by Pastor Doug Mixer
I grew up in the Bowie area and my wife, Mona, grew up in a small town in Northwest Arkansas. I met her while I was in seminary down in Dallas and working at a church in her home town. After numerous conversations with her dad about the ministry, I clearly felt the call of God to leave the comfort of the music ministry and continue my studies to become a pastor.
One of the things that I realized was that I was ill-prepared to be a pastor. I had some Bible knowledge due to my two years of seminary, but knew that I didn’t have near enough to get me through even the first year in the ministry. So I decided to go back to seminary. Mona and I were not yet married, but with the wedding only 3 months away, obviously, she entered into the decisions that needed to be made. We had a few options. I could continue at the church in Arkansas in my current position in while going to seminary through correspondence courses part time. I could resign my current ministry and move to Dallas to finish at Dallas Theological Seminary. Or I could resign and move back to the place where I grew up and go to Capital Bible Seminary. After a few months of praying, we decided to move back to Maryland in February of 1996. The plan would be to live with my parents for a month, find jobs, and start seminary in the fall. God had different plans.
One of the things that I realized very early in my married life was how little we knew about finances. We were very deeply in debt with no jobs and no way to make payments. To make a long story short, we lived with my parents for a year and a half while working two jobs each so that we could pay down the debt. I started seminary the next year.
I had no idea where God would want me. Would he put me in an existing church or would He have me start a new church. To be honest, in the same way I had never thought of being a pastor, I had also never thought of starting a new church. But one Sunday evening, after preaching at Grace Baptist Church in Bowie, the pastor, David Price, came up to me and told me that they were considering starting a new church. He asked if I would be interested in being the pastor. Of course, I was thrilled! I had been a member of GBC since my senior year in high school. They had been very influential in my spiritual development over the years. The opportunity to start a church with their support seemed like a clear gift from God.
In February 2000, I joined the staff of GBC in Bowie as a church planter. I had no idea where to start a church except that they had said something about Anne Arundel County. I began looking very closely at the county. I believe that a coincidence is when God decides to remain nameless. One such coincidence took place in 1999, when Mona and I moved into the Shelter Cove Apartments in Odenton. Little did I know that that was where God was going to lead us to start Grace Baptist Church.
In fact, as I researched the area and continued to pray about the location for a new church, I noticed that West County was the fastest growing area in Anne Arundel county for the past 20 years and was slated to continue that way for the next 20 years. God was pointing us in that direction. We began searching for a meeting location, checking public schools in the area. But all of them were booked. We set a start date of September 10, 2000 and began canvassing the neighborhoods. Over the summer, we visited more than 5000 homes and got 500 people on a mailing list. We began a Bible study in one of the homes that we visited and quickly outgrew their living room. We moved to the office we had rented on RT 175. All of this without a place to meet yet!
As time grew short, I began to get a little worried. But God always works on His own time-table, not mine. Just one month before our start date, I happened to notice that Ridgeway Elementary School was unreserved. I moved quickly and spoke with the principle. Jimmy Petterec, who we had hired as our music and youth minister, and I checked out the location and the setup and discovered that it was a fairly new building with a very nice stage. We sent letters out to all the families who were on our mailing list and waited anxiously for September 10.
On our first Sunday, we had 86 people! We were excited. A few of those were what I would call observers. They were people who were members of GBC in Bowie that had been actively involved in some of the church planting efforts and wanted to see the fruits of their labor. After they stopped coming we settled in around 50 in regular attendance, many of whom had never been involved in a church before.
We began an evangelism program called Evangelism Explosion which was formed by D. James Kennedy in Florida and used it as our primary tool of training people to share their faith. One of the major changes that we saw that we would need to make very early on was that, rather than starting a youth group, we were going to have to start a children’s ministry. The Odenton/Severn area was full of young couples with young children. So we began the AWANA program.
In February of 2002, Grace Baptist Church of Bowie offered Jimmy a position as associate music and youth minister. Realizing that his leaving would leave a gaping hole in leadership, we decided it was time to ordain elders to assist in the oversight of the ministry. In June, we ordained four elders in addition to myself. These were men who had been with us from the very beginning. They had been members of GBC in Bowie and had committed to coming with us to start the new church.
Our church has always had a single focus. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” This verse forms the basis of our existence. We are here to proclaim the excellencies of God.
As we look to the future, we are unsure of exactly what God has planned for us. We are here totally by God’s design. Everything that has happened to us in the past is completely by God’s providence. But we also are called to make plans for growth, both spiritually and numerically. Some of our plans included continued and increased “service evangelism” in our area, leadership training and equipping both here and abroad, the planting of new churches, the establishment of an effective ministry-equiping program, continued ministry effectiveness and commensurate growth, and the meeting of facilities challenges as we face them!