Against the odds
I am now in my 30th year as senior pastor of Millersville Bible Church.
It’s amazing that a thriving ministry grew out of such lowly beginnings. When considering ministry in Millersville, Pennsylvania, caring friends warned me that the odds against us might be too great.
They thoughtfully encouraged me to be careful about my decision. They saw potential frustrations. And the fact is that nothing about the original situation met the “required” standards for Church growth.
Four main obstacles were cause for concern.
- First, the original group consisted of seven remaining members from a Mennonite Church. This included the two former pastors and their wives, the former senior pastor’s son and sister, and one other elderly woman. All experts would consider this a potentially volatile group for starting a new church.
- Secondly, we had an inadequate facility. The old Church (1876) had character but it was structurally unsound. It was also very small. It had inadequate parking, nursery, and bathrooms provisions. There were no Sunday school rooms. It had no foyer, no A/C and hardwood pews. It also had a persistent musty smell (perhaps due to the countless bats living in the rafters).
- Thirdly, I was very young (24 years old). My wife and I were expecting our first of four children which meant that we had limited life experience.
- Finally, we had limited financial resources. My starting salary of $130.00 per week (no benefits), required me to hold two jobs–for the first four years.
Despite the “odds,” in 1985, we moved to Millersville to start a Church.
We believed that God wanted this Church to serve the community and the college campus. The strongest attraction for us was the strategic location of the little old church within walking distance to the entire campus of Millersville State University. Although no students attended the church when we arrived, we were excited about the potential for campus ministry.
The early years were challenging.
Establishing a church, starting a family and working a “side” job required focus, discipline and determination – more than i realized. Within the second year of our ministry, 30 people from the community and at least 50 University students began attending. This, of course, did not provide much additional financial resource, but we refused to let that hinder our desire to reach university students.
By our third year, we purchased an adjacent apartment building to convert for Sunday school and office use. Toward the end of the fourth year, I was able to receive a modest full-time salary and by the fifth year we actually added a full-time associate pastor at an even more modest salary.
As it became nearly impossible to maintain growth on our existing site, we made three decisions that stacked the odds more strongly against us.
- First, we decided not to sell our existing site near the college.
- Secondly, we committed to paying off a small debt on our new Sunday school building (approx. $40,000.00).
- Finally, we committed to a debt-free approach to our next step of expansion.
Although we were convinced that these were wise decisions, we knew it would require a very special provision from God. The “odds” seemed insurmountable!
Land and building are always expensive. Paying our existing debt seemed like a big enough challenge. But we rested in the truth that God delights in doing what appears impossible to man. The God who had provided in the past would provide in the future.
Entrusting the material and financial needs to God, we strongly believed that he wanted us to tend to the quality of ministry. “Ministry before material needs” became a kind of motto for us.
God put us in a position to reach all our goals.
During our time of waiting and praying, we held Sunday services in a middle school, purchased a bus to transport students and prayed for a permanent site for our growing church.
After many inquiries about potential sites, the church purchased the Lancaster Youth for Christ building and property (1940 New Danville Pike). Our new facility, located on 15 acres, is four miles from the town of Millersville.
After completing extensive renovation, the Church moved to its new home in the fall of 1998.
Against all odds, the little Church has grown to over 500 attendees and now supports six full-time pastors and eight part-time staff. We’ve also supported missionaries and pastoral interns.
We continue to expand our New Danville Pike facilities to provide for a constant stream of growth. We have also extended our facilities in the town of Millersville with the purchase of an additional property. This site provides for our offices and student ministries.
My wife and I look back with gratitude to God for many years of ministry in the Millersville community. Our children are now young adults who love God and love the Church that has been their home Church their entire lives.
We give God the glory for using weak vessels to do a great work!