Rebirth and Renewal in Sarasota
By Kevin Spear
Eric and Marsha Reeder weren’t looking for a new opportunity. Eric was the youth pastor at Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, and both he and his wife were heavily invested in the ministry. “We had never done a church plant; we had always been in established churches. It was definitely not something we were looking for,” Eric says.
But God brought a unique vision to Marsha. Her parents were former pastors in Sarasota, Florida. Unfortunately, under new leadership, that church closed about a decade ago. To Marsha’s surprise, the Lord gave her a vision to return and reestablish a Church of God congregation in Sarasota. While she loved the place and the people, she also knew it would be a difficult journey.
After much prayer and soul-searching, the couple followed the call. In late 2018, they launched Church of God, Sarasota along with Marsha’s parents, Larry and Che-Che Mobley, and key volunteers. Along the way, they relied heavily on God. “We recognized we had so many needs when we began this, it was like facing Goliath,” Marsha says. “But the Lord spoke and said, ‘You’ll have what you need when you need it.’ God has fulfilled that promise.”
God has indeed provided, and the church has grown. In the beginning, they met at a hotel/conference center, then an elementary school. When the lease at the school ended, they decided to return to the hotel/conference center. Because it was so busy during tourist season, scheduling and consistency became an issue. So, they needed to find a new gathering space. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the hotel paused all conferences and allowed Church of God, Sarasota to remain at their facility and record all of their online services for free.
They had exactly what they needed when they needed it! When churches opened up and could gather again, they found a new place to gather with a Mennonite Fellowship. “Our conversations with the pastors at Hope Mennonite were kingdom-minded,” Eric says. Church of God, Sarasota now meets on Saturday evenings. “The congregation supported every change because they can sense God providing each step, just as he said he would,” Marsha adds.
Co-Pastors and Multi-Generational Ministry
Eric and Marsha are co-pastors of Church of God, Sarasota. They each shepherd from their giftedness and have found their strengths and weaknesses complement each other. It has led to a unique ministry where they both share preaching and other ministry roles. They enjoy being a team in marriage and ministry.
Marsha also mentioned how blessed they are to have her parents, Larry and Che-Che Mobley, as associate pastors at the church. Larry and Che-Che have more than fifty years of marriage and ministry experience, and are a major source of support for Eric and Marsha. Church of God, Sarasota also has three other pastors in their twenties who serve in different capacities. “This multi-generational ministry team provides insight and wisdom as they carry out the mission to encourage the saints and reach the lost,” Marsha says.
Eric and Marsha offer brief insight for other couples thinking about planting a church. “It’s important that you both sense the calling. Also, try to find another ministry couple with tested experience like Larry and Che-Che Mobley.”
Old and New
Because of the previous connections, the Reeders see the church as a unique blend of a church plant and a restart. About half of the congregation have ties to the Church of God and the previous church, while the other half are newcomers. Those who have a Church of God background have enjoyed getting reconnected with the Reeders and the Mobleys.
New congregants have brought new energy to the church while former congregants give it a sense of history and appreciation for the Church of God. The Reeders have been blessed and challenged by this calling to resurrect the Church of God in Sarasota. “It has been challenging, scary, and a lot of fun,” Eric says. Marsha adds, “It has been hard and holy.”
Kevin Spear has worked for Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press) and has regularly contributed time and talent to the work of Church of God Ministries. He is a ministry partner with his wife Paula, an ordained pastor in the Church of God.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.