Courtney McBeth: Pastor and Passionate Leader

Courtney McBath serves as the Founding Pastor of Calvary Revival Church (CRC) in
Norfolk, Virginia. He also serves as the leader of Calvary Leaders Network (CLN), a
growing group of leaders, who serve the church and the marketplace globally. He is also
the President of the Virginia Christian College in Dumfries, VA.

Courtney began preaching at 13 and was formally ordained at 18 years of age. After
completing his undergraduate studies at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT) he went on to work in an architectural engineering firm and two
other Fortune 500 companies. In 1990, McBath moved his family to Norfolk to start CRC which grew from 21 people to a membership of over 7000 today. Having served as a church planter, senior pastor, bishop and business leader, Courtney’s heart is to
educate and encourage leaders globally.

Currently, Courtney serves leaders in several nations on five continents and is
committed to encouraging servant-leaders for life. In addition to his double major in
humanities and engineering from MIT, McBath also holds a Masters in Biblical Studies
and Practical Theology from Regent University, an earned Doctor of Ministry degree
from Providence Theological Seminary and will receive a Post Graduate Diploma in
Organizational Leadership from Oxford University in 2024.

Courtney has been married to Janeen McBath for over 42 years. They have four sons, a
daughter, a son-in-law, two daughter-in-laws, 5 grandsons and a grand-daughter.
Courtney and Janeen reside in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

Thank you for listening! We hope you feel inspired and encouraged by our conversation today. If you did, be sure to share this episode with others.


I was born and raised in East Tennessee. So country boy. Town’s so small that nobody knows where it is. Maryville, Tennessee is where I was born. At 17, left there, went to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend MIT. And and that’s kind of how I got there. I got started now. I’m actually, I reside in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area, make my home in Chesapeake, Virginia, my church and offices are in Norfolk, Virginia.

And that’s where I am now. Nice family. Married to Janine for 42 years. Five kids, five grandsons kids from 31 to 41. And Two, two daughter in laws amazing son in law who’s actually the successor to my church. My son in law is the next pastor of our church that we started 34 years ago. 5, 000 member church.

And you started the church as a 30 year old Courtney. Okay. Hold on a second. Did you say you went to MIT? Yes. Tell me how did you get there? What did you study at MIT?

I did, I was a dual major, humanities and engineering. Started out in nuclear engineering because I’m an East Tennessee boy. So Oak Ridge National Labs and Tennessee Valley Authority, that’s my upbringing.

I was working for the Tennessee Valley Authority when I was 16 years old. So, so my interest is high level in nuclear power, nuclear engineering. So I went to MIT for that purpose after I got there. They started a new program which gave you a chance to get a humanities degree and an engineering degree.

So I did, I switched into that major and did both. And centered in a program that at that time was very novel called Science, Technology, and Society. So MIT was way ahead of the curve. That was Gosh, 40 years ago, they were already talking about those kinds of things. And that’s where I got my degree. I can’t, I didn’t know that about you.

I can’t even talk to you. I got my mechanical engineering degree from the university of Iowa, go Hawks. And I also studied English while I was there. So you’re my hero. You’re doing humanities and engineering, but you’re doing it at MIT, which I never would have been able to get into a guarantee that it was a miracle that I did.

When I was in the 11th grade, 10th grade, I took the PSATs. I scored high enough to become a National Merit Scholar. And I was going to Bible college because I was already called to ministry. And so my, but I kept getting these weird letters from places like Yale and Brown. And MIT and Harvard. And so my guidance counselor, who was also a Christian said, you know what, Courtney, I know you’re going to Bible college because you called a bit faster, but you think God might be saying something in all these letters that you’re getting, offering you all these scholarships.

So I listened to her and that’s, MIT sent me a letter that said, we’ll bridge the gap between what your parents can pay and what it costs to go to this institution. I said to myself, you guys obviously don’t know what my parents can pay. And I’m going, and I’m going, but I’m going to try it and see if you really mean that.

