Bonnie and I attended a DOVE church for the first time in August 1982. From the moment we walked through the doors and experienced the worship and ministry of the Word, we were convinced that the Lord was calling us to be a part of what He was doing in the DOVE family.
We joined a local cell group, which just happened to meet two miles from our house. We began to experience spiritual mothering and fathering for the first time in our lives. Our cell group leaders were so patient with us and taught us so much about the Kingdom while discipling us and teaching us to make disciples. Soon we were asked to become assistant cell leaders and then lead the cell group. Although we felt unqualified, it was an exciting time as we trusted in the Lord for His guidance and leadership. By the grace of God, the cell thrived and multiplied with three cells planted in Lebanon County and two in Berks County by 1986.
In the summer of 1986, we were asked to be part of a team to plant a church on the border of Lebanon and Berks counties with the purpose of growing and releasing future church plants. While we certainly didn’t feel qualified, we accepted and helped plant the new celebration. We assumed primary leadership of what was then called Northern Celebration and later renamed Lebanon-Berks Celebration. The church grew. People were saved and discipled. They reached out to others, and the Kingdom was growing.
During those years, Bonnie and I owned a 225-cow dairy farm with 300 acres of land. We were able to be part of the exciting church planting venture because we had wonderful people serving alongside us. But with ministry demands expanding, I was encouraged by both family and spiritual leaders around me to hear from the Holy Spirit as to whether Bonnie and I should sell the farm to be able to focus our energies on church ministry. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, as the farm was the fulfillment of a life dream which I had since I was a child. However, it became clear that it was time to give up my life’s dream to fulfill my life’s call. We sold the cattle in the fall of 1987 and the equipment and land the following year.
And the church grew! People were being added weekly and impacting the community. In 1990, the church sent a number of families to become part of a DOVE plant in Schuylkill County. By 1994, the Lebanon-Berks church had grown to 400 people. We met in an old elementary school. Every Sunday for seven years, we had to set up chairs, sound system, platform, and then clear everything out after the service. The condition of the building and the inconvenience it caused demonstrates more fully that where the Spirit of the Lord is, people will come.
In 1995, the church was ecstatic that the Lord had blessed us to the place where we could commission a group of people to plant a church in Berks County. Although it was exciting to be the sending church, I was unprepared for the disappointment of the people who were left behind. We had commissioned out some of our best people, and we missed them.
But the church grew! Through the course of events, we moved to another location as an interim until we located a building in the center of Lebanon city, which is where we wanted to be. A number of years later, we moved to another location in the city. And the church grew!
During that time, Bonnie and I again felt the Lord’s prompting that a change was coming. For a number of years I had been hearing prophetic words of “you are a pastor to pastors” and “the Lord is calling you to be a leader to leaders” and similar confirmations. In January of 1999, Bonnie and I felt directed of the Lord to transition out of being the pastor of a local church and devote all of our energies into apostolic ministry. We turned leadership over to a capable couple in August 1999. By June 2001 another couple sensed God’s calling to plant a church in Myerstown. About sixty-five people were sent out from DOVE Lebanon to Myerstown. People were saved, discipled and added to the church. After a number of years of fruitful ministry in Myerstown, the church grew to about 200 people with sixteen small groups. Again, there was a stirring to plant another church.
In 2009, a new church was planted in the same town where the original church had been planted in 1987. Talk about the Lord coming full circle! When we originally responded to the call to be part of a church plant in 1986, we had no idea that God’s graciousness would enable us to see additional churches planted in Schuylkill, Berks and Lebanon counties.
Bonnie and I rejoice in the passion and desire shown by new church planters all over the world. Who knows who, where and how the Lord will continue to expand His Kingdom?
Read Chapter 20. Adopted by the DOVE family here