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2022 SBC Pastor’s Conference preacher planted church during COVID-19

Pastor Mathew Mueller leads worship at Valley Life Church in North Peoria, Ariz., which he planted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Submitted photo

NORTH PEORIA, Ariz. (BP) – Mathew Mueller had suffered a military-career-ending car accident and his father’s suicide in the years before sharing with pastor Brian Bowman in Tramonto, Ariz., his call to Gospel ministry.

“Well, I said, ‘Mat, you’ve never been baptized; let’s just start there,” Bowman told Baptist Press. “We baptized him, and I put him in a cohort with a couple of other guys who were also pursuing ministry, and I met with him every week.”

Church planter Mathew Mueller was called to the ministry after a car accident ended his military career as an Army combat medic. Submitted photo

After more than a year of discipleship and a stint as Valley Life Tramonto’s director of guest services, Mueller was tagged to plant a Valley Life Church in nearby North Peoria in March, 2020, about the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S.

“It was like a week before Mat’s big party in the park for his neighbors,” Bowman said, “the world shut down. So we just had to basically adjust our expectations. What we hoped would be launching large and growing quickly, turned into just serve your neighbors. … Because at the time, people wouldn’t even come out of their house.”

Mueller and his wife Tracy persevered in planting the church and in parenting their adopted newborn, Briella, now 3½ years old.

“Through the adversity of deployment, my car accident that almost cost me my life, my father’s suicide, infertility and miscarriages,” Mueller said, “the Lord was cultivating in my heart a right dependence on Him. In all the struggle and hardship we can clearly look back and see God at work preparing my heart, my family and my grit for ministry.

“Tracy would often tell me that if God has indeed called us to this, He will see us through this.”

Mueller began online worship and found unique ways to bless the North Peoria community. They began with a feeding outreach. As the community revived, Valley Life began holding Sunday evening services at nearby Discovery Pointe Church, a fellow Southern Baptist congregation. In July 2021, the church moved to Zuni Hills Elementary School, where it currently meets.

Mueller found community among a handful of area Southern Baptist church planters facing the same ordeal, finding particular strength in a friendship with fellow church planter Alex Dennis of Asante Church in Surprise, whom Mueller calls his brother in the faith.

“With the isolation that came with COIVD, the need for fruitful relationships became even more evident,” Mueller said. “Luckily through the (North American Mission Board) Send network, I was able to reach out to other church planters in the area.

“Through our relationships we were able to encourage, support and pray for one another during what was one of the most challenging seasons of church planting.”

About 60 people attend Sunday worship and home-based community groups with Valley Life in North Peoria weekly, Mueller said, with a current focus on making disciples. As the COVID-19 pandemic is subsiding, Mueller will focus more strongly on evangelism and eventually plant another church.

Mueller’s life experiences have benefitted Gospel outreach.

“The fact that I was baptized as an adult and then sent out shortly thereafter was celebrated, not judged,” Mueller said. “It communicated that, ‘If that can happen to that guy, what can God do in me?’

“When I was baptized and then discipled and sent out, there was nothing but love and support from my sending church. We have a mission to ‘Make Disciples. Plant Churches.’”

A member of Mueller’s core church team sought advice from Mueller when a family member committed suicide, giving Mueller an opportunity to lead to Christ a member of the extended family.

Evangelism and discipleship were not foreign to Mueller. While serving in the military, he had led small group studies with resources from pastor Francis Chan, the best-selling author of “Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God.”

A car accident that took the vision in his right eye ended Mueller’s military career, but he still did not have ministry in his plans.

“After retiring out of the military as a combat medic, I really thought that I wanted to run a hospital,” he said. “So as I was getting ready to apply for my MBA program I felt God calling me into ministry. It was then that I sat down with my pastor, Brian Bowman, and he told me that he was already praying about me planting a church in N. Peoria.”

Mueller, who will preach from Colossians 1:22-23 at the 2022 SBC Pastor’s Conference, has advice for other church planters.

He encourages them to have a faithful group of men who will uphold them with Gospel truth, to lean into God with everything they do, to care for their families and to nourish friendships.

“The group of men who helped disciple me into being a pastor had the hard task of calling out sin, pointing out growth points, identifying insecurities and calling me to more,” he said. “Week in and week out these men would invest in me, and while it was difficult looking back, these men were being very loving.”