By Brenda Gibson
When Pastor Mark Stump accepted the Lord’s calling to serve as senior pastor of Gassaway Baptist Church in 1983, he says he “never dreamed” that he would still be serving in that capacity today.
“One denominational leader advised me that I might be here for a year or possibly 18 months,” Pastor Mark said. “At the time, I thought he might be right about that.”
Both were wrong. In fact, Pastor Mark’s congregation plans to celebrate his 40-year milestone as their spiritual leader during their morning service on Sunday, March 19 at 9:30, and everyone is invited to attend.
Despite his initial doubts about his longevity here, Pastor Mark says he knew that God was calling him to pastor at GBC even before the church called him.
While he was serving as youth and children’s pastor at Little Union Baptist Church in the summer of 1982, Pastor Mark and his wife Darlene were driving around Gassaway where he pulled up in front of the building that was then Gassaway Baptist Church. He says he told Darlene that he didn’t know how or when, but he knew that he was going to be serving as pastor here.
“There’s a difference in God calling a pastor and God sending a pastor to a church; make sure it’s the one God is calling,” Pastor Mark advises other churches who are in search of a pastor.
Over the years, many churches have invited Pastor Mark to serve as their pastor, but he has not felt God’s leading to go elsewhere. He recalls once being tempted to go to a church in Cincinnati, Ohio, but in the end, he knew it wasn’t what God wanted, so he stayed at GBC.
Pastor Mark attributes his longevity at GBC first and foremost to “the assurance in the calling of God.” “Either God wants you here or he doesn’t. To stay or go is always God’s decision.
“I try to observe and learn from other people, and early on I observed that where there were longer term pastors serving, the churches were always much more stable. Their numbers were not always outstanding, but there was always stable and consistent ministry taking place there.
“You don’t gauge the value of ministry by the numbers,” Pastor Mark emphasized. “Numbers are not the gauge of a church’s effectiveness. I learned fairly quickly not to gauge my value or a church’s value based on those numbers. It’s easy to fall into that trap. When I get discouraged, I remind myself of my role: to deliver the gospel message. I ask myself if I’ve been faithful in delivering that gospel message, and if the answer is yes, then God has been honored.”
In terms of the broad spectrum of duties that Pastor Mark has performed during his 40-year tenure at GBC, he believes that his duties have expanded as his church’s outreach has expanded.
“One of the things that happens when you’ve been in this position as long as I’ve been,” Pastor Mark said, “is that you cease to be the Gassaway Baptist Church pastor. As you get to know most everyone in the county, you become a countywide pastor.”
In this extended capacity, Pastor Mark says he has been a part of the most exhilarating things and the most heartbreaking things. In all of these things, “God’s blessings always abound,” he said.
Thinking back over those blessings, Pastor Mark quickly recalled having baptized a lady who was 89 years old.
“The people make it special—those who have accepted Christ. It’s thrilling to me to baptize a husband and then to be there when he helps baptize his wife and children. That’s very special.”
Yet another memorable blessing for Pastor Mark was GBC’s first meeting in their current location on Easter Sunday in 2014. “That first Sunday here was overwhelming—to see what God had done. It was a very special day.”
On a personal level, Pastor Mark has been blessed to baptize his own children and grandchildren.
In addition to the blessings, he is all too familiar with the heartbreaking times that people must endure in this life.
“I’ve walked through a lot of valleys with a lot of people,” the veteran pastor said. “My responsibility in those times is to encourage them to take a breath and to look calmly at the situation in order to make a rational decision—one that would please the Lord.”
During his many years at GBC, Pastor Mark has also encountered a myriad of challenges. “It’s funny, but as you progress through the years, the challenges change somewhat. When I first came to pastor here, my biggest challenge was to change the ‘if we do it, it’s okay, and if we don’t do it, it’s okay’ mindset. It was a challenge to broaden the concept of ministry—to go beyond the borders of our community.
“Our ministry really is worldwide,” Pastor Mark asserted. “We have missionaries serving in our county, in our state, in our country and outside our country.
“I think one of the greatest challenges to ministry is to be more influential than the world. The world believes that the church should accept its standards of morality, and when the church doesn’t do that, terrible charges are made against the church. The world wants the church to accept moral standards that are not the biblical standards of the church.”
Pastor Mark also sees commitment as a challenge in ministry. “We have several folks that come here but not a high percentage that we can count on every time we need help,” he said, citing the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, wherein 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work in any given situation or system. “I do think we have a higher percentage than that of people doing the work of the church here.
“Commitment should be approached seriously,” he noted. “The church is the body of Christ. In the book of Ephesians, we read that every part must contribute to the whole body. The body becomes handicapped if each one does not fulfill his or her role.”
To illustrate this point, Pastor Marks shares the story of a man who chose to give back to his church by building a new church. When the church was finished, the first service was held, but those in attendance discovered that there were no lights in the church. The man advised the congregation that they would have to bring their own lights; if they were not present, those areas of the church would be dark.
“All areas of society struggle with commitment,” Pastor Mark said. “We want greater results with less effort.”
In terms of his most challenging times at GBC, Pastor Mark recalls the years when the growth of the church resulted in his preaching three services on Sunday mornings. “That took a big toll on me,” he said, describing one Sunday when he preached the three Sunday services at GBC, after which he preached at a homecoming for another church, followed by his preaching at a revival that night at yet another church. I preached 11 times in five days; that was exhausting.”
He also recalls serving as the pastor over six funerals in five days at one point in his ministry, as well as preaching all three Sunday morning sermons while he was having a kidney stone attack. “That was horrendous,” Pastor Mark said.
