The City in Our Backyard
It was 2009 when I felt the Lord specifically shifting my focus away from my role at a church in the suburbs to the city in our back yard. What I didn’t know was the challenges of starting a church in a city where church plants rarely lasted more than a year. Even if I had known what was ahead, I don’t think it would have stopped our team from stepping into planning this new ministry that would become The Grove Church. I can clearly tell you that God was at work preparing a place for us and for this church. We had thought we would be downtown, but the week before we started to gather our launch team, our venue decided they didn’t want a church at their site. That led to a quick scramble and eventually renting space from a church where I had previously provided pulpit supply.
We began meeting in October and that Easter our host church decided to shut down their ministry. Gratefully, they had enough of a Kingdom mindset that they offered their property to us as a gift because they did not want to see the building plowed down to become a fast-food restaurant of simply fall into disarray waiting for a buyer, like so many other church buildings in our city have done. As a small team with no money or supporting churches at the time, we began the long process of earning their trust and we also asked them to not only give us the property, but to also leave a financial gift to help provide a buffer for any unexpected expenses with becoming property owners in North Scranton.
That August we took over our new location and began the process of slowly restoring the property, and also pastoring an incredibly small congregation while working full time outside of the church. It was a difficult season, but God was faithful and The Grove began setting down roots in our neighborhood and more people began to find a spiritual home. Eventually, The Grove began to grow and juggling everything while working in special education brought me to a decision point. Would we step away from the guarantees of a stable job to focus on pastoring, or step down as a pastor? For our family, it really came down to realizing that God had called me to these people in this place, for this season. Doing anything else would be disobedient to God, and so I resigned my job and took on a full-time role as pastor at The Grove knowing we may only be able to be paid for 9 months before we had to make another decision about what was next. It was during this season that we found Stadia and eventually became a part of this network. It was also when The Grove began to become more stable and began impacting our community in the ways we had always hoped to do.
The men, women, and children of Scranton are amazing. I love being here and having a front line position pushing back the darkness around us. That looks different on a weekly basis. Some weeks it is being a part of bringing our community together for a free family event after a fatal shooting that occurred 50 yards from our building. Sometimes it is by helping to provide weekend meals for over 500 families in 5 elementary schools here in Scranton through our non-profit. My favorite thing though, is watching the Spirit of God draw people like my friend Sam into salvation.
Sam is about as much of a “man’s man” as I can picture. He is almost 50 and a former Navy guy who was born and raised here in the city. He is a shop supervisor and mechanic whose girlfriend brought him to church one Sunday while we were talking about “getting out of neutral” in our lives spiritually. Sam told me later he felt like he could understand what we were talking about and he wanted to hear more. Sam kept coming and eventually got involved in one of our small groups where we were talking about the miracles of Jesus in the Gospel of John. At the end of our discussion about Jesus turning water into wine, the group was discussing who they identified with most in the story. Sam’s answer has stuck with me ever since that night. He said, “I feel like the big jar.” When I asked him to explain, he simply said, “I feel like Jesus is doing something inside of me and I am not sure what it is, but I am pretty sure he is changing me.” About six months later I had the joy of baptizing my friend as he gave his heart and life to Jesus. It has been a joy to watch stories like that happen, but there have also been stories that break our hearts. Isn’t that a part of every ministry though? Wasn’t Jesus a man well acquainted with sorrows, but for the joy set before him endured the cross?
Planting in the Northeast has been a challenge. Stadia was relatively unknown in our region when we started, but as the network expands, hopefully that is changing. Looking at things from inside, The Grove Church seems to be constantly in transition as a ministry. We have new problems to solve in each season of growth which can be both encouraging and discouraging. The amount of people moving into and out of our area seems never ending at times, so there is always a good portion of our congregation that is new, but each new season brings new relationships, new joys, new surprises at what God is doing – even new challenges that force us to trust Jesus more. I think that is why I love being a part of these people, encouraging them as they grow in their relationship with God. He speaks life into wherever people are, even here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and I love watching the church be a part of His work here and around the world.
Scott is the husband of Aimee, and the dad of Caden and Avelyn. He serves at the Pastoral Team Leader at The Grove Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has discovered recently that he shouldn’t laugh at runners anymore because he now considers himself to be one.