PCA General Assembly, 2014 (Houston, Texas): Stu Batstone wanted them to meet. He knew they both had a heart for new congregations being planted, and he had mentored both of them through Sonship. So -- he knew them pretty well! The men that he wanted to meet were Alan Foster and David Wallover. Alan had been on staff of Perimeter PCA in Atlanta before he and his wife, Kim, and their family ventured off to a bedroom community of Atlanta to plant a church. Having accomplished what God had for him to do there, Alan took a call to join the staff of MNA (Mission to North America), the domestic church planting and evangelism arm of the PCA. His task would be to recruit new church planters from among men who were already ordained and in ministry but contemplating a change. David's role was Senior Pastor at Harvest Presbyterian Church in Medina, a neighboring community just south of Strongsville. His heart had always been for church planting. Having planted one church in Northeast PA, his desire evolved into wanting to be able to assist other churches being planted, only now in Northesat Ohio. They met. After the preliminaries, they dug into why they met. They each desired something the other one had. Alan had contacts. Harvest had the potential of support. A match made in heaven. Alan's words to David: "If you will support me, I will guarantee to place Cleveland and NE Ohio in front of everyone I can." David's words to Alan: "We're in!" And from that point on, they started collaborating.
Soon after that initial meeting, after a site visit by Alan as the guest of David and Lisa Wallover, and after a few more phone calls for prayer and brainstorming, Alan said, "I want to suggest something bold and outrageous." David said, "I'm listening." Alan said, "Let's make it our prayer that the Lord would bring six new church planters to Northeast Ohio by 2016.” “Six by Sixteen” became the mantra. So they did --they prayed. Among the first ones that the Lord brought to NE Ohio were Bill and Patty Powis. The timing was extraordinary. Even more extraordinary, however, was the way that the Lord knit Bill's heart and David's together in a mutual desire to see the gospel go out in our region. Bill had such abundant experience in church planting. Alan knew that, and so did Ted Powers, MNA's Coordinator for Church Planting at the time. They all met on a Saturday in Cleveland: Ted, Alan, Bill and Patty, Lisa and David. That initial meeting was not encouraging, at least to those watching Bill and David spar. They were both passionate and not afraid to put their convictions on the line. That exchange, so far from driving them apart, however, cemented their mutual respect. As the weekend unfolded, David watched Bill in amazement as Bill would lead a total stranger to a conversation about Christ and the gospel in less than 30 minutes…and it was as natural as breathing for him. These encounters happened not once, but several times. In Bill, David saw a true evangelist. What started out looking like a potentially ill-fated meeting, quickly transformed into their hearts being melded together.
What facilitated that binding as kindred spirits, was a moment of uncommon vulnerability. On the last morning of Bill and Patty's initial site visit, David asked Bill to pray for their breakfast. He declined. David was taken aback. So, he asked the blessing and then inquired of Bill as to what was going on. After their initial sparring, Bill and David had actually settled into a wonderful dynamic of vision casting and possibilities. But in that moment, Bill admitted that while he felt a pull to Cleveland, he'd been hurt in ministry before and didn't think he could go through it again. Two nights before, Alan had shared his testimony with Bill. Alan was vulnerable with his story -- and that vulnerability moved Bill. Later, on that last morning, as David saw Bill struggling, he said, "Perhaps it would help you to hear my story, as well." David shared his own hurts from life and ministry. Bill was again moved by the willingness to be transparent. David concluded by saying, "Bill, you will not be hurt here." And with that, he was in. There was no looking back. To be sure, there were, as there are with any church plant, moments when Bill would approach David and ask, in effect, "Did we miss something?" David would say, "No. We're doing what we need to do. Succeed or fail, we needed to try. And God will be faithful."
During the time of Bill's tenure in Cleveland, and then in Strongsville, he expressed numerous times his desire for an apprentice. First, Sam Foster filled that role. But it was understood from the start the Sam would not be taking over at Strongsville. His aim was for Oberlin (where he is now!). So, the desire for a successor remained strong, though as yet unfulfilled. In January of 2019, David went to Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte for a workshop with Randy Pope, Senior Pastor at Perimeter Church. Several years before this moment, Alan had been in touch with Jason Piteo, at that time a newly-minted church planter in Charlotte…who was originally from Cleveland…and Alan knew it. "Jason," says Alan along the way, "would you consider returning to Cleveland to plant a church?" "Uh…no," was basically the reply. Alan gave David Jason's contact info. "Jason…" Same question. "Uh…no." Same reply. Fast forward to January, 2019, and this workshop. By that point, David had been going to RTS to recruit potential church planters for a couple of years. David had gotten to know the leaders of the Center for Church Planting there. On that fateful day, they saw Jason -- who had just happened to go to the seminary to study. And as soon as he walked through the door, he was accosted by these two leaders. "Do you know David Wallover?" "We've corresponded. Why?" "He's here. You two need to talk." "Uh…okay." They met. After the preliminaries, David finally said to Jason, "We need you in Cleveland." And from that point forward, the transition began. Alan Foster. Bill Powis. Jason Piteo. David Wallover. Four very different individuals in temperament and gifts, yet as one in their desire for the gospel to go out in love and strength to this region. Their paths crossed in ways that only the Lord could engineer for the sake of building his kingdom with new congregations right here in Northeast Ohio. Bill got his successor. The baton is being passed to Jason and Jill and their wonderful family. The work of the gospel goes forward. There has been a turning point, and now there is a resurrection waiting to happen in the souls of more people who will come to know Jesus Christ deeply and personally. God is good. Praise Him!
PS -- God didn't answer the prayer for Six by Sixteen…but He did answer it with Six by Nineteen! The gospel is going forward in Northeast Ohio! In 2014, there were no new church planters in Northeast Ohio. Now, there are six. As a result, there are now more people following Christ to see where He will lead and how He will continue to build His Church! Praise Him indeed!