By Sharon Mager
Late last summer, LifeHouse Church members entered their new 40,000 square foot modern building, with a sanctuary seating 645, on 20 acres of ground in Townsend, Delaware, an amazing answer to prayer. Now Mark Lashey, the lead pastor of LifeHouse, is in awe of what God has done and at the potential for the new facility. It is a God-sized dream come true.
But it wasn’t the dream Lashey had twenty years ago. Then, he, his wife Tammy, her sister Stephanie, and Stephanie’s husband, Rob Leight, dreamed of forming and traveling with a contemporary Christian music group. And they were successful. God was using “Calling Levi,” to share the Gospel and encourage Christians. They were the opening act for bands such as Jars of Clay and Nicole C. Mullen and were on the precipice of a breakthrough. Wasn’t it God’s will for them to continue?
God had other plans for the two families and changed the course of their dreams.
Calling Levi to LifeHouse
LifeHouse Church’s journey really started when Mark, Tammy, Stephanie, and Rob met at Liberty University. All four musically talented, the two couples married. Following graduation, both families eventually relocated to their homes in Delaware. In 2002, they stepped out in full-time music ministry, traveling 200 days out of the year throughout the country. They were enjoying their time on the road and seeing people moved by their music.
In 2008, Mark felt led to take seminary classes. “I loved God’s Word and wanted to know and understand it more. It wasn’t because I felt called to be a pastor,” explains Mark.
“Just an Itch”
Rob may have raised an eyebrow but wasn’t concerned about Mark’s seminary classes since they wouldn’t affect the band. He says with a chuckle, “I thought it was just an itch Mark needed to scratch. We were doing what I had dreamed of all my life. From the time I was seven, my goal was to sing Christian music professionally. Things were fine. Surely Mark would not be a pastor. He was an accountant. He was very smart. He would make a great executive pastor, I thought at the time. So, we were okay.” The status quo was good. “I loved the bus life, the tour life, it was fun and exciting,” Rob says. The whole group loved being on the road, Mark agrees.
Tammy says the kids had a great time, and the families could learn and experience a lot together. “My youngest was born on the road. Hudson was six months old when we started. Our oldest was three.” Abby is now 20, Hudson is 18, and Sophie is 16. The Lasheys also adopted another child, Bianca, 16.
Rob and Stephanie have three children, Gracie, 17; Ella, 15; and Jude, seven. They employed two women who traveled with them, helped the group administratively, and watched the children when the band was playing. It was a great set-up.
In October 2010, Mark began to lead weekly Bible studies. The families lived just a house away, so the adults met at Mark and Tammy’s, and the kids went to Rob and Stephanie’s. It was working. “We did most of our traveling Thursday through Monday, so that worked with our schedule,” Rob explains. “(At this point) I’m still okay, everything is fine.”
In 2011, we were met with a lucrative situation. A group offered to fund our next album —$45,000 for a good quality album with top musicians. ” Rob was overjoyed. They were going to hit the “big time.” Financially, things were looking up.
Everyone was excited. Tammy said Mark had started writing music for the album. But Mark was also conflicted. “My burden for my community grew intensely,” Mark shares. “Through prayer, the Lord confirmed, ‘yes, I am calling you for this.’ It was such a hard transition because we had been doing Calling Levi for ten years, and some of the things we had worked so hard for all that time started happening.”
Rob says it was immediately after the meeting about the new album that Mark broke the news. “We’re in the car and Mark says, ‘Before we go further, I feel adamant that God is calling me to preach and to plant a church in our community,’” Rob remembers.
Rob was devastated. “I thought, my dream is crushed, my livelihood is crushed — who is going to pay our mortgage if he’s going to start a house church?”
Mark says, “I understood Rob was upset.”
Angrily, Rob told Mark, “Just so you know, I’m not going to be your worship leader!”
Mark remembers the moment and smiles. “We were definitely on different pages, but through prayer, God aligned our hearts.”
At first, the two families thought they could do both, but after meeting with a pastoral counselor, they knew they had to make a choice. Mark knew he had to be obedient.
“It was a test of faith to trust God even when things didn’t make sense,” Tammy says. “We committed the decision to deep, desperate prayer. We knew we needed God to work it out. I prayed, ‘God, I don’t want either thing more than the other. You’re going to have to take care of the whole situation and everyone in it.’ We cared just as much about the direction and peace for Rob and Steph, but we also knew we had to be obedient. I thought there was no way to come to an agreement.”
“I surrender all”
The weekly Bible study was outgrowing the houses, and they started to rent space in a nearby firehouse in preparation for a church launch. Rob says, “It seemed weird not to have worship music, so I said, ‘look, I’ll do your worship for the first three months. After you launch Sunday service, I’m out.’