So I, they flew me in there to check out the college, you know, heavy recruiting, trying to get minorities. So I flew in there, and when my plane landed, I knew in my heart, this is where I’m going to school. I never applied to another college, except MIT. Except MIT. You were happy with your education there.

Happy is probably not the right word. Okay, I know it was the right place. It was hell to pay going through that, but it was where I was supposed to be. And and one, a lot of my atheist friends to Christ while I was there. I have one atheist friend who’s now a pastor that I wanted to the Lord as a, as a kid at MIT.

and still have a whole cadre of folks who are serving the Lord now. And and we met at MIT, where I was the president of the Black Christian Fellowship at MIT. So you could imagine the size of that group of people, because there weren’t that many like people at MIT to begin with. There were a lot more Africans than there were African Americans at MIT.

So then, and then now we narrow it down to Christians. It wasn’t, it wasn’t a huge fellowship. I got a little narrow for it. Yeah. But, but it was great. And it, that kind of became a platform to which I was able to reach out. to college and got connected to a great church in Boston. And that’s kind of, I met my wife at that great church.

But you’re rooted, rooted, rooted in your faith before you go to college. Yes, very much so. So you’re going there and you’re doing evangelism and you’re sharing your story and you’re doing all that kind of thing. And all that, and all my studies did was affirm my faith. You know, people would say, didn’t it, didn’t your faith struggle?

I said, absolutely not. First time I sat in the nuclear physics class and I asked them, how does that, how does this work? Now you’ve got, you’ve got protons and neutrons at the center of an atom and neutrons have no charge. They’re neutral. Protons are positively charged. And we know that light charges repel.

The professor says we’ve not been able to figure that out. And what we’ve decided, and the guy who. Figured out that we don’t know why. His name was Vanderwall. So we say the atom is held together by Vanderwall’s forces. Oh, I said, so you guys think I’m crazy because I believe God holds it all together, but you guys say that the forces that hold it together are an unknown force named after the guy who discovered that it shouldn’t stay together.

So that’s fantastic. So that was so that my faith just skyrocketed. I said, Oh gosh, I said, I got the answer. It says that Jesus, that, that all things were created by him and by him, all things are held together. I said, so the force that you don’t understand, I can explain very easily. You’re like you’re like the Apostle Paul telling them you guys got this unknown God.

Well, let me tell you about your unknown God. Let me, let me introduce you to your unknown God. Cause I actually know who he is and I know his name. At MIT. That’s fantastic. So that’s, my ministry kind of took off from there. Became an assistant pastor about 20 years old there in Boston. While you’re in school.

While I’m in school. So, so, worked an engineering job for a huge architectural engineer building a nuclear power plant on, on Long Island. So, did that and then and worked in the church full time along with my engineering job. Got married. First two kids were born. Then I’m in 84 moved back to East Tennessee, went to work for Texas Instruments, but actually went back for spiritual reasons.

I felt like the Lord was kind of calling me back to Tennessee and back home. And and it turns out that my mother contracted breast cancer and died three years after I got home. Ah, so. I got to spend the last three years of her life with her. She died at 44. My mom was only 17 when I was born. Wow. Yeah.

So we were very close and very close in age. She died at 27 years old when I buried my mom and I was so grateful the Lord got me back home. So those, I got to see her and she got to see my two oldest kids and spend time with them before she, before she passed away. And so I stayed, I stayed there in Tennessee for another three years.

And in 1990, my little church that I was a part of Calvary Church sent me, quote, unquote, sent me to Norfolk, Virginia to plant a new church. And with a whopping 150 a month. And an engineering degree from MIT. Engineering degree from MIT. Yeah, I get it. I get to Norfolk, Virginia, submarines, shipyards, the works, nuclear subs, big rehab, and I can’t get a job.

Really. I had started the church, but I was thinking, hey, I’m going to be responsible. I’ll supplement this. I’ll be bivocational until the church gets gone. And, I just, it didn’t work. Why couldn’t you get it done? Cause God closed every door. Nobody ever had a reason why they didn’t hire me. He didn’t want you by vocational and anything.

