Overseed coaches Mark Warren and Matt Furr are also lead pastors of two New Hampshire churches. Mark noted “Matt and I have been coaching pastors for three years. We are hopeful about impact but are waiting to see what God will do. Revitalization is hard and a long haul. It can beat-up pastors so much they sometimes don’t want to stay in ministry. Our cohort helps pastors be healthy and persevere through discouragement. We’re hopeful that we have kept pastors in the game.”
Mark recently learned of a historic NH church that couldn’t make it and closed. He said “that breaks my heart. Would that church still be open if that pastor were connected to an Overseed cohort? Could there have been a different outcome than a vacant church building for sale?”
Thankfully, Pastor Michelle Lennon has experienced a better outcome at her church in Tilton, NH.
Michelle has a master’s degree in ministry and significant experience directing community outreach. Her passion is social justice initiatives that share the good news of the gospel. Around 2015, a friend asked her to be the lay pastor of a declining historic church while they searched for a new pastor. Michelle agreed and the search process lasted a year. A pastor was called and lasted only two weeks. Then, the church asked Michelle to be their pastor.
She knew about missions and caring for community needs, but Michelle hadn’t been trained as a pastor. When she accepted the position, she worked with the handful of people left at the church to engage the community in conversations to determine how the church could be relevant in Tilton. They learned that, despite the tourism industry of the area, many year-round people were struggling to get by. In one neighboring community, twenty-seven percent of children live in poverty and one in sixteen is impacted by an incarcerated parent. In response to these community needs, Pastor Michelle focused on keeping Christ as the head of the church, then aligned everything the church did to live out the gospel by affecting change for families impacted by substance use and poverty. After a period of conversations, meetings and spaghetti suppers, Michelle took the lead in founding a family resource center with the help of community partners, and support from her long-term career connections in family support. This ministry has grown as a secular non-profit to include peer recovery support services, training for recovery coaches, family support of many kinds including parent education, parent cafés for support, and a play group for children. It is the Good News in word and deed.
Eventually, the Family Resource Center moved from the basement of the church to a store front and now includes services for families impacted by addiction, suicide, and poverty. The Center has expanded to twenty staff at three New Hampshire locations: Tilton, Franklin, and Concord. Michelle was also recently asked to help support peer recovery services in the Plymouth area. She has been training nationally, helping others learn how to support families affected by addiction. The small church has grown from five people to approximately twenty-five currently (it was higher before the pandemic). Most of the new people at church have come through the family support and recovery program including a woman who is going to seminary and a former Teen Challenge leader.
Michelle describes Overseed coach Mark Warren as significantly helping her grow in her role as pastor. She said “Mark is a great encourager and has given me permission to do what I do best. He didn’t force me to be a traditional pastor of a historic church or anything like that. He even helped us rewrite the church’s bylaws to effectively represent who we are.” She credits the guiding principles of church revitalization found in Overseed Field Director Jack Daniel’s book Patient Catalyst with re-framing the organizational structure of the church.
At times, she has been ready to quit being a pastor, but Mark and Matt encourage her stay in the game while the church rebuilds and hopefully calls a future pastor. Michelle commented that “they patiently smile when I tell them I’m a place holder, saying this is where it’s at. I have been here for ten years now. Kind of amazing when you think the church has very little income. I know this kind of hands-on, voluntary pastorate and ministry isn’t for everyone. It is messy. The pain and rewards are consistently extreme, which can be pretty stressful. And at times, I am really tired. But it has been so worth it.”
Michelle has focused on building a coalition of people committed to helping individuals and families affected by poverty and addiction. Those from the church and other Christians in the community live out the gospel first and tell people about church second, if and when they are asked. Michelle and her staff who happen to be Christians are very careful to respect the authority under which they do this work. She commented that “Christ is our personal motivation. But the treasures… are often stored up in heaven. We meet people where they are and let the Spirt do the cleaning up. It takes time to build the relationships.” By God’s grace, many families in central New Hampshire are experiencing healthier outcomes because of this vibrant ministry, unique pastor, and an engaged community.
Want to help? Pray for coaches like Matt and Mark and pastors like Michelle. Pray for pastors who are struggling and not connected to a group focused on revitalization. Pray for the Tilton church to find a worship leader and for families to join the church who can be role models for healthy family life. The church building is in disrepair and needs help. Perhaps your church would like to lend a hand. Learn more by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
It is because of faithful pastors like Michele, Matt, and Mark that Overseed gladly offers its services to pastors free of charge.