox the Most Unstoppable Pastor in Naples.
About Pastor Eric
Eric Cox is, indeed, the very definition of unstoppable–and you’ll understand why we say that when we tell you the rest of his story.
You see, Eric was born with a mission and a destiny in Christ. Now, before you think that makes him unique, you should know that each one of us is born with a mission and a destiny in Christ. Whether or not we actually fulfill that destiny and discover our mission depends on a number of factors–such as whether or not we come to surrender our lives fully to Christ, how much time we spend with God and in the Word, and a host of other factors surrounding the process of our sanctification and growth as Christians, all of which is beyond the scope of this article.
But make no mistake, the Enemy will do everything in his power to try and stop you from fulfilling your destiny in Christ. We know that we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against, “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” [Ephesians 6:12] Although the Enemy does not have God’s full knowledge, he does understand things in part, and when it comes to spiritual matters, he seems to know when certain individuals have a special destiny in Christ or a particular calling that is going to influence many people for the Kingdom of God. Such individuals may experience personal tragedy to greater degree than others as a result of the strategies of the Enemy to derail them from their true purpose in life.
One might ask why God allows the Enemy to pursue us. It is a fact that God is always in control, and that the Enemy can do nothing without God’s permission. (Take a look at Luke 22:31, where Satan asks for Peter, to “sift him as wheat”, a request which is granted.) Therefore, all things that happen to us, even sometimes very challenging or painful things, must be seen as preparation for greater work in the future, preparation which God, in His sovereign knowledge, has deemed necessary to the complete transformation of our character that we may conform more closely to the image of Christ, or else are things that will ultimately bring about profound spiritual maturation, intimacy with God or otherwise usher in the presence of God into our lives in extraordinary ways. For we know that “all things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]
That said, the Enemy sought to discourage Eric Cox from his destiny in Christ when he was barely “separated from his mother’s womb and called by God in grace.” [Galatians 1:15] At the age of four, Eric was in a horrific car accident with his family. The result of this accident was that Eric’s face was penetrated by an iron beam which left him in a state requiring many surgeries, years of speech therapy, and, of course, a scar on his face–proof of his experience. Eric was told he could never have a profession that involved public speaking. That was, of course, the Enemy speaking–using every mouth he could to discourage the young pastor from the destiny in Christ that had already been laid out for him.
But with God, “nothing will be impossible.” [Luke 1:37]
The unstoppable Eric Cox, this same one that was told he would never work in a profession that involved public speaking, is now the Senior Pastor at C3 Naples–one that is ready to parachute out of a moving airplane for his church.
Called to Serve Christ
Eric wasn’t raised in a household where God was talked about. “In my family, our gods were sports. For me it was wrestling,” he relates. In fact, he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ until he was 16 and his grandfather passed away.
Looking into his grandfather’s coffin at that time, Eric found himself wondering, “If that were me, where would I be now?”
Not long after that Eric accompanied a cousin to a very contemporary church. “It didn’t seem at all like a church–not like ones I’d visited a few times before,” Eric remembered. “But there was no question the presence of God was there, not like I’d ever experienced before.” The name of the gathering was Word Fellowship, where the jeans-wearing pastor, modern worship, and undeniable presence of the Holy Spirit, gave Eric the opportunity to hear, for the first time, the gospel presented in a way that was relevant to him.
Three weeks later, Eric gave his life to Christ.
At 18, Eric, as many of us also have done, made a temporary detour back into “the world” and out of fellowship with other believers. At that time, Eric’s friends at Word Fellowship, who were mostly older, had all graduated, and the Senior Pastor was called to a different church. Eric stopped going to church.
Once he was out of fellowship, things proceeded in a predictable pattern. Within weeks he had stopped reading his bible, stopped praying, and had gone back to his old life, doing the same old things he had done before–things which most young people do, in the hedonistic revelry of youth in American society; the only difference was, now Eric felt guilty doing these things, the Spirit within him convicting him that his actions were not in alignment with God’s will for his life.
“I don’t believe I lost my salvation,” Eric recalls. “I believe that once you are saved, you are always saved. But there was definitely a period of darkness in my life for awhile. It seemed like about six years, but it was really only about a year and a half.”
Finally, his cousin called him up and told him that Word Fellowship was starting a new church and asked if he would like to go. Eric went. Oddly enough, a drum set was set up on the stage, even though no one on the worship team played drums. They told Eric that the Spirit had told them to set up the drums and that someone who could play drums would be coming.
“I play drums,” Eric said, realizing then that God was speaking to him and moving on his behalf.
So the young Eric got involved with the new church and was once again in fellowship. A year and a half after that, the Senior Pastor told him they were looking for a Youth Leader. Though initially Eric resisted the prompting, feeling that he wasn’t qualified to be in leadership at the church, he eventually accepted the position as Youth Leader.
Called to Be a Pastor
One of the first things that happened under his watch was a Youth Takeover, where the youth ran the entire church service one Sunday, from the worship to the sermon. None of the youth, however, wanted to do the sermon.
“You’re the Youth Leader, you give the sermon!” They proclaimed.
