Johnstown, NY is a quaint town, rich in history but poor in Spirit. With statistics showing that 72% of the population is unchurched, growing a congregation in this community is no easy feat, and having an historic building in dire need of repairs adds to the challenge. First organized in March 1828, the present brick structure on North Market Street was erected in 1869. Pastor PJ Murray came to the church with his family in 2011 and felt at home. He would preach on occasion, but did not feel lead to be Senior Pastor. But when the former pastor announced he was moving to NC, the congregation and elders agreed that PJ was the right man for the job. Through a series of clear confirmations from God, PJ was now certain that he was called to ensure the long-term survival of the congregation and to evangelize this spiritually destitute community.
I’m reminded of a story from Acts 27:7-28:10. It is the story of a shipwreck; a shipwreck of opportunity, not a shipwreck as a result of sin. It is the story of how God provides those whom He totally trusts to be subjected to extreme hardship so He can be glorified and achieve His perfect will. The Apostle Paul, under arrest and being transported to Rome where he would be judged, became stranded on the Isle of Malta during a tremendous storm at sea that caused the loss of the ship but without any loss of life. Malta was a spiritually desolate place (100% unchurched) not ever having heard about the incredible recent events in Jerusalem. With total confidence that God had not abandoned him, Paul proceeded to demonstrate the enabling grace of God manifested in his life. Without hesitation, without a sizable church, without a building to meet in, he began to walk without wavering in the conviction of his call. Miracles, healings and conversions began to mark the territory God had provided him. Not only were the inhabitants of the Island profoundly affected by the power of his ministry, but even the Roman guard and soon thereafter all Rome would be astonished by Paul’s God.
Today, the Isle of Malta, according to current statistics, is the most Christian nation per capita in the world. Italy also is among the top Christian populated countries. All because one man would not bend to the overwhelming circumstances that existed around him and would not succumb to the seeming impossibility of his great commission. Pastor PJ is such a man as Paul. He is confronted with an island of unbelief and the spiritual desolation in Johnstown. However, with God, nothing is impossible. The Apostle Paul recounts all the hardships and discouraging circumstances of his ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33. In spite of the many shipwrecks and beatings he endured, he was neither tempted nor persuaded to give up the incredible opportunities provided to him by God. Pastor PJ, like Paul, is not a man living a shipwrecked life but is a man whose life was ordained to have victory in the midst of shipwrecks.
Five years ago, in obedience, PJ took on the role of Senior Pastor at New Covenant Community Church. After taking this position, he soon realized the extent of the repairs that were needed were much more severe than he had originally thought. With ceilings half fallen in and the steeple in need of major reconstruction, they were just one visit away from losing their insurance. The church had run out of money and would need to close. It was shipwrecked, but God intervened and supplied every immediate need in miraculous ways. The necessary repairs were made and the church doors remained open. Pastor PJ said, “We have to know what God wants us to do, and then He will supply all of the resources”. We took a tour of this facility, and the historic tales and discoveries made it seem like an adventure. There was something new to learn around every corner. Pastor PJ was excited to share that he had discovered a “secret room” that no one was aware of. It is believed to be part of the Underground Railroad from the Civil War era. The old building was once used to provide liberty and freedom to desperate slaves. WOW, NOTHING, NOTHING has changed!
Worship was an acoustic set of intimate songs, including an original song by Justin Murray entitled “I Am New”. This was the first time in our church journeys that we’ve heard an original song played. It was a beautiful expression of this young man’s heart. God’s presence could be felt as he and his partner Areli sang together in perfect harmony. During the worship, Pastor PJ approached the altar and on bended knee offered a heartfelt prayer. Then he posed these questions: “How do you decide which church to go to?” and “Why should a church exist?” As a missionary to Russia and several other countries, he has witnessed churches that clearly know their God given purpose and are not complacent in their efforts to evangelize throughout Asia. Many in America, however, have lost their focus, allowing their personal preferences in music and taste in preachers influence their decision on where to attend. They have a desire to find the church that suits them, when their desire and passion should always be to GO, preach the Gospel and make disciples (Mark 16:15). The church is not designed for our comfort and pleasure; it is the instrument God designed to take our “Malta”. The fields that are white unto harvest are all around us, not in a cozy sanctuary.
In Haggai 1:3-8 the Lord speaks through the prophet instructing the people to “bring down the timber and build my house”. As soldiers in God’s army we are to seek out and reach the lost (“fallen trees”) and bring them into the house of God to build His church. Let’s not be distracted by the glitter of silver and gold in a physical temple. Instead, let us look for those “fallen trees” and bring them home to the Father so He can turn them into the beams that will help support and build His temple; The Body of Christ.
After the service we enjoyed a lengthy time of fellowship and refreshments. Talking with several of the members, it was evident that they all shared the same vision for the church. Through many faith-building trials, this congregation has been strengthened and matured, and it is now beginning to see the fruit of its labor. New Covenant Community Church is focused on the Great Commission, seeking the “broken trees” in their community. The passion and determination that flows out of Pastor PJ are both admirable and contagious. These are exactly the kind of soldiers needed to help the Body of Christ refocus, becoming better positioned to carry out the Great Commission … together in UNITY as ONE.
So … how do YOU decide which church to go to? Why do you think the church exists? Where is your “MALTA”?
Church Website – www.facebook.com/NCCChurchJohnstown
Written by Donna Hansen Munafo
Edited by Michael Frati