Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered. (Psalm 40:5)
Berean Baptist Church of Ogden started on the first Sunday of April in 1958 – 65 years ago this past Sunday. For the past twenty-two and a half years, I have had the privilege of serving Berean as her pastor. God has done some extraordinary things for our church, and I still haven’t gotten over it. So, I decided to share a couple of things with the reading public, hoping that you will be encouraged by God’s amazing kindness to a small and relatively insignificant body of Christ.
A Short History
Humanly speaking, we shouldn’t be here. The believers God used to form the church reached out to Dr. Ed Nelson, who directed them in establishing the church Biblically and recommended a man to pastor them. While the church waited for a pastor during their first year, one of the men took care of the preaching. And when the new pastor arrived, he lasted only about three years. After this, Berean experienced a revolving door of four different pastors over the next six years, followed by two years without a pastor. So, in the first twelve years of our existence, we had five pastors, one interim, and two years without a pastor. How does a church survive this?
But God sustained the church, and in 1970, God brought Pastor Hal Mason. Pastor Mason led the church for eight years, followed by Pastor Wayne Musson, Sr., who pastored the church for twelve years. Pastor Musson established our Christian Academy in 1979 and led the church to build our academy wing in the mid-1980s. But near the end of his twelve years, tensions erupted into a full-fledged church split. About half the membership walked out the door, and Pastor Musson served without a salary for the next two years. Finally, in 1990, Pastor Musson decided it was time for him to step down as pastor.
Under Pastor Musson’s direction, the church extended a call to Pastor Mark Short, the youth pastor for fourteen years at Anchor Baptist Church in Salt Lake City. When Pastor Short moved to Ogden, he wasn’t sure if God was moving him there to close the church or to lead it forward. But God healed the hurt from the church split, and the church soon thrived again.
Before I go any further, let me say that the point of rehearsing our history should not be to praise ourselves as if we have done something special. The history of our church is the history of God’s providence towards an undeserving people. We haven’t survived because we were especially great or especially godly. We have survived because God decided to display His goodness by preserving Berean Baptist Church. I cannot explain to you why Berean continues to this day. I can tell you that God has worked through some tragic events to keep and use us as a church. Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done.
I first heard of Pastor Short and Berean Baptist Church on a rainy night at the end of a long workday in the summer of 1997. My shift ended at 9:00, and when I returned home, my wife had a message from a pastor in Utah. He said it was urgent and asked me to call him when I arrived home. Before I called, my wife and I got an atlas to see how far we were from Utah (this was in the pre-smartphone world). We had been receiving phone calls fairly regularly from pastors at the time. We had just left our second ministry in about one year – our first ministry ended with the pastor asking us to go after six months (he didn’t think I was loving enough). Our second ministry ended when the pastor resigned, and the deacons didn’t want us to stay. In June and July of that year, we worked, attended a wonderful church on the south side of Harrisburg, and visited Gettysburg every other Saturday (not kidding). I fielded plenty of phone calls from churches during that time, but I had pretty much determined that God didn’t want me in the ministry, so I declined every invitation.
So, when Pastor Short called, I figured this was just another “no.” However, I was curious about Utah. When I hung up the phone after my conversation with Pastor Short, I was even more persuaded that the answer was “no.” But, I had promised to spend some time praying before making a final decision and to mail him my resume the next day – which meant I needed to type it (on a typewriter) that night. Fortunately, WalMart was open, so we could get ribbon for the typewriter (ask an older person to explain). My wife ran down to the store – as she describes it, kicking and screaming and stomping angrily through the puddles – while I pulled out the old resume and prepared to update it. My wife didn’t think there was a remote chance that we would be going to Utah, so she didn’t see the logic in revising a resume – at 10:30 at night – so we could mail it out the next morning. But she bought the ribbon, and we sent the resume.
And over the next week and a half, I spent hours in prayer, seeking God’s will. With the previous offers, I had prayed for maybe an hour or two before God settled it in my mind that this wasn’t His will. But with this offer, God wouldn’t let me walk away. After a week of praying, the only thing I knew for sure was that I needed to keep seeking God’s direction. I talked to Pastor Short a second time, and God clarified His will for us after that phone call.
