On this week's podcast, Marcus sits down with Neal Bataller. Neal is the senior leader of Platform 85. Listen to this week's podcast to see how he and his wife ended up starting a church in downtown Mobile and helping us remember that getting out there and loving people wherever they are in life is the most important thing.
Neal: Hello, I'm Neal Bataller. I'm the senior leader of Platform 85.
Marcus: Awesome, Neal. I'm excited to have you on the podcast.
Neal: Thanks for having me.
Marcus: Yeah. I really don't know how we met. I think it was just online, social media, some LinkedIn or-
Neal: Online, yeah, and then I think through ArtWalk.
Marcus: Yeah, I know I popped in one night. That was a really cold night. You guys were doing some really cool things. I think you had some painting, and you were offering hot chocolate, and stuff like that, and just opened your doors and were letting people come in and just spend some time inside, I guess, and more than anything. Anyway, I mean, we'll get to it. I'm very excited about what you all have going on. But before we get there, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where'd you go to high school, college. Ministry, I don't think is your primary.
Neal: Right. I'm bi-vocational.
Marcus: Yeah. Give me some of that information. I know you're married. Stuff like that.
Neal: Yeah. Yeah. I was born in Milton, Florida. My dad was in the military, in the Navy. Once we left Milton, Florida, we settled in Saraland, Alabama, just north of here. I grew up there, went to high school at Satsuma. Graduated in 1984.
Marcus: You are mostly local, then?
Neal: I am mostly local. Then, after that, after high school, I went in the Marine Corps and spent eight years in the Marine Corps.
Neal: Served one tour in the Persian Gulf War, Desert Shield, Desert Storm.
Marcus: Thank you for that.
Neal: Thank you. Got back from that. Of course, it was really unique, because my wife and I, we got married four days before I left to go to the Persian Gulf War. But got back from the war, spent another year. Got out after eight years. Then, we built a house out in West Mobile, raised two beautiful children. My daughter, Sydney, she's 26. She lives here in Mobile with her husband. My son is 23. He lives in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He serves on a church up there. After 28 years or so being out in West Mobile, we sold our house and fell in love with downtown Mobile, and here we are.
Marcus: That is awesome. Yeah. It is very interesting to me to hear people ... like the podcast that we were recording before you came in. Newsflash to everybody that's listening to this, we batch record these. We record four or five on a day, and then we release them over a period of a couple of weeks. When Neal walked in, we were actually recording the episode with Bill Sisson. We were talking about all of wonderful things that are going on downtown. I asked Bill. I said, "You know, at one point in time, you had in the Business View Magazine that there was $185 million worth of renovation happening in downtown Mobile right now." $185 million of renovation, and it's all residential, with the exception of most of those buildings also have some commercial component on the main floor. Then, above that, it's all ... You know? I guess we should tell people what you do. Why don't you say that, and then I'll finish my thought?
Neal: Well, I'm the senior leader, which some people really call that a senior pastor.
Neal: But I'm the senior leader of Platform 85, which is ... Some people think it's a nightclub when you first hear the name.
Marcus: Man, would they be sorely confused.
Neal: [crosstalk 00:03:50].
Marcus: Maybe not disappointed, but sorely confused when they walked in.
Neal: Yeah. Tell me about this place. But it is a church. We're a nondenominational church. When I said that my wife and I fell in love with downtown Mobile, we really feel like God really just put this place on our hearts. If you would've asked us two years ago if we would move to downtown Mobile, we would've told you absolutely not. But now we love it. Absolutely love everything that's going on, what our city officials are doing, all the growth. God said, "You know, you need to get down there and just love these people, and love them right where they're at, from the homeless community to the working class that comes down here during the week, to the business owners." We packed up, sold the house, and got down here. Now it's so much fun, just because we can get in in the evenings and walk down to any restaurant we want to and just meet people. That's what happening within the last years, we've just, in passing, meeting people, and they're getting to know our face, and then really finding out, okay, they're connecting us with Platform 85. We're a church down here just wanting to love people and love the city.
Marcus: That's where I was going, is I just think it's very cool that you all have looked to what is happening here. I don't know if you knew that all that was ... because, I mean, that's a fairly recent ... You popped up on the scene about the time when all of that was being announced, but all that renovation that's taking place, I mean, you're strategically positioned in such a great way. Because if those buildings, as they start to come online, those people are going to be looking for places to come and worship. There are already churches down that are like the Catholic church, or the Methodist church, and things like that. I don't know that there was ... You have a non-denominational ... I don't know maybe you are-
Neal: That's correct.
