When the 500-member congregation of Mountain Bible Church celebrated the most holy week of the year, Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, 2010, they did so under the leadership of a new pastor.
The first service Jim Harper led at the Payson Mountain Bible Church was on Palm Sunday, March 28.
Harper and his family were brought to Payson from Oceanside, Calif., where he was the lead pastor of the Tri City Church, which served the communities of Oceanside, Carlsbad and Vista, Calif., north of San Diego.
“For some time my wife and I had felt the call to leave Oceanside,” Harper said.
They found the information on the opening at Mountain Bible on the Web site of his alma mater Dallas Theological Seminary and responded to it.
Harper said it is his understanding the elder board of the church had been searching for a pastor for about two years.
He and his wife, Tammy, came out twice to visit the board, the church and the area.
“We had a great connection early on,” he said.
Harper has been a lead pastor for 20 years, earning a master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas and a bachelor’s degree from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo.
While Harper has been with Mountain Bible for a little more than two-and-a-half months, he has been warmly welcomed by the elder board, staff and congregation and is settling in. He said he thinks it will take a couple of years for him — or any minister —to truly feel at home and for the congregation to know him and have built a strong foundation of trust.
“I feel we have had a good fit from the beginning,” he said.
As he has settled in at Mountain Bible, Harper has had time to make some observations.
“There is a beautiful spirit at Mountain Bible. It is obvious people love God and each other. There is a tremendous spirit of serving one another. The fact that people are happy to be here was so evident from the beginning,” he said.
Harper added he was impressed with how careful the church board was in its selection process.
“This is a God call, not a people call. They were very serious about it,” he said.
Harper said he loves the multi-generational aspect of the congregation and the very youthful spirit of it.
“(The older members) care for and want to reach out to the young families,” he said.
Harper said there is a great spirit of freedom in the church, which will enable the leadership and congregation to move forward as God leads.
Moving forward, he said there are no major issues that need to dealt with, but he has been tasked to help the congregation return to its mission and vision, “Loving God, loving people” and “Know. Grow. Go.”
He said he and the congregation would be evaluating how the church is doing in meeting its vision and mission and whether any of its ministries need to be realigned to meet “Who we say we are.”
Over the next six months to a year Harper and the congregation will also be re-evaluating and possibly redefining the church’s role in the community and “how we’re being called to reach out and make a difference in Payson, both spiritually and for the physical needs of residents.”
Harper said down the road they would also be evaluating the potential of an Arizona State University campus in Payson and what it means for the church.
“My heart and the heart of Mountain Bible is not just to be a holy huddle, but to make an impact on Payson. If we were gone, we would want the community to sorely miss us,” he said.
Harper and his wife, Tammy, have four children. Two sons, Nate and Ben, have remained in California to attend college; their daughter, Natalie, will be a high school senior in the fall; and another son, Clint, will be a high school junior.
“We love Payson. When we first came up, it was like a little bit of heaven. We were very ready to get out of the gridlock of Southern California,” he said.
About Mountain Bible Church
Back in the early 1980s, a group of believers began gathering in a home for a Bible study. They soon realized that God was calling them to start a new church that would have a distinctive ministry to the Payson area. The worship would be relevant praise and worship choruses; the teaching would be firmly anchored in the Bible with application to daily life; plus, and maybe most importantly, the church would have a heart for lost people.
The church flourished, requiring changing meeting places, which included homes, an old storefront, and schools. After an eight-year history as a growing body of believers, in 1989 MBC joined with the Evangelical Free Churches of America.
Pastor Dave Greiner came to give leadership and it was soon obvious that it was time to build a worship center. Eight acres were purchased and three buildings constructed, which, along with three other buildings on the property, serve the needs of the church well.
Mountain Bible Church is located at 302 E. Rancho Road, Payson, and has services at 8:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. every Sunday.