In August of 1997, my wife and I loaded a moving truck and moved to Utah, sight unseen. My wife had traveled through Utah several years earlier when she vacationed with a friend before we were married. Otherwise, we had never seen the state, let alone Berean Baptist Church.
God blessed us with four helpful, healing years under Pastor and Mrs. Short, and we began to thrive in ministry. Then, at the end of our third year of ministry, God used a friend’s death to stir me about the next stage in ministry. At the time, I was delivering newspapers (ask an older person about that), and I used those early morning walks to pray and seek God’s face.
Truthfully, when the thought of becoming a pastor first entered my mind, I believed I was in sin. I accused myself of pride and haughtiness in thinking I could ever pastor a church. Day after day, for several months, I pleaded with the Lord to deliver me from this pride, to forgive me for thinking that I could pastor a church, and to give me a humble spirit that would be content in the place God had given me.
Perhaps this sounds contrived, but God is my witness that this was how I saw it. Morning after morning, the thought would enter my mind that maybe I would become a pastor, and no sooner did the idea enter my mind but I began to plead with God to take it away and my pride with it. And then, one day, it dawned on me that maybe my pride wasn’t speaking. Maybe the Lord was leading. So I presented that to the Lord and asked Him if this was His will. In my heart, I imagined God asking me, “What if I want you to become a pastor?” When I thought about it that way, I decided it would be sinful pride on my part if God called and I refused. That brought a moment of wonderful surrender, and for the next couple of weeks, I began to ask the Lord to direct me to what He wanted me to do.
At the end of that period of prayer, I became convinced that the first step was to tell Pastor Short what the Lord had been doing. I figured that if this were of the Lord, my pastor would agree; if it weren’t, my pastor would object. So, one day in early August of 2001, I told Pastor Short what I thought the Lord was leading me to do. Pastor Short shocked me with his response. He said, “Amen! I’ve been praying for this! I pray that God will move me to the mission field and make you Berean’s pastor.”
Of all the horrifying things a person has ever said to another person, that had to be the worst thing I had ever heard. I had been wondering if maybe God would move us to Idaho to start a church or if God would have a church for us to take over. But the thought of pastoring Berean was too much for me, and I told Pastor Short that this was the last thing I would want to do. Pastor Short asked me to return to talk to him again in a week while we both prayed about what the Lord wanted.
A week later, Pastor Short expressed his concerns about me, especially if I was to become a pastor. I thought he was telling me that he had changed his mind – something I would have welcomed at that moment. But instead, he concluded by telling me that he was more convinced than ever that this was of the Lord and then reiterating his hope that God would move him and his family to Fiji and make me the next pastor of Berean.
This meeting happened about a week before Pastor and Mrs. Short traveled with their family to Fiji, where the Short’s oldest daughter was a missionary with her husband, Kory Mears. The tragic events of that trip still sting. This past Sunday, we showed the documentary we made for our 60th anniversary. Central to that history is the tragic death of Pastor Short, who was swept out to sea in a riptide and drowned just days after 9-11. As a church, we still can’t rehearse that devastating day without a very emotional response. God took our pastor, and we will never get over that.
When I received the phone call with the terrible news, I knew immediately that God had prepared me for this moment. But I had a church to comfort and care for, and that took up all of my thoughts and energy. The deacons and I gathered at the church that night for prayer. We wept together, claimed God’s promises, found comfort in His Word, and reminded ourselves of our good God. At the conclusion of that meeting, I read the section of our church constitution that describes what the church is to do in the event of the sudden loss of a pastor. I wanted to ensure that the church knew the steps so we could avoid uncertainty and insecurity. Our church constitution (thankfully) sets forth very clear actions to be taken in such an event. The constitution requires that the assistant pastor become the interim pastor and that a pulpit committee be formed. We all agreed that the pulpit committee should wait until after the funeral.