“I’d been wrestling with God over this change and one week, during the third song, something clicked — I prayed, ‘whatever you want me to do, I surrender.’
“My desire at that moment to be a professional Christian music artist was gone. All of a sudden, my desire was to be a worship leader. That was in November 2011. Three months later, we launched LifeHouse.”
Attendance at the firehall grew to 500 and they transitioned to a middle school. Less than a decade later, the church stepped out in faith, purchased 20 acres, and built a facility they prayed would be used to glorify God. In the summer of 2020, with COVID-19 restrictions, and no access to the school where they met for years, they worshipped in a field and watched the construction of their new building.
Reflecting back, Tammy says planting LifeHouse was one of the hardest things she’s ever been a part of, but also the most fulfilling.
The present and the future
In October, contractors were still completing the punch list and the smell of new paint still lingers. Staff members are ecstatic. “We are beside ourselves. We feel so blessed,” says Mark. Completion came in the nick of time after the hot summer. “I’m not kidding; there were days I looked like I got baptized because I sweated so much. It was so hot. But as hard as it was, it was a special time because it was so raw. It really made us appreciate what the Lord provided.”
Executive Pastor Jonathon Brazell, beaming from ear-to-ear, says, “The multipurpose room can be used for anything from a worship concert to an Iron Man men’s conference weekend. The possibilities are endless.”
Tammy says, “What I love is that we not only have the church open on Sundays for services, but also Wednesdays, and we have Thursday night college group and Bible studies on Saturday mornings for men and women. We’ve hosted missionary luncheons and pastor fellowships.”
The meetings for high school and middle schoolers are so well-attended they meet in the sanctuary. “We set up corn hole and ping pong in the lobby. That’s been neat. We keep dreaming of new ways to use the facility,” says Tammy.
They will build a gymnasium during their next construction phase.
Mark says the church’s Early Childhood Center is a considerable asset. Families from the community bring their children each day to the church. That is an incredible opportunity to invite them to services and special events, and get to know them, he says. The Early Childhood Center also provides financial help with the construction costs.
Missions Pastor Joel Miller says he sees the building as a hub where people in the community and region come to hear about Jesus. “But we can also use it as a sending place to send short-term and long-term missionaries to the field,” he adds.
The church supports 25 different missions throughout the state, and around the world. In addition to their giving to the Cooperative Program, the church supports the International Mission Board, a church planter in Iceland, and ministries in India, West Africa, Senegal, Liberia, and Kenya. Additionally, they support a missions hospital in Haiti, a planter in Denver, and Navajo Native Americans in Arizona.
Churches planting churches
Church planting was in Lifehouse Church’s DNA from the beginning. They started two churches — LifeHouse Smyrna, launched in 2016, and LifeHouse Salem County (SaCo) in Pennsville, New Jersey.
LifeHouse MOT (referring to Middletown Odessa and Townsend) sent Drew Matthews and his wife, Heidi, the first family to commit to being part of LifeHouse MOT’s 2012 core team, to start LifeHouse Smyrna. One hundred people from LifeHouse Townsend went with Matthews for support, including worship leader Kage Queen. The church was meeting in a school, but due to COVID-19, they are now meeting at Fairies Funeral Home’s Chapel. They are an autonomous congregation, meeting the needs in their context and community.
LifeHouse Salem County (SaCo) in Pennsville, New Jersey, started having Sunday services in October 2020. LifeHouse MOT also sent members as a core team. The small group meets in a library on Sunday mornings and is already seeing people come to faith.
For such a time
Since the new church building opened, the church has seen God’s hand in so many ways.
Mark says he witnesses God moving regularly at the new facility. “This guy shows up at our church — a very impressive young man — 24 years old, with a graduate degree, and he played college football. He’s got a great job, but he’s really struggling. His neighbor, who has never been to our church, said to him, ‘Hey, why don’t you go talk to someone at that church?’” He did and that young man prayed to accept Christ.
A woman showed up one Sunday, having broken off her engagement to be married. She was in grad school, had a good job, but was going through a difficult season. She wanted to get baptized. “In her mind, she thought she had to get baptized in order to be saved.” Mark had an opportunity to share the Gospel and to explain the ordinance of baptism. She came to saving faith and was baptized several weeks later.
Miller says that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, new families have been coming to the church. “Every Sunday, I get a stack of first-time visitor cards,” Miller says with a smile. The church carefully follows CDC protocol and local government restrictions.
Mark says, “I really believe the Lord has gathered a people and provided a building ‘for such a time as this.’”
Cover photo: Pastor Mark Lashey baptizes Herbert Leonard (photo by Stephanie Leight).