Marcus: You are? Okay.
Marcus: Non-denominational feel to you. I think that's something that is much needed in the landscape down here. I'm very excited about that. But why don't you tell us, how did you end up as senior leader of Platform 85, because I mean, you said you were in the Marines, and then you skipped over a whole bunch of your life.
Neal: A whole bunch of stuff, right.
Marcus: I raised some kids. Yeah, but what'd you do, man? In your former life, I mean, or do you still practice whatever it was that you were doing?
Neal: Well, I've been in retail, and over the years have had several different jobs. I guess it was through our kids that I just really felt, and to be transparent, I really felt inadequate to be a father.
Neal: With kids. God just began to do a work in my heart, drawing me to church. I told my wife, I said, "You know, we need to find a church." It's funny that we look at it that way, but I found everything in church. I had a worship experience that changed my life. Coming from what little bit of Baptist background that I had, everything was hymnals, and ... I didn't realize that there was contemporary style worship until I experienced it the first time I went to church.
Marcus: Yeah. You know I have a lot of involvement in church, too, or at least I did at one point in time?
Marcus: I don't ever tell people that their way of worshiping isn't the right way for them.
Neal: Right. You're right.
Marcus: Because some people really like that. But I would agree with you. I'm a recovering Baptist, is how I say it. I was born again in a Fundamental Baptist church, and I very much appreciated what they brought to my life.
Neal: Right, absolutely.
Marcus: But at the same time, you couldn't pay me enough to go back to a church like that. I mean, it would just be like, [groans], like everything in me, because I've experienced the freedom. I enjoy that very much, the artistic-ness of a more ... I don't know ... a more creative worship experience. Because that's how I live my life.
Neal: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:08:03].
Marcus: I want it to be like how I just express myself. Right?
Neal: Right. You're right.
Marcus: I think our God is big enough to cover all of those bases.
Neal: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Marcus: But you know? I cut you off, though.
Neal: Well, he wooed me into church, and I had this worship experience. From that, really quick story ... Our kids went to this church, and they also went to school there. They had a Christmas program. The principal got up, and he says, "Okay. How many men do we have here who are fathers of the children in this program?" I raised my hand. He says, "Well, after the program is over with, I need everyone to help me reset the stage, so we can be ready for Sunday for services. At the end of everything, all the men got up. We start putting everything together. Well, I gravitated toward the drum set. I begin to reset this drum set up. Unbeknownst to me, the actual guy that played drums for the church saw me setting these drums up. He asked me, he said, "How did you learn how to do that?" I said, "Well, I played drums back in high school." He said, "Neal, you need to be here at worship practice with us." From that day, I have been involved with ministry ever since then-
Marcus: That's cool.
Neal: From leading worship, helping with youth, to once I left that church, with as put on staff as a youth pastor, led worship there, learned how to play the guitar and to lead worship. This was over a span of, oh, goodness, probably 19 years. I became an associate pastor, was involved with two church plans. That's just been my life. Kids have grown up in church. My wife and I have served faithfully in church. Sometimes, I would be on staff, and then sometimes I would be bi-vocational, where I worked another job. Being part of two church plans and raising these kids, there was this point now that the kids are out of the house, God was saying, "Okay, it's a new season." We really felt the call to sell the house. Once we got in that process is when we began to fell in love with downtown Mobile. He says, "Okay, I want you down there." We began to come down to ArtWalk, and my wife and I would just pray. Where do you want us down here? You know? We saw this little church that was right next door to Spotted Tea, called Downtown Fellowship. He said, "Neal, I want you to go there." We got up the next Sunday morning, and we went into that church. They just loved on us, and we loved on them. I helped with them on their worship team. I served with them. They asked me to do some messages. About a year passed, and they decided to close the doors. They turned everything over to me and my wife-
Neal: Both of us worked out a lease on that building. That's how, overall, we got down here. Today, I'm still bi-vocational. I do full-time ministry, and I am a production supervisor at a fiberglass piping company out in West Mobile.
Marcus: Very good.
Neal: I love what I do as a supervisor. It's something different. Typically, people think supervisors come in and tell everyone else what to do. That's not my [crosstalk 00:11:50].