Not only were these challenges to his own well-being, Pastor Mark knows that his passion for ministry brought about sacrifices for his family as well. He recalls having preached 21 revivals when his children were small. He once preached a revival in Kentucky for two weeks. Afterward he stopped at a friend’s house where he was given a cassette to listen to during his late-night journey homeward. He still recalls the impact of one line of a song on that cassette: “If we’re heroes to strangers but strangers to our children, then we’ll not stand blameless before the Lord.”
“It changed me,” he said. “In that arena, I had to return to the question: am I a pastor of that church or am I an evangelist? I went back to my original calling: I’m a pastor of the church. I decided then that I was also a pastor of my children. I kept those commitments I had already made to evangelize, but since then I’ve limited those.”
Pastor Mark credits his provision in overcoming the challenges of his ministry to God’s grace and the people of his congregation. “There is always someone who has helped me through those challenges,” he said. “We are fortunate to be in a church where people actually like each other. We are wonderfully blessed in that way.”
In all of these challenges, as well as those that cancer and heart issues have presented in recent years, Pastor Mark seizes opportunities to testify to the goodness of the Lord. He has been able to share his testimony with the medical professionals who have questioned his reason for assurance and calmness in the midst of his physical crises.
During one of his procedures at the Cleveland Clinic, Pastor Mark recalls having met a nurse whose family is still in Ukraine. He could see her brokenness as she watched the television coverage of the Russian attacks on her country. The Lord, he says, opened the door for him to talk with her and pray for her.
“Everything goes back to the grace and strength the Lord gives me,” he explained, referring to 1 Corinthians 12 where the Lord chose not to heal Paul but to give him grace.
His sense of purpose also keeps Pastor Mark going. When people ask him about retiring, he says, “I’m not going to retire. I may repurpose; God has a purpose for me.”
Pastor Mark finds great joy in his ministry. “To witness the transformation of individuals as God changes their life and changes their family is like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. It is absolutely beautiful to watch that transformation in people’s lives. That still amazes me after all these years. I love to watch the journey from their being lost to being found.”
He also experiences great heartache in ministry when people have opportunities to accept Jesus as their Savior and they choose to reject Him. “It hurts when people make mistakes and bad choices, but the greatest heartache of all, without question, is when people hear the gospel and then turn Jesus away,” Pastor Mark said.
Despite the many changes in ministry over the years, Pastor Mark regards his ministry from the pulpit—the preaching of Christ and the centrality of Christ—as the most important aspect of his calling. “But pastoring is not as pulpit-centered as it once was,” he points out. “We have a lot of people who have significant roles in the ministry; it takes everybody. In other words, It’s not a spectator sport anymore; it’s a participant event. That’s a change that has been coming for several years.”
What does Pastor Mark believe has brought the Lord the biggest smile during his ministry at GBC? “The many times that we’ve stepped out in faith and allowed Him to change us and followed His will,” he said, recounting the long list of changes, including facility renovations, worship style, music and missions. “But to sell a church building and build another one: that has been amazing. And people have allowed us to do all those things.
“And in 40 years, we have had no split, no great departures, after all these changes. That’s a tribute to the people of this congregation who want to do what God wants us to do. I want Gassaway Baptist Church to be the church God wants us to be. I don’t think there’s a mold for that. God has been creative in that way; we are unique.”
Pastor Mark sees his unfinished business as continuing to reach out to spread the gospel in Central West Virginia. “We’re not just a community church; we’re regional,” he said. “I want to expand our counseling ministry; we’re moving in that direction to establish a counseling center and possibly an educational center at some point.
“The spiritual dream is always the furtherance of the gospel of Christ through continued involvement in our communities. I want us to be a part of every area of our society in a godly way. I want us to be the church God wants us to become and to reflect God Himself. When people see our folks, I hope they get a good idea of what God is like.”
Throughout his ministry, Pastor Mark has been guided by what he calls his life verse: Psalm 78:72, “So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.”
“That speaks volumes to me personally,” he said. “Always maintain integrity and keep growing. There’s no stopping point.”
Another scripture that has guided the direction of Pastor Mark’s ministry is Matthew 20:28: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” “We are to be other-centered not self-centered,” he said.
With 40 years of pastoral experience, what words of wisdom would Pastor Mark offer young pastors as they accept the call to shepherd a church? “First, you must stay true to the Word of God,” he advises. “That’s where I see a lot of struggles taking place in ministry today. God’s Word is absolute Truth. Be concerned with what God thinks, not what people think. And always obey Him, regardless of the consequences.”
Pastor Mark is quick to recognize his wife for her support and encouragement during his ministry. “It has meant everything,” he said. “Whatever I’m wrestling with, Darlene jumps in and wrestles it with me. I’ve don’t know that I’ve met anyone who has a greater love for God’s Word and His people and sharing the gospel message than Darlene. She has supported me in everything.”
Now that the Stumps’ children are grown, Pastor Mark says he once thought the days of chasing after them would be over; however, he has more grandchildren than children, so the days of chasing after the grandchildren bring an abundance of joy. “We want to be an integral part of their lives,” he said, “and the Lord has allowed us to do that. We put as many miles on our vehicle now as we did back then.”
As he continues to care for his family and his church, Pastor Mark offers his sincere thanks to his faithful congregation. “It has been everybody working together for God’s glory to allow anything that has been accomplished,” he said. “My appreciation for the support and love that has been and continues to be shown to my family is inexpressible. Thank you for making these the best years of my life.”