Because in nine months, my church went from 10 people to 300 people. And in two years, it was at 2000. And I said to realize why I didn’t get the job because one, I wasn’t going to need it. And two, I could never begin to take care of what I was responsible for. If I had taken that job, you’re the pastor, you’re on the desk, giving the message, the congregation blows up in front of you.

People would say, how do you do this? And I’d say, well, I’m kind of like the little boy with the huge, with the big dog. And the old guy says, you’re such a little kid. How do you, how do you lead this big dog? And the little boy says, I just find out where he wants to go and follow him. That’s how I felt leaving the church.

Because I was a 32 year old kid from East Tennessee who’d never been in a church bigger than a couple hundred people. And this was mind blowing to me, what God did. But he kinda, I started, I got on television. That was a major anomaly. I got on television and 11 o’clock at night, And the guy that got me on TV, secular television station, he says, I said, I said, Hey you guys get Nielsen ratings?

He said, he said, pastor, he said, we do, he said, but you’re you’re preaching at 11 o’clock at night. He says, I don’t want you to be disappointed in this cause you could do really well, but you’re never going to show up on Nielsen ratings. About three months later, he calls me and he says. Pastor, I guess I was wrong.

He said, because it looks like there’s three to 5, 000 homes that are tuning into you every Sunday night at 11 o’clock. He said, you’re showing up on these ratings. And in two years we became the most watched Program second to CBS news on Sunday morning in that area. Cause I had to ask him for an 11 o’clock spot on or eight o’clock spot on Sunday morning.

He says, pastor, he says, those spots have been taken for years. You’re never going to get one of those spots on our station. One day he calls me in a panic. He says, pastor, he says, Jimmy Swagner, just, just quit on us. He said, can you just put your program on and you don’t have to pay for it. He said, we just need to put something good in that space.

And that’s how I ended up in that spot. And I’ve been there for 30 years. Still there. Still there. Wow. So the church is, how is the church today? Church is great. We’ve got 5, 000 or so members during the pandemic. There were 10, 000 people connected to us from all over the world. Yeah. We’ve got about 5, 000 members.

Church is growing. Kind of taken off And I’m real proud of it. MIT guy nuclear engineer pastor mega church this year impressive Well, it’s it’s all very so good this is all just grace of God because I’m still just a kid from East, Tennessee grew up on a farm and and I still pinch myself in the morning and think What in the world?

You know, people talk about imposter syndrome. For me, it’s not a syndrome. It’s like a, it’s like real life. I’m always thinking what am I doing here? And of course we’re sitting in oxford. I’m thinking Okay. Yeah. Yeah, they make a mistake and let me in here, but you know, that’s god’s pretty amazing Okay, I want to get I want to get down to the to the point of it Which is to ask you the question.

What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done before I touch on that Let me segue into it with this How do you relate fear and courage? If I was going to ask you how those two things are interrelated to calibrate that courageous thing, how would you say fear and courage are related? This is, this is an interesting question because the apostle Paul once said, God has not given you the spirit of fear, but of power and love and sound mind.

So I’ve often said to people, you know, guys don’t say things like that unless they know you’re going to be fearful sometimes. Because you wouldn’t need that little piece of information about where fear comes from if you never had fear. So obviously, you know, as he writes to his son Timothy, he’s, he knows Timothy’s going to get scared sometimes.

He just needs him to know that we’re the source of that. So what I’ve often said is, you know, I, I have fears too, but I just try to reconcile that as those fears are not initiated by, by the Lord. What he gives is courage, which for me is, is faith. So I just, my attempt every day is to walk or operate by faith instead of by, by fear.

I have this caveat. It’s almost like an ace in the hole that God says I work everything together for good. So even my fears will work for my good. They may cause me to trust him a little bit more, to be a little bit more courageous. Because I understand where fear comes from. That it either comes from me or some other source, but it doesn’t come from God.

