A compassionate & practical faith

Pastor Robin Steele of PromiseLand Church holds up a tape during a sermon about creating a “Mixtape” of principles from the Bible for your family. PHOTO BY DEBBY LEDET

Pastor Robin Steele
We put a lot of effort into making the sermons very practical. We preach an understandable, practical sermon from the Bible and the message is usable when the listener walks out of the church.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth part in a series profiling San Marcos’ diverse religious leaders and what they bring to the community.

As senior pastor of PromiseLand Church, Robin Steele did not present the stature of the person I had in mind. I was expecting an X or Y generation, GQ model with an energetic personality, prepared to convince me of the new order of Christianity. The person I met was a mild-mannered, unassuming, 41-year-old with auburn hair, a mid-life physique, and a modest approach to the unusual growth of his congregation.

When asked to, “tell me about yourself,” Steele began, “I grew up in Buda. My family has been there for generations. I went to Hays High School.

“At about age 17, I began to have the idea that I was called to the church. Still in highschool, I went to my pastor in Austin and discussed my feelings with him. He directed me to get a secular degree and then come back and talk to him about pastoring if I still felt the call.”

So, Steele went to what was then Southwest Texas State University, and graduated with a degree in marketing in 1999. He was married three weeks later.

“I actually went into construction management, working for my dad for the first year out of college. Then, for a couple of years my wife and I lived in Taos, New Mexico where I was essentially on vacation.

“She had ambitions to be a midwife and could get training in El Paso, Taos or some place in Kansas,” Steele said. “Taos, it was. I taught ski school, skied every day. So, it really was a vacation until we ran out of money. She had to dropout of school. We got pregnant with our first child and decided to move back to Austin.”

I asked Steele if he did any missionary work with the Native Americans in the Taos area.

“No,” he replied. “I was part of a local church, but was not involved beyond that. It was when I came back to Austin that I first began full-time work in the ministry. I was the children’s pastor at PromiseLand in Austin. Since we are a nondenominational church, we do not have the same criteria for ministry that the main line churches require.”

After a couple of years as the children’s minister in the church in Austin, the senior pastor approached Steele with the possibility of starting a church in San Marcos.

“I loved the town, I loved the people there and I was eager to be involved,” Steele said.

“The area and the culture are appealing. I went to college here, and I knew that someday I wanted to pastor a church.

“It is interesting you wrote about Jackson Chapel. We held our first meetings there. They let us use the facility on Friday nights for free. So, about 30 of us met there. Kenneth Phillips, the pastor in Austin came down for a few meetings.”

As the church progressed, Steele was left to his own devices as Reverend Phillips turned it over to him with the admonition to, “Go for it.” This was 2003.

The fledgling congregation, then moved to the Alkek Library on the Texas State campus for a couple of years. My query was, “How does a religious entity negotiate the minefield of separation of church and state?”

Steele explained that they paid rent of about $1,000 a month and that one of their members was associated with the university and handled the negotiations for them. That arrangement lasted approximately two years.

In 2005, PromiseLand found property on Lime Kiln Road. It seemed an unlikely place for a church. It is out of sight, out of town and out in the country. The road is narrow with lots of curves and plenty of potholes. The closest neighbor is Dream Catcher Ranch, populated with what appears to be over 100 head of Angus cattle.

At the time, the congregation decided to seek its own facility, it had grown to around 150 people. On the property was an old warehouse which the congregation began to convert to a church with their own sweat, their own tools and manpower.

Recalling that he had once been in construction with his dad, I suggested, that he was, no doubt, deeply involved in the building renovation.

“Yes, I grew up working in the sun, hard work. Of course, we hired some limited technical expertise, but we did the work.”

I inquired about the congregation and it’s growth. “So, you moved here in 2005 with about 150 members and...?”

“In a couple of years, we had around 400 members. Once we got a building, we grew real fast. In 2010-11, we needed more space. In 2012, we built the other building. We have a total of around 20,000 square feet.