“It’s my week off,” the Senior Pastor insisted, refusing to step in. “You figure something out.”
So, by process of elimination, Eric–who had never, growing up, expected to speak publicly–then preached his first sermon.
“It did feel natural,” he admitted. “But afterwards, I didn’t think anything more about it.”
A week afterwards the Elders of the church invited him to meet them for dinner.
“I was wondering, what did I say wrong?” Eric remembers, laughing.
But the Elders hadn’t summoned Eric to chastise him. They related how after hearing him preach, the Elders had felt called by the Lord to go into a 48 hour period of prayer and fasting, and about how, when hearing him preach, every Elder had experienced the feeling that he was called to be a pastor. They wanted to share this with him, to tell him about the calling they felt over him.
Initially, again, Eric resisted, thinking it couldn’t possibly be his calling. A pastor? Giving weekly sermons? After he had been told his whole life that he would never serve in a profession that involved public speaking?
Eric’s life verse then began to appear to him and resonate with his spirit: “But with God, nothing will be impossible for you.” [Luke 1:37]
Not long after that, at youth camp, someone who he didn’t know spoke over him confirmation that he was, indeed, called to be a pastor. Then, someone else at the church who had no idea that he had already been spoken over, came up to him and said they saw a pastoral ministry for him. So after three confirmations–believing the number 3 to have biblical significance implying completion–Eric finally accepted his call to be a pastor, choosing to believe his life verse, Luke 1:37, that “with God, nothing would be impossible for him.”
Eric was just finishing his Associates Degree in elementary education, at that time, which required that he transfer to another university to finish the degree. Instead, he changed his plans and enrolled in Philadelphia Biblical University (PBU), and his ministry began from there.
His first position was as an Associate Pastor in New Jersey, which was to include work as the Youth Pastor as well as general ministry. But the division of labor ended up being mostly work as the Youth Pastor, while helping out the Senior Pastor by preaching once a month. Starting with about 25 kids, the youth ministry had grown to over 100 by the end of his first year. With so many youth, Eric had his hands full and was, in reality, a full-time Youth Pastor.
Called to Naples
After about his 8th or 9th year in youth ministry, Eric began to feel a calling to something more–and the Elders at his church agreed. It was time for Eric to pursue a different ministry. He had in mind a position in a contemporary church that involve regular preaching. So he went online and used a search engine specializing in church vacancies to find the opening for Community Congregational Church in Naples.
He was considering, also, two other churches, one in Pennsylvania and another in Washington, and at first glance, the Naples church wasn’t the contemporary church position he had prayed for: the average age of church attendees at that time was about 70 years old, and the position wouldn’t involve regular preaching, which he had hoped for.
Additionally, the Associate Pastor position at C3 Naples involved creating a contemporary worship service from the ground up–something Eric had never done before. The position didn’t seem to match his prayer request, and he was puzzled when both he and his wife, Jamie, felt strongly that the Spirit was leading them to accept the Naples position.
“I believe God uses us in our weaknesses,” Eric relates. “Even though I had no idea how I was going to create a contemporary service, God led me to accept the challenge. I believe the Lord uses us in our weaknesses, in part, so that He gets the glory, so that it’s evident that what’s been done has been done through God, and not through our own power.”
Just as God had gone before him when he was a young man to set up the drums for him at the worship service he attended–the one that brought him out of darkness and back into the light of Christ–so now God went before him, opening doors and arranging things so that Eric’s destiny could properly unfold.
As it happened, nine months later the Senior Pastor left C3 Naples. Eric became the interim pastor, and finally, the Senior Pastor. God had been moving all along to prepare a place for Eric.
“It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come with the contemporary service, starting something from basically nothing and now averaging 110 people each Sunday,” Eric said.
One of the greatest blessings, Pastor Eric says, is realizing that he can’t accomplish anything in his own power. “The best blessing of all is seeing and feeling and experiencing the Holy Spirit move through me. Seeing people come to Christ, there’s nothing better than that, but I’m just an instrument, just a vessel–a conduit for the Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that does the ministry. God is the healer, God fixes. We’re just here to care. We’re just here to walk alongside. So me, as a pastor, as a shepherd, I’m here just to bring people as close to Jesus as I can and let Jesus do what He needs to do, let the Holy Spirit do what He needs to do. So when I see how far we’ve come at C3 with the contemporary service, I know that this isn’t my work–it’s all because of the Lord. I can’t really take credit.”
Naples Noteworthy asked about some of the challenges he had faced.
“A primary challenge for any pastor is you are dealing with so many different people from so many diverse cultural backgrounds, is how to prepare a sermon that can impact a woman in her 30s as well as a married couple in 70s,” Pastor Eric answered. “Clearly they are on different journeys but they all need to know Jesus. There again, it’s the Holy Spirit who steps in and helps me. The Spirit knows the messages people need to hear.”
Called to Embrace the Spirit
Naples Noteworthy first encountered Eric Cox and C3 Naples Church through the message series available online at their website, www.c3naples.org. As soon as we listened to a few of these messages, we knew there was something special happening at C3 Naples. We were struck by the humility and authenticity of Pastor Eric, a man who is unquestionably fully surrendered to Christ.