After that meeting, I visited with some of our grieving members before returning home to see my wife late that night. The next morning early, a flood of emotion overwhelmed me. Throughout the day, the phone at church rang off the hook as pastors, friends, and well-wishers called to express their condolences and offer the best comfort they could. The most challenging moment came that first Sunday after his death. I dreaded standing in the pulpit that Sunday. I’ll never forget walking into the basement entryway and seeing one of our men. We both broke down, and I had to return to my office to regain my composure. That Sunday morning, I preached on the love of God from Romans 8.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
God carried our grieving hearts through those dark days. Pastor Short’s body was recovered that Sunday afternoon, and we set the funeral for two weeks after his death – providentially because it took that long to return his body to the States. After the funeral, I met with our deacons to form the pulpit committee. As Interim Pastor, I was responsible for leading the church, but I would not be part of the actual committee – only serving in an advisory role.
I knew what God was leading me to do, but I also knew that it would be very damaging to the church if I breathed so much as a hint of my conversations with Pastor Short. I believe in transparency, but this had to be an exception. As you can imagine, our church was emotionally exhausted, and if we had given any hint to the church of Pastor Short’s wishes, the people would have voted unanimously. I felt very strongly that the church needed to confirm God’s leadership in my life. For this reason, I didn’t give the pulpit committee any indication of what direction they should take. Instead, I encouraged them to choose a chairman, and then I turned the committee over to his direction.
The first meeting of the pulpit committee was interesting, to say the least. Once the chairman was chosen, he began to discuss the process of finding candidates. He asked the men if they had any suggestions. One by one, the men said they had no idea where to look. Finally, the chairman asked, “Would we want to consider Pastor Mallinak.” One of the men immediately said, “He doesn’t want it.” The men agreed. “If he wanted it, he would have said something. We wouldn’t need this pulpit committee if he wanted to be the pastor.” As the men discussed this among themselves, one man pointed out that we would still need a pulpit committee even if I did want it because the church constitution required it. There is no automatic succession from Assistant Pastor to Pastor. This led to further debate about my desire to become the pastor. Finally, one of the men said, “Well, Pastor Mallinak is sitting right here. Why don’t we ask him if he wants to be the pastor?”
So, the men asked, and I told them that I was willing to be considered. One of the men pressed me on it. If they offered, would I accept? He insisted that they didn’t want to offer it if I wasn’t going to take it. I told them I wouldn’t say: it doesn’t work that way. They needed to seek God’s will as to whether or not they should extend an invitation to me, after which I would seek God’s will as to whether or not I should accept that invitation. The men asked again, “Are you willing to be considered?” And I said that I was.
Immediately, one of the men said, “I nominate Pastor Mallinak,” and another man seconded. The chairman of the pulpit committee looked around in surprise, then said, “Well, I guess we should vote.” I’m pretty sure it doesn’t fit with Robert’s Rules of Order, but I thought I should interject something before they voted. So, I reminded them that not ten minutes before, they didn’t think I wanted to be considered. I pointed out that in the ten minutes from then to now, I was pretty sure nobody had taken time to pray and seek God’s direction in this. The men agreed, and we tabled that motion. We decided to meet again in a week. Meanwhile, the men would take time to pray over this decision.
The following week, the men had many questions for me. Some had serious concerns about me as well. Some even considered me arrogant (shocking, I know!). Nevertheless, I was thrilled with their questions and concerns, and I am grateful that they sought the Lord diligently. At the end of that meeting, the men voted to a call to me.
The following week, the chairman of the pulpit committee announced to the church that the deacons had voted unanimously to ask me to consider becoming Berean’s next pastor. We gave the church a few weeks to pray and invited them to discuss with me and among themselves whether or not I should be the pastor.
At this time, the opposition began to rise within the church. Once the announcement was made, our adult Sunday School teacher decided that he would teach what a pastor should be – and it just happened that his ideal for a pastor was the opposite of me. The chairman of our pulpit committee suggested that maybe I should attend the Sunday School class, and I did. But my presence (I sat in front of the man) did not deter him from what he had to say. On the Sunday of the vote, he opened Sunday School by announcing that he was not going to vote and intended to return his ballot empty. His father-in-law, a missionary supported by our church, had recommended this as an alternative to a “no” vote.
