The pastor of The Assembly at Warner Robins is leaving the church to take on state leadership of the Assemblies of God in Georgia.
Mark Merrill said he has served as pastor at the church for 10 years. He said he begins day-to-day denominational duties June 1 and will preach his last sermon as pastor at The Assembly July 22.
Originally known as Warner Robins First Assembly of God, the church’s name was changed in 2012.
Merrill was elected as district superintendent at a denominational meeting April 30 in Columbus. The district Merrill will serve includes all of Georgia. The denomination’s state headquarters are located in Macon.
Merrill spoke of his respect and appreciation for the legacy left by his predecessors in the church’s almost 65-year history and confidence the congregation will be in good hands as his replacement is chosen.
“As far as my 10 years here as lead pastor, I can only say what a wonderful experience it has been,” Merrill said. “We will certainly miss our church family, and it’s hard letting that go, but we’ve sensed it’s time, and I’m ready to give my whole heart to the next assignment just as I did to the assignment here alongside everyone at The Assembly.”
Pat Gunner has been a member at the church for 12 years and is on its board. She will chair the church’s search committee to find a new pastor.
“Of course we’re all sad to see Mark go,” she said. “He’s a visionary leader, an excellent communicator and a caring pastor. He’s done a lot to help us grow as a church, and I know in his new role he’ll be taking his gifts to a new level as a leader of leaders and pastor of pastors.”
Gunner said the church has begun the process of finding a new lead pastor and will neither “rush nor drag out the process.”
“It’s not simply a human resources matter,” she said. “More importantly, it’s a time to prayerfully discern and be united in prayer as a congregation as to who God wants to bring. Our church is in good shape, we’re just entering a new season, and we’re happy for Mark’s new leadership role with other pastors and churches across the state.”
Gunner said though she couldn’t predict future outcomes, she believed the church’s new pastor would continue the congregation’s direction of community service and involvement.
When asked about a highlight of his time at the church, Merrill said it would have to do with growth and strengthening members.
“Especially, I think it’s been strengthening the church’s young families,” he said. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of young people and youth reached and the number of younger families who’ve become part of our church. That has a big impact on the future and passing faith from one generation to the next.”
Also during his tenure, the church completed a $3.5 million expansion of facilities, which enlarged and remodeled its worship space, remodeled and added additional buildings for the children’s ministry, including its Loving Care Daycare center, and added a family center-youth ministry building.
Worship space seating grew from 625 to 1,225. Merrill said attendance at the church has grown to about 700. He also said the church has come to be viewed as a regional church and facility by members and by Assemblies of God denominational leaders.
“The physical and numerical growth has been wonderful, but the best thing is it represents lives that have been changed,” he said. “There are so many remarkable testimonies and stories. There has also been growth in the pastoral staff to better serve the church and community. I’m proud of the new facilities and how we accomplished it, but it all goes back to relationships at the church and the strong family we are. To me it hasn’t been just a job but the role I’ve played among people who are like brothers, sisters, moms, dads and grandparents to me. I’ll miss that most of all — it’s a hard decision to leave.”
As district superintendent, Merrill said he will have oversight of 207 churches and 650-plus ministers in Georgia as well as other denominational work such as operation of a camp and conference facility in Forsyth. He will also oversee the training, credentialing and support of ministers and church revitalization and church planting efforts.
“Church revitalization is a passion of mine, and I recently completed a doctoral degree with my dissertation on revitalization of Assemblies of God churches,” Merrill said. “We have a program we use called the Acts 2 Journey, which leads churches through a one-year program to be strengthened and revitalized, and it’s bearing good fruit. I’m hopeful to see more churches use it and be strengthened in the future.”
Merrill said in addition to existing church revitalization, the Assemblies of God will look for rural church planting opportunities and growth into communities with no Assemblies of God church.
“And a big focus I will have will be on ministerial health and wellness,” Merrill said. “An alarming number of ministers are leaving the ministry across the U.S., and we want to do all we can to develop, nurture and lead our ministers and their families in a way that keeps them well and healthy and in service for a long time.”