We asked him to share his thoughts on the contemporary service he created at the church, how well it was succeeding and the direction he believed the church was heading.
“We’ve come a long way. We started with nothing and now we’re bringing in an average of 110 people each Sunday. Where we’re going now is moving this church to be more into the Spirit. There is a such a dryness in the church. I believe all gifts of the Spirit are active today. We’re at a point that now that C3 has a good foundation, and I believe the direction heading is, as a church, to be practicing all the spiritual gifts and to see the church really moving into God’s presence, to really see a move of the Holy Spirit–not just at C3 Naples, but in the whole city. It’s really dry here in Naples. There are a lot of churches in Southwest Florida, yet many of them are not in active engagement with the Holy Spirit as they should be.”
Naples Noteworthy spoke of the prospect of a Revival in Naples, a vision many were seeing of something taking place along the beach, a sort of week-long Christian music festival joining together multiple churches in the city.
“We would be honored if the Lord has us be a part of that,” Pastor Eric replied.
So look out, Naples: we’re getting serious about this Revival Event. Naples Noteworthy told Pastor Eric we felt called to help spearhead the event and asked if he would consider being the “Lead Pastor” of what we are calling Naples Revival 2016–a Christian music festival along one of the Naples beaches. So visit us again in the next few months to find out more.
“What is your ultimate goal?” Naples Noteworthy asked.
“I just want to bring people as much as possible into the kingdom and into God’s presence now,” Pastor Eric answered. “That’s my ultimate goal as a pastor, that’s all I really want to do, is bring people into the presence of the Lord. There’s nothing more refreshing, there’s nothing that will satisfy the hunger, there’s nothing else out there that will get rid of the thirst, other than God’s presence. That’s my ultimate goal every Sunday, to bring people into the presence of God.”
If that is Pastor Eric’s goal, then he’s succeeding. How do we know? Because the Naples Noteworthy writer we sent to C3 Naples to interview Pastor Eric and write this feature article was so impressed by the church and the presence of God manifested there that she has become a member of C3 Naples herself.
C3 Naples offers two Sunday services, a 9:30 am “traditional” service in the Sanctuary, and an 11:00 am “modern” service in a more contemporary setting. The church is located at 15300 Tamiami Trail North (Rt 41) Naples Fl, 34110.
Three as One Concert
The C3 Naples contemporary worship team–which is actually composed of members from three different churches–has formed its own Christian band, Three as One, a Christian Music group that is passionate about sharing the gospel of Christ with the unreached and leading those who seek a deeper relationship with Christ in passionate worship.
The band is ready to launch its debut concert this Friday, April 24 at 7 pm at C3 Naples. Admission is free and doors open at 6.
Three as One hopes to go wherever God’s will takes them, but are starting in the SWFL area and are available to lead worship and play at local venues and churches in the area.
The feeling is that there is a major revival about to happen in the SWFL area and through music, churches can be brought together. Many Christians are attempting to bring their un-churched friends to church without success; Three as One offers an opportunity for the unreached who will be much more willing to attend musical events than to a church on Sunday. If your church is looking to offer a modern worship event where your members can bring friends who wouldn’t normally attend on Sunday, please contact the group about hosting an event.
Listen to Pastor Eric’s latest message from his series, God’s Waiting Room:
Best of Pastor Eric’s Messages
You can listen to Pastor Eric’s messages on the C3 Naples website, here. All of the messages are good, and here are a few of Naples Noteworthy’s picks for some of the best messages/message series:
I am Jonah Series
“The Ultimate Turn-Around”
(November 16, 2014)
- Scripture: Jonah 3
Theme/Brief Description: Repentance is foundational to the Christian faith and our walk with the Lord. The question is, how do we know if we’ve done it? Jonah 3 is a beautiful picture of what real repentance looks like.
“Given the Keys”
March 30, 2014
Scripture: Matthew 16:17-19
Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20
Scripture: Mark 11:1-11, 15-18
Scripture: Matthew 27:50-53, 28:1-10
Scripture: Acts 7:54-8:4
Theme/Brief Description: What did Jesus actually mean when he said to Peter “And I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19a)? What would happen if we actually took the keys that Christ gave us and used them? This first message of the series will tackle what it means to be the key holders of the Kingdom.
Kingdom Keys Series
Overall Theme: What would happen if the church really took the keys that Jesus gave to us, the Keys of the Kingdom, and used them? In this series “Kingdom Keys” (which started on March 30th we will be taking an in-depth look at that kind of church, from mission and vision, to worship, and living out our faith through the church practically and every day.
Given the Keys
Scripture: Matthew 16:17-19
Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20
Scripture: Mark 11:1-11, 15-18
Scripture: Matthew 27:50-53, 28:1-10
Scripture: Acts 7:54-8:4
Theme/Brief Description: What did Jesus actually mean when he said to Peter, “And I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19a)? What would happen if we actually took the keys that Christ gave us and used them? This first message of the series will tackle what it means to be the key holders of the Kingdom.