EDITOR’S NOTE: The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, which was March 1-8, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provide support for missionaries who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists across North America. With a goal of $60 million, this year’s offering theme is “Send North America.” For more information, visit URL=http://anniearmstrong.com/]AnnieArmstrong.com[/URL].
MIDDLETOWN, Del. (BP) — Mark Lashey had zero desire to live in Delaware. From his perspective, there was no sweet tea, no biscuits. Children there didn’t say sir and ma’am. The Northeast seemed both cold in terms of relationships and climate. Yes, he understood his wife Tammy wanting to raise their children close to her parents, but the state held no other attraction for him.
Then he started praying during his regular neighborhood jogs. Lashey said through his praying, God gave him a burden for the community.
“There were times I would cry as I was running and praying for people,” Lashey said. “When I started praying for the people in this community, I started loving them.”
When the Lasheys moved to Delaware a few years after college, he was working as an accountant. While the couple says corporate America was good to them, their passion was music. With Tammy’s sister Stephanie and her husband Rob Leight, the two couples formed the singing group Calling Levi. Along with a sound technician and nanny, the couples traveled for 10 years throughout the U.S., including Alaska, singing in churches and at special events. Most of their engagements were in the South.
Lashey says he thought music would be his ticket out of Delaware, and he wanted to move back to the Bible belt where he spent many of his formative years in a military family.
“Every weekend we were traveling south,” said Lashey, who continually rationalized leaving Delaware, particularly as Calling Levi was on the verge of signing with a record label. But Lashey said, “God was saying to us, ‘No, you are to stay in Delaware.'”
Now Lashey knows why: “It was for such a time as this.”
Their community was a burgeoning suburbia comprised of four towns: Middletown, Odessa, Townsend and Smyrna. Lashey learned that about 130,000 people lived within 15 miles of his family. Other families there were commuting to Philadelphia, Wilmington, Dover, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and even New York City for work. The families are mostly young and raising children.
“We prayed as we lived here that God would plant a church in our community,” said Lashey, noting that prayer was before he realized God was calling him to start a church in Delaware.
Home Bible studies
The Lasheys and Leights started a Tuesday night home Bible study that they called LifeHouse based on John 10:10. Fifteen came to the first meeting.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Lashey recalled. “It was raw.”
The Bible study grew to about 100 attendees. Soon they were meeting at the Townsend Firehall on Tuesdays, which had space for their growing gathering. As the Bible study expanded, so did the team’s vision. LifeHouse would become a new church, and it launched Feb. 12, 2012. By August 2012, they were able to rent space at a school. The growth continued, and now average attendance is 650; about 200 are sixth grade or younger. Those 10 years of building relationships in the community are now bearing fruit.
“Our community is very receptive to the Gospel,” Lashey said. “They are (spiritually) hungry.”
Neither accounting nor music ministry prepared Lashey for explosive growth. Not only did he not want to live in Delaware, Lashey didn’t want to be a pastor. He had begun online seminary studies while with Calling Levi, but that was out of his hunger to better know God’s Word. His family had been traveling about 45 minutes one-way to attend the closest Southern Baptist church.
When the members of Calling Levi became the core group for LifeHouse, little about the experience was conventional, Lashey says. He had no church planter training, but he received coaching from David Jackson, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s (BCM/D) team strategist for Church Multiplication. BCM/D’s June Holland prepared them for children’s ministry. Since the launch, the North
American Mission Board’s farm system that helps train up young ministry leaders has provided one church planting intern and several student missionaries.
Lashey says he knows the congregation’s rapid growth is not typical for a new church, which is more reason to celebrate and pray.
“Hundreds of people have made professions of faith,” he said. “Between 150 and 200 have been baptized by immersion. We are blown away.”
One of those conversions was Mike Wright, a former college wrestler who was teaching at the elementary school where LifeHouse met on Tuesday nights. He inquired about what was happening, and joined them the next week. Then he attended an Easter service.
“He started running after Jesus,” Lashey said.
Today, Mike is the husband of Sheri Wright, LifeHouse’s media director and the former technician for Calling Levi.
No longer is Lashey longing to leave Delaware. The state has become his home, and he plans to be there a long time as pastor of LifeHouse.
“I anticipate continued growth,” Lashey said of the new church. “We want to be involved in church planting.
“My heart is not to build a mega church. We’ve not been focused on building a church, we’re building the kingdom of God.”
Watch Mark Lashey share how he grew to love the community where God placed him: