See the Gospel

Nov 19, 2019

My name is Tracy Tooley, and I’m the Lead Pastor for reGeneration Church in Huntington, WV. If you would have told me 27 years ago that I would be married to an amazing Godly woman, the father of two great boys, and the lead pastor of an incredible church, I would have laughed in your face. Not because I would have truly felt it was a joke or even been against the idea. I have just never seen myself as “THE” pastor material. Years later would find me being on staff of Gateway Church in St. Albans, WV, but even then, I remember saying I was content being on staff and not being the senior minister. For a lot of us, maybe even you reading this, it’s funny how God works!

In 1992, my wife Wendy and I began a ministry called One to One Ministries. Based out of Chesapeake, Ohio, we traveled full-time around the country working with junior high and high school students. Doing a mixture of worship and drama, we wanted people, primarily young people, to understand the importance of a relationship with Jesus Christ. We served at weeks of camp, vacation bible schools, and pretty much anywhere someone wanted us to come. We built relationships with the desire to lead people to Jesus. After doing this for almost 11 years, we truly began to feel the desire to quit traveling and be in located ministry. We loved traveling and sharing with people around the country, but hated the idea of building relationships, even leading people to first time decisions in Christ, and then having to leave to go to another place. We were longing to be in one place to be a part of people’s lives to help them grow as Christ followers. This led us to join the staff of Gateway Christian Church, where throughout our 8 years there, I did just about everything I could do in ministry. From small groups, getting people involved in ministry opportunities, leading worship, leading ministry teams, outreach – you name it, I did it. The amazing thing about all of it, is God was preparing me for what I’m doing now as the lead pastor of reGeneration. I could fill another whole blog with how God worked and helped me and Wendy to be where we are now. I can confidently say that there is no doubt that we are where we’re supposed to be in Huntington, bringing new life to those who are seeking Christ.

Somewhere between 2015-2016, I was asked by a group of my ministry friends to join the board of a new organization that wanted to plant churches here in the Huntington area. What I didn’t know is that these guys were planning on asking Wendy and I to be the lead planters of the first plant. One thing led to another, and we said yes and began the journey of the work that became reGeneration Church. The vision of this new work came from the desire to really do something new in Huntington. There are quite a few Restoration Movement churches in Huntington that are filled with people who love Jesus and love their church, but for a lot of reasons over the years they have failed to adapt to the changing culture around them. This has led to them being focused on things that have gotten in the way of them being able to fulfill the mission of the church. With our church plant, we wanted to do something new that could reach people that the other churches hadn’t yet reached, while at the same time do something new that could encourage them and hopefully renew their desire to truly BE the church. Honestly, this has been a challenge over the seven years we’ve been in existence for many reasons. Mistrust, misunderstanding, and just an outright lack of desire to change have been some of the things that the devil has used to manipulate and get in the way of us working together with some of the other churches, but we’re beginning to see fruit from the prayer and work we’ve been doing with those churches. But that wasn’t the main reason for starting the church.

As I mentioned earlier, Wendy and I have always been relationship people. We believe that building relationships with people, making the love of God tangible to them, is the best way to share Jesus. It’s becoming more and more clear to me that we live in a world, a culture, where people want to see the Gospel before they hear it, so that’s a huge part of the DNA of reGen. Getting to know people and their needs is a huge part of who we are and what we do. Since we first started gathering with our initial launch community, we have always been looking for where people are so we can serve them and demonstrate the love of Jesus to them. Whether it was taking ice cream and karaoke to the city mission, raking leaves, or setting up a diaper changing station at a local festival, we have always wanted to be where people are to meet needs and build what we would consider “REALationships.”

Over the last almost three years, we’ve been going to a local drug rehab residence facility called Prestera and it has been an amazing ministry for us. The battle against drug addiction is huge in the Huntington area. I am wired to be a fixer, so I struggle with wanting to come up with a solution for the entire problem. I have had to understand that it’s too big of an issue for us to handle on our own, but being able to go to Prestera has helped us be a small part of the fight for the lives of a few people. We go there every Sunday night and essentially do a Sunday evening service. We have people from reGen attend as well as people who are in the program there. The people there at Prestera are not required to attend – it is all voluntary, but it has turned into an incredible opportunity for us to be with people who wouldn’t normally come to our church on their own. One of the things that I have always been passionate about is looking for places where WE can go to THEM instead of waiting for them to come to us, which they probably never will. We have been blown away by the seeds we’ve planted and I have loved seeing our people step up to help with what we do there, whether it’s teaching, doing music, or just taking the initiative to build a relationship.

The adventure of planting reGeneration has been one of the most rewarding, but challenging, times of ministry I’ve ever had. When we first started the process, raising financial support was difficult in an area where some believed there were already enough churches. Also, getting some to see the “value” of planting in Huntington was a hurdle at first, but it was one that we are committed to jumping over. Wendy and I both grew up across the river in Ohio, so we both know the area. As we were learning and planning to plant here, we both quickly knew that it wasn’t for comfort that we wanted to be in Huntington – it was because we knew the potential and obvious harvest that was here. As we dug into the area and studied statistics, we saw that over half of Huntington (57%) had no affiliation to a religious congregation. We simplified that to say that 57% PEOPLE DIDN’T KNOW JESUS! That’s the main thing that drew us to be here. Yes, there were times that we didn’t know when and even if we were going to get paid, but we remained faithful, and God has been faithful in return. Finding a gathering place has also at times been a challenge, but we’re currently in a place that is allowing us to be not only a base of operations for ministry, but also be a home for our church family.

Seeing our people be involved in the lives of people and discipling them is one of the most satisfying things for me as the Lead Pastor of reGen. Whether it’s seeing Jennifer personally take on the responsibility of mentoring a girl we met at Prestera; Hannah baptize Nia, her childhood friend since kindergarten; Eli and Amber approach me about doing a support group for those who may be struggling emotionally; or just seeing some of our adults demonstrate the love of God to the one of many college students who come to our church just confirms to us why we’re doing what we’re doing. I can’t see myself doing anything else but leading this group of Christ followers who at times resemble the Island of Misfit Toys. It’s been amazing to see how God has worked and I can’t wait to see what He is going to do in and through us in the future.

And by the way, now it’s fine if you call me Lead Pastor!

For 27 years, whether it’s been traveling ministering to students with his wife Wendy, as the lead singer in a Christian rock band in the late 80’s, singing in cover bands, or leading worship, he has used music to help people connect with God.  As the Lead Pastor at reGeneration Church in Huntington, WV, his desire is to grow a group of Christ followers who will bring new life to those seeking God by making the love of God tangible to those around them.  Whether it’s preaching, teaching, leading worship, or just simply hanging out with people, Tracy has a passion to help everyone understand God’s desire to be in relationship with them.  He is crazy in love with his wife Wendy, and they have been blessed with two sons, Kadin Reece, age 20 and Konner Jace, age 14

Tracy Tooley

Lead Planter/Pastor, reGeneration Church (Huntington, WV)