WINDSOR, ON – When you meet Garth Leno you just like him. His conversations are purposeful. He connects warmly with people and he makes others feel comfortable in his presence. His appearance is crisp. Even wearing jeans and casual shirts, he looks dressed up. If the Lord had not called him to the ministry decades ago, Garth most likely would have become a successful executive with a fat retirement account; but that is not his story and that has never been his purpose.
In 2013 Garth was bouncing back from a devastating experience. The non-Southern Baptist church Garth had led for ten years in Windsor, Ontario, Canada rejected his leadership after a fruitful ministry. Garth had taken a public stand against denominational doctrinal drift, and during his three-month sabbatical in 2013 some people endeavored to end his ministry as the senior pastor. He was terminated “without cause” in August 2013.
In the aftermath of that shattering setback, a remnant from that earlier congregation gathered in Garth and Patty’s home for Bible study, fellowship, and prayer. No one could have foreseen what God was going to accomplish over the next four years. Consistent growth caused the group to move from that home, to a meeting room at a local golf course, to a banquet hall, to a remodeled warehouse, and now to a 12,000 square foot facility on 6.2 acres of land.
Equally inspiring, during these past two years Garth and the new congregation lovingly known as “The Gathering” sponsored the start of two new church plants in Ontario, Canada. One church plant is located in Sarnia, Ontario and the other is in Goderich, Ontario.
The church in some ways reflects the border city of Windsor and the surrounding county of Essex. Diversity is more common than most churches. There are young adults passionately pursuing careers serving alongside retirees who have more time to devote to serving the Lord through the church. There are church members from China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico, S. Africa, Europe, and North America volunteering in many roles in the busy church. Yet, despite their diversity, everyone focuses on the mission of bringing glory to God through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gathering’s intentionality and pursuit to do everything with excellence draws more and more people to join them each month.
How did Michigan Baptists share in all of this? One day, Garth met Wayne Parker, the North American Mission Board’s Send City Missionary, at a regional meeting. Wayne is also the lead pastor at Merriman Road Baptist Church, Garden City, MI. It was through the friendship that developed between these two men that every mission resource of the Southern Baptist Convention was extended to Garth and The Gathering. The weekly contributions from churches to the Baptist State Convention of Michigan (BSCM) supplied important resources for the new church start during its early days.
As a result, people have come to know Christ. Many have been baptized. Members in the church have found vibrant ways to serve God corporately as a congregation, and personally in their daily lives. Furthermore, in order to express their gratitude to those who believed in them during their early years, The Gathering has been overwhelmingly generous when it comes to contributions to the Cooperative Program and the special annual offerings. Some recall hearing Garth say something like, “How can we do otherwise? All of you came alongside us when we needed encouragement. We want to do likewise for others.” That is the power of one. One new beginning for Garth and The Gathering is giving life to more new beginnings.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.