So, that’s kind of how I calibrate the two. I understand the tension between feeling fear, but operating in courage. Because I recognize that courage comes from God. Yeah. It’s very well put. No, I really liked that. I, I, you’re, you’re making me think, you know, there’s so many times you read in the Bible, do not fear God, but, but the thing that I have to sit back and understand is that God understands my human condition even more than I understand.

So that statement in itself implies that I’m going to have fear. Yeah. So don’t stay there. That’s right. Come and give it to me. God knows that we’re human. So some angel shows up and we’re petrified. And he says, fear not. Right. Because I know what’s going through you. Because I know what you’re thinking right now.

I know you’re about to pass out. So don’t be afraid. And so, and God comes alongside us. All the time and just whispers, don’t fear, just trust me. So you say courage is a, is a faithful response is the faithful response to fear. Exactly. Okay. So Courtney, tell me, what is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

So the most courageous thing I’ve ever done, maybe it’s not the most, but for me, it was, It was kind of a life change for me. I shared with you a few minutes ago, kind of the whole MIT story. Yeah. So I, so I’m 17, 16, 17 years old. My parents divorced when I’m 12, about 12 years of age. And things got really rocky for me.

But I was able to keep my grades up, became president of my, of my, my little senior, senior class. And And I’m thinking, okay, I know I’ve got this calling. And I want to fulfill this calling.

But as I shared with you earlier, it appears that I’m not going the traditional route. That that there’s this opportunity to go to engineering school, and not just any school, but to, but to attend MIT. So, So I take the, all the exams and I get the application. And, and this is 1977. And it’s between 50, 000 and 60, 000 a year to go to school there.

And I’m right next to, I live next to the University of Tennessee. Go Big Orange. And and the head of the nuclear engineering department is also the superintendent of my little school system where we, where I went to high school and he’s already got everything set up for me. I can go to university of Tennessee and never pay a dime.

As I’ve, he hands me my diploma from high school. He says, Courtney, if you don’t like MIT, you can always come right back to University of Tennessee. We got, that’s what he whispers to me as I’m walking across the stage. So, so, so, but I knew in my heart that this is something I’m supposed to do and I’ve never been to a big city.

I’ve only flown in a plane one time and that was only like a 25 minute flight. Maybe 15. And I’m 17. My mom and I, basically. I don’t have any money. My mother has zero money to put into this. Except maybe to kind of make sure I got clothes. So, I applied to MIT. And I don’t think applying is the most courageous thing I ever did.

I think actually going was the most courageous thing I ever did. Because I’m not even street legal. I’m 17 years old and I go there to attend a summer program called Interphase, which was designed to help minority students who had come from not so strong high schools, but had been accepted a summer program for them to kind of get acclimated.

So I’m in Boston, Massachusetts, Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m in an institution that’s, I will discover is world renowned. I didn’t even realize what, what I was stepping into really at 17, but I go anyway and all I got is the clothes on my back and stuff in my suitcase and I don’t have it and I don’t have a dime.

And every day I gotta just trust God to supply what I need. I go to financial aid office every semester. To sign up for Pell Grants or student loans or whatever. And this ain’t just for tuition. I gotta figure out how to eat. I gotta figure out how to, how to survive. And Boston’s an expensive city.

Because Boston’s expensive and Cambridge even more so. You know, we’ve got, I’ve got Harvard on one side and MIT on the other, where I, where I live. And as small as this may sound, one day I’m going to church and I’ve, and the Boston wind is blowing through my clothes because I don’t have the kind of clothes that you need for that kind of environment, but I got the best I can get.

But I’m determined to go to church that Sunday. And I have no money. I don’t have enough money to pay for this, but, but, but God said, go to, we’re going, I said, okay. So I walked to the bus stop. I’m eight. I may be just about to turn 18. I go to the bus stop. I wait for the bus

and two occasions I can recall. So I walk up to the bus. And these folks who drive these buses are about the meanest people you’re ever going to meet, and they kind of have to be. When I get ready to step on the bus, I looked at that bus driver. I said, I don’t, I don’t have anything. He said, get out. He takes me to church.