Marcus: Wait, wait. Shh. Don't say that, because there's people in the room that shouldn't hear what you're about to say. No, go ahead.
Neal: But the cool thing is that they are good at what they do. As a supervisor, what I'm supposed to do, what guys call me to do is get up underneath them and give them everything that they need to succeed in life, to succeed at this job. I really enjoy what I do at my other job, and I really enjoy being down here and having the church and just loving these people.
Marcus: That's really cool. How long has Platform 85 been operating out of that space?
Neal: Actually, we have been in the building for a year. Our first service was actually Easter Sunday of 2018.
Marcus: Okay. Getting close. Of 2018?
Neal: '18 was our first.
Marcus: Okay. Okay. Getting close to a year.
Neal: Yeah. Getting close to a year.
Marcus: How has that experience been? Because planting a church, for those of you that have never done that, and I can say that I have, planting a church is not an easy feat.
Neal: It has been challenging, just because of not knowing anybody downtown.
Marcus: Right. Sure.
Neal: But I think that's been the really cool part, is that we've been able to make connections and build our relationships that, if I wasn't going through the process of actually trying to find a building, I would've never made the relationships that I have now. What's really good about that is due to the fact that we live down here. It hasn't been easy, but it's been very, very rewarding. It's just a great testimony of how we got into the building. Because-
Marcus: No, it is. I've heard that testimony. Somebody mentioned it to me before, and I was just like, "Wow, that's incredible." But you mentioned something about trying to find a building, and you looked into-
Neal: Yes. Actually, we have found another building, and we're in the process this weekend of moving out of our building now and moving into our new building, which will be at 302 St. Michael's Street, which is two blocks north of actually where we're at.
Marcus: 302. Is that the Temple Lodge building? Or two blocks north, I'm sorry.
Neal: North. Yeah. Take it north.
Marcus: I'm trying to think of what's there. What's in that building?
Neal: Nothing right now. It's vacant. It was a Fly Studios, is what it used to be. It's right next door to a 450 Gallery and Port City Realty.
Marcus: Okay. I'll have to go by there and see where that's at. Is that a purchase, or is that a lease again?
Neal: It's going to be another lease, which is really good, because another great relationship by someone who owns several buildings [crosstalk 00:14:36].
Marcus: Very cool.
Neal: If we outgrow it, then possibly-
Marcus: Is that what's driving the change, is just more space, so you have more-
Neal: Actually, it's less space.
Marcus: Okay, very good.
Neal: It is actually less space, but it does seem more manageable for us.
Marcus: I got it, because that other space is quite large.
Neal: It is quite large. Building a new church like that, and like we're doing, we're just getting in place, like you were talking about, because there's a lot of people that are going to be moving downtown with all the new renovations and apartment complexes coming in.
Marcus: Yeah. Well, a lot of my questions that I usually ask people are more geared toward business, and you are ... I mean, technically speaking, you are a business owner. Right?
Neal: Yeah. Yes.
Marcus: Some people, they don't think of churches as businesses, but they are businesses.
Marcus: They have money that comes in. They have bills that need to be paid. They have payroll.
Neal: That's right.
Marcus: They have people that they have to manage. They have expectations that have to be met. Their product just happens to be really kick butt.
Neal: That's right.
Marcus: Sometimes, it can be really kick butt. Sometimes it can just be lackluster. I'm going to ask you some questions in regards to that, and I hope people don't take that as an affront. But you've already answered some of the questions that I normally ask. But if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Neal: One of the things that, when God gave me this vision, is that knowing that it had come from him, staying determined into doing it. He is in the process. God is in the process. There's going to be good days, and there are going to be bad days. But he's always showing us something in the midst of the process. When you understand that, then the goal is much, much easier to see. It's just, "Okay. What are you showing me right here, right now?" When you realize that, then he's going to move you to the next step. Stay determined into your goal and your vision and your dreams. Because he's going to make them happen, but you've got to go through the process of what he wants. Stay determined.
Marcus: Yeah. That determination and just staying focused, everybody has failures, but not everybody quits.
Neal: That's right.
Marcus: Not being discouraged by your failures to the point of getting up, and also being smart enough to not make failures that cause you to have no other choice but to give up. Right?
