Fired Up and Unified: East St. Louis Congregation Dares to Dream, Love Radically
By Carl Stagner
Brian Mack has only served as pastor of Market Avenue Church of God for four-and-a-half years, but God has already used him to effect change in the congregation and community. The historic East St. Louis, Illinois, congregation is more than a hundred years old, but the ministry has never been more vital to the surrounding community than at the present. As the result of a fresh wave of the Spirit’s work in their midst, the ministry is presently undergoing real revitalization, manifesting in the transformation of souls, increased investment in the work of the local church, a growing sense of unity among the saints, and a wider impact on their neighborhood. A closer look at the mission and methodology of the ministry reveals deliberate steps taken to foster such an atmosphere conducive to revival.
“I’ve learned that you don’t have to be a megachurch to do mega ministry,” Brian insists off the bat. And with a core understanding that the local church, regardless of size, can make a difference “one house, one block, and one community at a time,” the church he shepherds isn’t about to let anything stop them from doing just that.
“We exist to show, share, and supply the love of Jesus Christ,” Brian explains. “We coined a simple catch phrase, ‘Loving God! Loving you!’ And we are intentional in that. So, when people walk through the doors, they know they are accepted, they do belong, and they are valuable, all because the God who lives in us and loves us also loves them. We do that through relationships as we embrace the call to care, move, and love like Christ.”
The love of Jesus is a motivating factor for Market Avenue Church of God. It fires them up for what matters most, safeguarding them from the distractions of discord. No doubt that’s why Pastor Brian is sure to stress the significant role unity still plays in the church, even generations after the Church of God pioneers preached and sung about it. In fact, this year’s overarching theme at Market Avenue has been “The Year of One.” Brian Mack explains.
“In a time of unrest and uneasiness, I though it was important to drive home the need for unity. We bring up what Paul says in the fourth chapter of Ephesians when he says there is only one body, one Spirit, and one Lord. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, we needed to remind people that we as Christians must make every effort to stay united in the Spirit. If each one can grasp this truth, we can all have a glorious future. Unity has become more than a theme; it’s been woven into the fabric of our DNA that all people are important to God.”
All people are important to God. That means the church is called to love radically, demonstrating God’s care and concern for those who bear the image of God—everyone. Whether or not such love is reciprocated, Market Avenue’s main concern is serving from a heart like his. Every fifth Sunday—when a month has a fifth Sunday—the church turns this concept into functional reality.
“Faith on Fifth.” The phrase begs to be explained, and Pastor Brian is happy to do it.
“Faith on Fifth is something God gave me when I first came,” he reflects. “On fifth Sundays, the Lord wanted us to tell our story, to tell each other’s stories and testimonies, to share and repeat the vision and mission of the church and, when weather permits, to go out into the community and put the vision and mission into practice.”
Only radical love for people would drive a church to disrupt its normal Sunday schedule and serve its community through hands-on initiatives and projects. But Market Avenue Church of God doesn’t mind; it’s what they do and it’s who they are.
“Since we began Faith on Fifth in 2019, we’ve been refining it along the way,” Brian explains further. “But we’ve found that fifth Sundays offer a more practical, tangible way to share our faith in contrast to what you’d see in a traditional Sunday service.”
No wonder Market Avenue Church of God is fired up for the things of God. Their heart breaks for the community around them, and they’re embracing each other in oneness, but they’re also daring to dream that God has more in store. By faith, they’re investing in present and future ministry through the physical restoration and transformation of a former elementary school into what will ultimately become a community center.
They call it “The Market Place.” The East St. Louis congregation is called to take their faith outside the four walls and into the “marketplace” of life. Through their new multigenerational ministry center for the community, they intend to create a hub for physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. To jumpstart some of the necessary repairs, they’ve made the project part of their Vision2020 campaign. Brian comments, “We’re so excited about it. We believe God will open doors to make it happen. As we think about the promise of Ephesians 3:20, how God is able to do immeasurably more, we’ve already begun to update our facilities and we’re setting up a plan to begin utilizing the former elementary school in phases. Some parts could already be used, for example, as a food pantry. We’re making progress but there is still much more to do. But the possibilities are endless.”
Pastor Brian concludes, “There are so many things God wants to do through us. To take a young man like me from the south side of Chicago and move him to this community—I just know God has something special for us to do.”
Learn more about Market Avenue Church of God, their dream to see The Market Place become reality, and their Vision2020 campaign at www.marketavenue.church. Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.