Wow. Get in the bus, get in the bus. He takes me to church and I’m, and, and I never had to do that. I never had to do that again. Because from that day forward, every need that I had for the next four years, God supplied every tuition, books, clothes, food, everything. And from some of the most unusual. sources he supplied.

So I, so I’ve survived a four year experience at MIT. That four year experience is probably one of the most courageous things I did some things that probably were more courageous, but I think this ranks a little bit higher because I was so young and had so little experience in the world. And as a result of that, I would I’d get the opportunity to talk to guys who went to Bronx School of Science for high school.

simply said God does not exist. And and in time those guys would give their hearts to Christ and serve Him for the rest of their lives. And what we started with, I don’t believe any of this stuff you’re talking about. And so that, that one courageous experience launched me into probably where I am today.

Because I’m still sitting among people who do not believe the God that, that I serve. And in our cohort, I had a young man sit by me at dinner, and he says to me, he says, Courtney, he says, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a Muslim, and of course I greatly respect that. And he says, but I’m obviously not a very devout Muslim, as he pointed to his glass of wine.

Yeah. He says, but he says, and my parents are there devout. He said, but I’m a finance guy. He said, I really had kind of concluded that God’s not really real. It doesn’t really exist. He said, but every time you speak something makes, something happens inside me and I think. That kind of power has got to come from somewhere other than a person.

And so here I, so here I am, 50 years later, 45 years later after that courageous experience at MIT, and those things are still happening. I’m still sitting by people who don’t believe he exists, but somehow I get the opportunity to influence them. Because of that one act of courage. And I think that’s what makes an act of courage.

Significant, not because we did anything great because for me, based on my faith, I don’t think I get it. I don’t get credit for that. You know, I only did it because I was inspired to do it. But what makes it an act of courage is not what happens in the moment, but the things that happen as a result.

That’s in my mind. That’s well, that’s what I wanted to ask you, Courtney. I mean, that is, that’s. A perfect example of just what I’m talking about, you know, this courageous stuff. So, Hebrews chapter 11 says that without faith it’s impossible to please God. Which is a really powerful statement. My friend, Professor John Lennox says, That faith is not, I’m going to paraphrase this.

It’s not leaping into the unknown. It’s a, it’s a practical response to evidence because you know, but you just don’t know what’s on the other side of it. When you, when you took that act of faith as such a young man, was that, was that your mindset? Look, I’m following God. I feel like this is the right thing.

I don’t know what’s on the other side of this, but I’m just going to. Do it. And that was the courageous thing. And my evidence was they accepted my application. Now, I don’t know what’s on the other side of that evidence because they’ve accepted my application, but they didn’t pay, but everything’s nothing’s paid for.

Yeah. So I’ve still got to operate in faith and courage. But but I totally agree with Dr. Lewis that It’s, it’s, it wasn’t a blind leap. It was a very much informed leap, but it was still a leap. Yeah. Oh, that’s great. Okay. Last, last little question that I have for you, let’s leave the listeners with some inspiration.

How would you encourage them? If somebody is facing a dilemma or a question of whether they should do something or whatever, they’re on this side, Of a brave act and we need to get them to the other side. How would you encourage them to you know, I think i’d tell them that for me I’ve got lots of stories in scripture and people I know who’ve done amazing things and They did those things with courage and faith and those Those things appeared impossible to them.

They were huge challenges That’s encouraging. But the most encouraging thing I can ever do is remember the things that have already happened for me. And I think everyone who’s listening to you has some history where they can remember another time where they faced a challenge, a situation that seemed impossible, but they got through it.

It’s amazing how sometimes we get selective amnesia. And we remember the times it didn’t work and forget the times that it did. So I just want to remind folks of those times when, before in your life, when it looked impossible, but it worked out. This can, this can be just another one of those times, because you’ve got some history and you know that things do work out when you, when you have trust and courage.

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