Mark Lashey had zero desire to live in Delaware. There was no sweet tea, no biscuits. Children there didn’t say sir and ma’am. The Northeast seemed cold in terms of relationships, not to mention 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. Through his praying, God gave Lashey 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.
NAMB photo by Colby Ware
Mark and Tammy are parents of Abby-Jane, 14, Hudson, 12, and Sophia, 9.
Corporate America was good to the Lasheys, but their passion was music. With Tammy’s sister, Stephanie, and her husband, Rob Leight, the two couples formed 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 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,” Lashey said as he continually rationalized the move, particularly as Calling Levi was on the verge of signing with a record label. “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,” Lashey said, not realizing that God was calling a singing accountant to do something that most pastors from the South were not willing to do – 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 a new church, little about the experience was conventional.
Lashey had no church planter training, but he received much 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 has provided one church planting intern and several student missionaries.
Lashey knows that their 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,” Lashey 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.”
The goal for the 2015 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® is $60 million.
To learn more about the Week of Prayer, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and how your church can be mobilized to push back lostness in North America, visit anniearmstrong.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton writes for the North American Mission Board.)