“We have been here about 14 years and each Sunday, we now have around 1,200 people for our three services. Last year we started a new church in Lockhart. I go out there about once a month. We do have a regular pastor, and about 150 members, but both churches are under the same leadership. Right now, we consider that we have one church with two campuses.”

At this point, Steele volunteered that there have been “some significant events that have shaped who we are. That was the birth of our first child.”

Robin Steele with his oldest son Jude, his wife Erica, daughter Kennady and youngest son Avery. PHOTO BY SHANNON LAFAYETTE

As he presented a small picture of his family, he said, “As you can see, she’s in a wheelchair. We were told during the pregnancy that she had a rare abnormality of the brain and that she might live one year. Kennady is going to be 16 next week. That obviously affected who we are. She needs 24 hour care. But she is capable of emotions, she laughs, she smiles, she cries; but she is unable to talk.

“Her brain did not divide in half as a normal brain does. The name of her malady is holoprosencephaly.

“She has been a blessing. We have become more compassionate people. Before Kennady, I had been sheltered. Great parents, solid, stable family – had everything we needed.”

In the picture are Steele’s two sons, one 11 and one 13. In light of Kennady’s handicap, I questioned him about their fears in having more children.

“There was fear,” Steele said, “but there was lots of prayer. We did genetic testing; we read a lot and fortunately we had two healthy boys. Steele elaborated that this condition is a random affliction which is a major cause of miscarriages and many of these children are not live births.”

He explained that he had always had the faith and it had never really been tested until Kennady came along. He said that when she was two days old, the doctor noted on her chart that she would never have a meaningful life. Steele asked himself, “What right does he have to presume she will never be meaningful.”

“I really resented that remark, but I’m so glad I saw it because it emphasized for me that God is in control and that he would make this situation meaningful.”

I pointed out that many people, myself included, would not consider this a blessing. It conflicts with what we all think of as a blessing. Explain.

“You have two choices,” Steele began. “You can try to handle it yourself or you can surrender this to God. My wife and I agreed and admitted we did not understand it and we had no idea how it would work – how we could handle it, what it meant – but God is in control. A woman in the church with a handicapped child told us to just take it one day at a time. It’s an old shopworn cliché, but it was excellent advice.”

To follow his own advice, Steele is quick to quote scripture and to take lessons from Christ’s own teachings. It gets him and his wife through “one day at a time.” Steele elaborates that, once he worried about the future, but through prayer and faith, he has come to realize that “Today, with God’s grace” is all he has. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

I asked about the boys. “They are two normal boys of their age,” Steele said. “Football, bike riding, all the activities of healthy young boys. They are home schooled and do well with grades.”

Back to Steele and Promiseland. My question. “What did you do when all this rapid growth occurred and what is responsible for it? With these numbers, it appears you have 100 percent attendance.”

“No, the ladies in a room down the hall are preparing about 2,000 mailouts. So, we don’t get 100 percent, but remember, I told you I have a marketing degree. We market Jesus.

“We have a contemporary service, music is very upbeat – drums, strings, etc. We put a lot of effort into making the sermons very practical. We preach an understandable, practical sermon from the Bible and the message is usable when the listener walks out of the church. Example: How do you solve marital conflicts in a Biblical way.

“And our leaders are very diverse, so when people enter the sanctuary, they see people like them. We connect with the college students in a special way and there is a broader audience here that makes our constituents feel more at home.

“Our diversity, while drawing a sizable congregation, has driven some away. But children are a huge part of our mission.” Having said that, Steele went through a litany of programs provided for the kids. I thought it would never end.

I asked for a bumper sticker description of Promiseland. That’s when Steele became emotional. Recalling the God-given success, coupled with the belief-driven hard work of the members, his response through his tears was: “I don’t know. I don’t deserve it, but I guess we just jump out in faith.”

San Marcos Daily Record

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