Pastor Mark Morton baptizes a boy at Granite Hills Baptist Church in Reno, Nevada. (Submitted photo)

RENO, Nevada (BP) – Mark Morton was a sergeant with the Reno Police Department when he was called in 2005 out of the congregation to be the pastor of Granite Hills Baptist Church.

Since then he has baptized more than 365 people.

“The members of Granite Hills Baptist Church love God and it shows,” said Doug Vaughan, director of missions for Nevada’s Sierra Baptist Association. “Their joy overflows as they graciously extend God’s love to those around them.”

With a combination of biblical and transparent preaching, riveting storytelling and the pastor’s interpersonal skills, Granite Hills Baptist has grown from 65 – and two baptisms – in Sunday morning worship in 2005, to 225 – and 22 baptisms – in 2022.

“We stay on focus; we don’t get off the gospel,” Morton said. “We continue to tell people Jesus is the only way to have freedom and forgiveness and liberty to serve Him.

“Forgiveness is our greatest need,” the pastor continued. “When people experience forgiveness it’s a life-changing experience. To be free from your guilt and shame is to have a new life.”

Morton was a young police officer when in 1988, driven by the emotional trauma of his job, he found refuge in God’s love at Granite Hills Baptist, then led by James Thompson. Over the years, Thompson taught Morton to turn “stuff” over to Jesus, such as the death of a 6-month-old who’d been pummeled by his father under the influence of meth.

Turn “stuff” over to Jesus is what Morton has taught the congregation he led for three years before retiring in 2008 from the Reno Police Department.

“I think Granite Hills is poised right now to reach families because the present culture is detrimental to the family,” Morton said. “I see the opportunity for God to work in a society that’s really worried about what our culture is doing to our children.”

Morton’s vision is to build strong families who love the Lord. He and Associate Pastor Mike Schmidt stay alert to church volunteers over-committing, and to families so busy with activities they neglect God.

“One way we model healthy family time is by inviting children and their parents to the front steps of the sanctuary on Sunday evenings to participate in ‘Family Moment,’” Schmidt’s wife Jessca told Baptist Press. “The five-minute devotion and discussion not only benefits the children but shows the parents how easy it is to have a simple devotion with your family.

“Another principle Pastor Mark emphasizes is that our church is only as strong as our marriages,” Jessca Schmidt continued. “When our church goes through tough circumstances, or there’s a feeling of turmoil and chaos within our walls, there’s a good chance the enemy began his work in the home between the husband and wife.”

Morton credits his wife Hope for “some of the success of Granite Hills is the marriage I have with my wife and best friend and support in the ministry. My wife is my constant companion and confidante in the ministry that the Lord has given us. Without this relationship of a strong marriage with Hope, I cannot imagine being able to do ministry with any kind of real spiritual success. Many pastors struggle with this area of ministry and by God’s grace I am not one of them.”

Hope Morton serves as the church’s children’s ministry director.

Mark Morton teaches marriage classes during the church’s Discipleship hour Sunday evenings during the fall and spring semesters. He also teaches men each week in Celebrate Recovery, a program he led the church to start in 2010 because of the number of people recovering from substance and other abuse who had started attending Granite Hills Baptist.

“We live in a very addictive and compulsive society,” Morton said. “Celebrate Recovery is so Christ-centered, and so helpful in our community. We will have 25 to 35 every Tuesday night.”

Member Megan Oliden leads women in Celebrate Recovery. The church also participates in Restore, a women’s ministry led by Lynnette Malone and Linda Gonzalez. Restore ministers through fun, fellowship and purpose as well as an ever-stronger relationship with Jesus.

Among the women’s ministries: preparing care bags for women who visit Reno’s pregnancy care center, and with their own funds buying ingredients, preparing and serving a dinner each month for perhaps 40 seniors in greater Reno’s Sierra Baptist Association, which includes singing, preaching and multi-church fellowship.

“Their heartbeat for missions is strong and steady,” DOM Vaughan told Baptist Press. “Pastor Mark Morton has a kingdom focus. He’s been instrumental in getting others within their church and our association to be involved in mission efforts.” 

Church members travel about four hours north each quarter to Quinn River Baptist Fellowship, a Paiute and Shoshone Native American congregation near McDermitt, which straddles the Nevada and Oregon state lines. There they might lead a VBS, do outreach, distribute food, make repairs and/or preach.

“Whatever the need,” Morton said. “We’ve been going there 17 years. We’ve learned you have to be consistent to gain their trust.”

Cooperative Program dollars helped start the rural Quinn River Baptist in the 1960s or ‘70s, according to locals’ memories. It essentially was restarted every three or four years with yet another short-term pastor until Morton led Granite Hills Baptist to take it on as a mission church when he was called as pastor in 2005. 

For the last eight years, Dave Lewis of Granite Hills has been the on-site pastor of the mission church, which has about 15 people attending Sunday services, and more than 30 youngsters Thursday nights for Awana. 

“In a way, this is like an inner-city church,” Lewis told Baptist Press. “Most don’t have a mindset of giving. Granite Hills is instrumental in working on the church, from a new roof to a new sign, recently, and they are a large portion of us being able to have VBS each summer. 

“They fill in with what we cannot do ourselves,” the mission pastor continued. “The women of Restore were here a month ago doing home visits.”

Granite Hills Baptist has been to South Asia on short-term mission trips, and another this year or next is anticipated for Athens, Greece.  

“I enjoy making the children laugh,” Morton said about his mission trips. “[South Asia] can be very dangerous, but there are opportunities for people contacts, open doors and open hearts, just like when Paul went to Macedonia and God opened Lydia’s heart.

“We are very proud to be a part of the missions emphasis of the Southern Baptist Convention,” the pastor continued. “Granite Hills Baptist Church is Southern Baptist and strongly supports the Cooperative Program because of how well we cooperate together with it for missions. 

“We’ve got to reach the world,” Morton said. “I think the Cooperative Program is the very best missions program in the world.”

Morton’s heart for people leads Granite Hills members to have that same heart, Nevada Baptist Convention’s Executive Damian Cirincione told Baptist Press.

“Pastor Mark is always there, always going out of his way to be a light to other pastors and congregants,” Cirincione said. “He loves on others and makes them feel they are the most important person in the room always.”

Ninety percent of the church’s Sunday visitors are in some kind of crisis, Morton said.  

“I think the church has to have a heart for broken people, a church open to brokenness,” Morton said. “The Lord is going to save them out of whatever mess they’re in, but we need to call people to repentance. We [evangelical Christians] tell people to come to Jesus, but too often don’t tell them how. It’s through repentance.

“We’re following where the Lord is leading, and He’s moving around our neighborhood,” the pastor continued. “We endeavor to treat every visitor like Jesus would: We love them. We keep the gospel the center focus in this church and lovingly call the people to holiness.”