Marcus: Let's not sugarcoat it. At the same time, but not being so discouraged by your failures that you give up, because giving up is letting go of a dream and it's letting go of what God may have in store for you. I think that is really wise advice.
Neal: There was one other thing that really helped me, is that surrounding myself with powerful people that believed in me and were walking with me every step. Because when we lived out in West Mobile, and a lot of people, when we left certain churches, they always to know, "Okay, so what are you guys doing?" Having that, where I knew people were praying for us, and they said, "Now, we're with you, whatever you do." That right there also was one of the key things that kept me going when I hit some of those bad times.
Marcus: Yeah, some accountability.
Neal: Yeah. Being surrounded by some people who loved us and strong people.
Marcus: Yeah. Is there someone from the business world, or even from the ministry world, that motivates you, that you look to and say, "That person has kind of figured somethings out, you know, and you know, they've done X." I hesitate the question, but I mean, I hope you get it. I'm not saying you yearn to be this person, or anything like that. It's just like, there's a respect that I have for what this person has accomplished, and I'd like to see us get there.
Neal: Right, well, it's my pastor, Dr. Mark Wyatt. He brought me onboard when he saw something in me that said, "Hey, you know, God's calling you into this ministry." He made room. He made that happen. He built that platform for me.
Marcus: Where does he pastor?
Neal: Well, he was my pastor at Deeper Life Fellowship, which is now Pure Grace. He is retired, and he writes books, and he [inaudible 00:19:23]. But he is the one who has inspired me, because I've seen him go after something that was grassroots and make it, and God really poured into that because he was determined. Watching that and seeing that, that's what has inspired me, because he made a way for me. What we do down here is ... That's the whole premise behind Platform 85, is seeing the gold in people and pulling that out, and setting them up for success, whoever it is. That's been a big, big inspiration. He was just, and still is, a big inspiration.
Marcus: Yeah. Sometimes churches miss that. I love to see when churches have ... When they have the knowledge that they have to have formal processes that move people from point A to point Z. And they know how to do that with efficiency and with love and with nurturing. Because then, you see people grow, and really ultimately, that's what a church is there to do, is to see people grow from, "Hey, I don't even know who Christ is, and okay, now I believe in him. I've become a Christian. And now I want to serve." What does that look like? Ultimately, not everybody wants to go into a position of leadership, but at least serving and caring and loving on others and sharing their faith, and sharing their love in just being kind to other people. I think that's what churches are really geared towards doing.
Neal: You see it everywhere. I mean, because I use everything that I've learned, even in my other job. You know?
Neal: It's loving people, because when you get in the secular world, people don't understand love in a sense of in that type of world. It's like, well, how can you do this? It's like, "Well, if I'm secure in who I am, then I want to bring that up out of you." We're here. My job as a supervisor is not to sit around and fire and hire people. I want to see people succeed, because if I can put value into you, then you're going to make value into this company.
Marcus: And ultimately, into the area that they live, and their neighborhood, and the people that they impact, and the city, and the region, and everything. It just grows. I don't think people understand just how impactful their attitude to others around them and how they treat them makes a huge difference. It's not just those that you have to be nice to. It's not just your fellow employees, or your family, or whatever. It's literally everyone. Right?
Neal: Right. That's right.
Marcus: I've been recently having some conversations with somebody, and they were just telling me they were just blown away by how easily I make conversation with people. I'm like, "Well, why wouldn't I? This person could be one of the most interesting people I ever meet."
Neal: That's right.
Marcus: We were walking around one time, and there was a guy ... He was in an antique shop downtown. You've probably seen him before. He was DJing inside of the antique shop. Do you know who I'm talking about?
Neal: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Marcus: Phenomenal dude. Apparently, he has lived in Brazil and DJed in Brazil. Fun fact about Marcus that you probably don't know is my parents are from Brazil. We were able to like, boom. Now, granted, I haven't followed up with him to build on that, because there's not really an easy way like, "Hey." How do you go beyond just meeting somebody and then ... I need to get back to that antique shop and see him again. I really have a desire to do that over the course of the next couple of weeks, because I was just so impressed by him. He was just such a creative person. I see him on Instagram, and he's DJing and doing all this stuff. Anyway, it's not about me and this dude. He's somebody that I'd really like to get to know. But yeah, I mean, people, you never know who you're going to meet. You never know just by saying hi or being kind to somebody. You really don't know how you're going to impact somebody's day. If they're having just a really ... Forgive me, pastor. If they're having a really shitty day, and you just be kind to them.