On the Sunday of the vote, it felt like the wheels would come off. One of the most bizarre things that happened that day came immediately after my “friend’s” Sunday School lesson (about me). I was mildly irritated at the lesson, and as I walked through the parking lot to my office, two cars came whipping into parking stalls, and about three couples came spilling out. Enthusiastically, they pumped my hand and informed me that they had heard we needed a pastor, and they had a man with them who had moved to our area to take a church. They then asked me if we had found a candidate yet. I told them that we had, that, in fact, we were voting on a man that very evening. Surprised, they asked me for the candidate’s name, which I gave them. They had never heard of him.
They didn’t ask me for my name, and I didn’t volunteer it, as they didn’t seem too interested in anything except their own agenda. Instead, they hustled into the church while I continued to my office. I took a moment to ask the Lord’s help and wisdom, fully expecting to stand up and preach to this clan, but by the time I returned to the auditorium, they were gone. Apparently, they came into the lobby asking the same questions they had asked me, and when they learned that they weren’t needed, they decided to vacate the property.
Before the vote, I had decided to accept the church’s call so long as I received the minimum vote required in our constitution (a 2/3 vote), with one exception. I did not believe I could accept the church’s call if I received a unanimous vote. I understand that many pastors desire a unanimous vote, but I had served in the church for four years, and I knew some people didn’t like me (such as the adult Sunday School teacher). I wanted an honest vote, not a sentimental vote. We were cautious not to hint at Pastor Short’s desire, knowing how that would influence the church. I assumed that a unanimous vote would not be an honest vote and thought I couldn’t accept if that were the result.
That Sunday night, after I preached, my family and I returned home while the church voted. We did not participate in the vote. About an hour later, the chairman of the pulpit committee came to our house with his family. He informed me that the church had voted to call me as the pastor. He was very anxious about what my answer would be and told me that the number one concern the church had expressed during that time was that I would decline the call.
Then, I told him what the Lord had been doing in my life before Pastor Short’s death. I told him that in the very moment when I heard the news that Pastor Short was lost at sea, God had confirmed to me His call in my life and indicated that He intended for me to pastor Berean. I then asked the chairman to give me until Wednesday to pray and re-confirm this with the Lord and told him that I would announce my decision to the church that Wednesday.
That was over twenty-two years ago now. When I accepted the call, I asked the Lord to give me forty years to pastor this church. I thought then – as I believe now – that longevity is crucial in Utah, as Bible-preaching churches are scarce, and our church especially had suffered for so many years through a revolving door of pastors. I praise the Lord for the years He has given me here. I recognize that forty years is my desire, not necessarily God’s plan and that this could all end tomorrow. But I am grateful that God continues to carry this ministry forward.
I have often looked in awe at how God helped us through such a tragic time. We are a small church. Initially, I thought that perhaps God intended something more significant for us, but twenty years later, we are still essentially the same church we were then. Humanly speaking, I would expect God to give such remarkable providences to an important church, a substantial church, a famous church. I wonder: why Berean? We aren’t well-known. We have been engaged with our city and community for these many years, and we certainly have impacted Ogden for Christ. But we aren’t exactly turning the world upside down. I don’t have an influential public ministry. For the most part, we have labored in obscurity. So, why would God go to all this trouble to preserve our church?
I don’t have an answer to that question. Everything I thought God might do through us has turned out to be wrong. We have met with many struggles and difficulties and disappointments along the way. Our church has experienced seasons of significant growth followed by times of decline. We have seen families gloriously saved and others turn from the Lord. We have sown much and brought in little and sometimes feel as if we have little to show for our work and labor in the Lord.
I am reminded that, in the history of the New Testament church, a few churches were famous, genuinely great, and influential to a generation. And there have been countless thousands of small, obscure, faithful churches scattered around the globe, where Christ is preached and magnified, and believers are disciplined in all things God has commanded. Of course, God has a purpose for the important, influential churches, and I praise God that He has raised up churches like that in every generation. But for the most part, the kingdom of God is advanced through the work of faithful churches that labor in obscurity, unknown and yet well-known, serving the Lord in their generation.
If God allows us to be that, it is enough.