TOWNSEND, Del. (BP) – Late last summer, LifeHouse Church entered its new 40,000 square foot modern building, with a sanctuary seating 645, on 20 acres of ground, an amazing answer to prayer. Lead Pastor Mark Lashey is in awe of what God has done and at the potential for the new facility. It is a God-sized dream come true.
But it wasn’t the dream Lashey had 20 years ago. Then, he, his wife Tammy, her sister Stephanie and Stephanie’s husband Rob Leight dreamed of forming and traveling with a contemporary Christian music group. And they were successful. God was using their band, Calling Levi, to share the Gospel and encourage Christians. They were the opening act for bands such as Jars of Clay and Nicole C. Mullen and were on the precipice of a breakthrough.
But God had other plans for the two families and changed the course of their dreams.
Sisters Tammy and Stephanie met their husbands when all four were students at Liberty University. After graduation, they relocated to Delaware. Then in 2002, the two couples stepped out in full-time music ministry, traveling 200 days out of the year throughout the country. They were enjoying their time on the road and seeing people moved by their music.
Six years in, Mark felt led to take seminary classes.
“I loved God’s Word and wanted to know and understand it more. It wasn’t because I felt called to be a pastor,” Mark said.
Rob may have raised an eyebrow but wasn’t concerned about Mark’s seminary classes since they wouldn’t affect the band.
“I thought it was just an itch Mark needed to scratch,” Rob said. “We were doing what I had dreamed of all my life. From the time I was 7, my goal was to sing Christian music professionally. Things were fine. Surely Mark would not be a pastor. He was an accountant. He was very smart. He would make a great executive pastor, I thought at the time. So, we were OK. … I loved the bus life, the tour life, it was fun and exciting.”
Mark agreed that the whole group enjoyed being on the road. Even the children that came later had a great time, Tammy said. The group employed two women who traveled with them, helped them administratively and watched the children when the band was playing.
In October 2010, Mark began to lead weekly Bible studies. The families were neighbors, so the adults met at Mark and Tammy’s, and the kids went to Rob and Stephanie’s.
“We did most of our traveling Thursday through Monday, so that worked with our schedule,” Rob said. “(At this point) I’m still OK; everything is fine.
“In 2011, we were met with a lucrative situation. A group offered to fund our next album – $45,000 for a good quality album with top musicians.”
Rob was overjoyed. They were going to hit the “big time.” Financially, things were looking up.
Everyone was excited. Even Mark started writing music for the album. But he was conflicted.
“My burden for my community grew intensely,” Mark said. “Through prayer, the Lord confirmed, ‘Yes, I am calling you for this.’ It was such a hard transition because we had been doing Calling Levi for 10 years, and some of the things we had worked so hard for all that time started happening.”
Immediately after the meeting about the new album, Mark broke some news to the group.
“We’re in the car, and Mark says, ‘Before we go further, I feel adamant that God is calling me to preach and to plant a church in our community,’” Rob said, admitting he was devastated by the announcement.
“I thought, ‘My dream is crushed, my livelihood is crushed. Who is going to pay our mortgage if he’s going to start a house church?’”
Rob told Mark in anger: “Just so you know, I’m not going to be your worship leader!”
Mark now says, “We were definitely on different pages, but through prayer, God aligned our hearts.”
At first, the two families thought they could do both, but after meeting with a pastoral counselor, they knew they had to make a choice. Mark knew he had to be obedient.
“It was a test of faith to trust God even when things didn’t make sense,” Tammy said. “We committed the decision to deep, desperate prayer. We knew we needed God to work it out. I prayed, ‘God, I don’t want either thing more than the other. You’re going to have to take care of the whole situation and everyone in it.’ We cared just as much about the direction and peace for Rob and Steph, but we also knew we had to be obedient. I thought there was no way to come to an agreement.”
The weekly Bible study was outgrowing the houses, so they started renting space in a nearby firehouse in preparation for a church launch.
“It seemed weird not to have worship music,” Rob said, “so I said, ‘Look, I’ll do your worship for the first three months. After you launch Sunday service, I’m out.’
“I’d been wrestling with God over this change, and one week, during the third song, something clicked – I prayed, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I surrender.’
“My desire at that moment to be a professional Christian music artist was gone. All of a sudden, my desire was to be a worship leader. That was in November 2011. Three months later, we launched LifeHouse.”
Attendance at the firehall grew to 500, and the church transitioned to a middle school. Less than a decade later, the church stepped out in faith, purchased 20 acres, and built a facility they prayed would be used to glorify God. In the summer of 2020, with COVID-19 restrictions, and no access to the school where they’d met for years, they worshiped in a field and watched the construction of their new building.
Now the church is open throughout the week for worship services, Bible studies, college and high school groups, and even an early childhood center, which Mark said has been a great outreach to the community.
“I really believe the Lord has gathered a people and provided a building ‘for such a time as this,’” the pastor said.