Neal: That's right.
Marcus: You can completely flip their life in a way that you have no idea.
Neal: That's exactly right. Right. That's it.
Marcus: Anyway, I'm preaching.
Neal: That's the thing, man. It's built on relationships.
Marcus: Yeah, absolutely.
Neal: Now, you've got a relationship that time nor distance will ever change, because if you ever make eye contact again, it's like you've picked up right where you left off. You know?
Neal: It's listening to their cool stories. It's awesome. You know?
Marcus: Yeah. Are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been helpful in what you're doing?
Neal: Absolutely. There's one book that just rocked me. It's by Danny Silk. It's called Culture of Honor. It's exactly the same thing that we're talking about. God created us to be honorable people. Out of that, saying that even though someone doesn't deserve honor, I will honor them because God has created me to be an honorable person. Out of that, I can keep my love on throughout everything. That's one of the books that really said that ... It spoke identity into who I was. From that, it's made it easy for me to love people, because of who he's created me to be. Then, when I understand who he's created me to be, then I understand how he's created you and everybody in this city. There's gold in every person here. I want to find that gold and let that just shine. I want to bring that out. Because people are good, man. You know? There's goodness and there's greatness in everybody. We just need to pull it out, make this city great.
Marcus: Yeah. Now, that's awesome. Now, what do you like to do to unwind?
Neal: Oh, wow.
Marcus: Besides working two full-time jobs.
Neal: I love to exercise. I like to work out.
Marcus: Really, you're letting yourself go, man. I didn't want to say anything.
Neal: It's a stress reliever for me. But growing up down here, I love the beach. I love fishing, and I love playing golf. Those things right there. Last but not least is just a good dinner with my wife. [crosstalk 00:25:55].
Marcus: Yeah. We'll offend some restaurateurs, but what's your favorite restaurant right now?
Neal: Oh, man.
Marcus: You won't be able to show up in any other.
Neal: Oh, my goodness. That's a tough one.
Marcus: You see, I'm the host. You got to answer question. Don't give me some lame answer, like, "Oh, they're all really good." You know? I don't have any favorites.
Neal: I guess it depends on what kind of food that I want.
Marcus: Uh-uh (negative). Nope. Where'd you eat last?
Neal: Where did I eat last? I ate last at Royal Scam.
Marcus: Okay. Was it good? You know what? Of all the places you would say, I have not eaten at Royal Scam.
Neal: You've got to go to Royal Scam. You've got to go to Royal Scam.
Marcus: Is it good?
Neal: Excellent. Excellent.
Marcus: Yeah. Even Jared is shaking his head like, "You moron. You haven't been to Royal Scam? You've eaten at every freaking down here. How have you not eaten at Royal Scam?" I don't know.
Neal: Yeah. It's really, really good.
Marcus: Royal Street is interesting to me, like recently went to Joe Cane's and had pizza there. It was phenomenal. Who knew?
Neal: What'd you get? You got the Joe Cane?
Marcus: No, we just had pizza. Yeah. No, I don't remember what it was. I think we may have just made up our own, or something like that. No, actually, it may have been ... It had almost everything on it.
Neal: Oh, that's got to be it.
Marcus: Yeah, it was delicious. May have to go back there soon and get some of that. Now, tell people where they can find you.
Neal: Platform85.com is our website.
Neal: Of course, we are on ever [crosstalk 00:27:16] social media.
Marcus: All the socials.
Neal: You can get ahold of. Then, of course, we have our new location. It's going to be 302 St. Michael's Street. We're planning to take the first month, or the month of January, to do renovations. Then hopefully, first of February we'll be opened up for services.
Marcus: And getting ready for Easter.
Neal: Getting ready for Easter.
Marcus: And working all the kinks out?
Neal: That's right. Getting ready.
Marcus: Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Neal: I guess I think we've really hit them all. Just really stand determined, understanding that don't ignore the process, even though we sometimes dread it. Then, find gold in people. Look for the gold in people, because it's in everybody.
Marcus: Awesome. Yeah. Very cool.
Neal: Thank you.
Marcus: Well, Neal, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner. Right?
Marcus: It's been great talking with you.
Neal: You, too. Thank you.