After 29 years leading The Rock, a nondenominational Christian church in Castle Rock, Pastor JR Polhemus has, quite literally, passed the baton to his son, Mike Polhemus.
Mike left a career in engineering to join The Rock as an executive pastor in 2014. He said he never intended to become a pastor like his father.
Being a pastor is heavy work, Mike said. A pastor helps many people with their problems, carries their load as if it was his or her own, and works late nights. Mike has gotten accustomed to 17-hour workdays.
“You’re walking through life with people,” he said.
He only left engineering, he said, once an opening at The Rock became available and he believed, after months of prayer, it was his calling to pursue it.
JR will take a three-month sabbatical, saying it was simply the right time to step down as senior pastor. He’ll return to The Rock as an associate pastor under his son.
The transition of power took place on Jan. 29 during JR’s final Sunday sermon. The congregation listened to JR reflect on his nearly 40 years in ministry before he acknowledged that transitions of power don’t always go well.
As an example, he pointed to the U.S. men’s 4x100-meter relay performance during the track and field competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Despite crossing the finish line third, the team was disqualified for an improper handoff, losing the bronze medal to Canada.
But JR has full faith in his son, he said, describing Mike as a person of excellence. So when it came time to step down, Mike joined him on stage. To the laughter of their audience, the father-and-son duo grabbed a baton and completed a mock relay handoff to symbolize the transition.
And no, they didn’t drop the baton.
Ronnie Haynes is an 18-year member of The Rock and served as executive pastor before Mike for 10 years. He now serves as an elder with the church, and worked with both JR and Mike before his retirement.
“They’re great poeple and they have a huge heart for outreach and Castle Rock,” Haynes said. “That’s the major thing that Pastor JR is passing along to Mike. The love of people and Castle Rock and surrounding areas.”
He said their love for outreach is likely what spurred the church’s growth.
The road that led The Rock to its current membership of 3,500, with approximately 1,200 attending weekly Sunday services, had its highs and lows.
In 1988, JR took over a little Castle Rock church of 70 people who met in a warehouse. He would soon find out that the church was $50,000 in debt, he said. So, he kept his business job and commuted from Denver on Sundays.
JR wanted to turn away, he said. But he also believed he heard God tell him his new congregation were sheep needing a shepherd. So, he stayed.
Growth came in spurts throughout the decades, Mike and JR said.
The time came for a new building, but securing the land where the church now sits was a battle in and of itself. Neighbors wanted it kept as open space, JR said, and the planning commission voted down the development plans. In an unexpected move, the town council approved the building despite the planning commission’s recommendation.
The Rock has enjoyed its home in The Meadows at4881 Cherokee Drive since 2006 when the building project was completed.
These days, the church is staying busy.
Mike said The Rock works closely with both local government entities and other churches in Castle Rock.
The Rock was one of several churches to partner with Douglas County on the Winter Shelter Network, where the church houses homeless women and children during the winter months.
The Rock also hosts a free meal every Wednesday for residents of Castle Rock. The events are meant to bring the community together. In 2016, they served 11,190 meals.
Part of The Rock’s mission is to “transform” the community through real action, he said.
“This is us getting out and radically loving people,” he said.
In a way, Mike said he feels guilty taking over The Rock when it is in good shape, keeping in mind the church’s state when his father first became its pastor.
But moving forward on the shoulders of his father, and his father’s wife Yvonne, who led women’s and children’s ministries, he hopes to continue the church’s mission.
“It’s amazing what they have done,” Mike said. “I do not take this lightly.”
JR called the past 29 years “gratifying,” and said working with his son was “an honor and a joy.” And, he believes his son is ready for the challenges ahead.
“As long as I’m on earth,” JR told the congregation Jan. 29, “I’m going to be rooting on my son.”