By Carl Stagner
What drives the arms of the heavenly Father to welcome back the prodigal son? What brings the wanderer out of long-term drug rehab and back into fold? What then transforms him and ultimately calls him to pastor one of the most influential Church of God congregations in the country? What motivates those under his leadership to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and care for the orphans and widows in their community? What causes them to add tremendous hospitality, for the Church of God movement next June, to their already full ministry plates? At Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, the answer is no secret. It’s unconditional love.
Visit Madison Park online or in person and you’ll be confronted with this statement, written, spoken, and lived out: “You are loved—no matter what.” It’s only natural, of course, for one who has received such love to pass it along to others. And that’s what happened to Paul Strozier, senior pastor for the past four years, when he was in his mid-twenties. “I was raised in a Christian home and accepted Christ and his call as a child,” Paul recalls. “However, I ran from him in my teen and early adult years before coming back, following a stint in long-term rehab from drug addiction.”
How wide, long, high, and deep is the love of Jesus! It was this unconditional love shown at First Church of God in Vero Beach, Florida, that re-opened Paul Strozier’s eyes to the love of his Father in heaven, teaching him more fully the way of Christ and giving him opportunity to serve and grow. After several years of experience in worship leadership and associate ministry in Birmingham, Alabama; Dayton, Ohio; and a senior pastorate at Meadow Park Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, Paul Strozier and his wife Mariann followed the Lord’s leading to Madison Park, succeeding now general director of Church of God Ministries, Jim Lyon.
“The phrase, ‘You are loved—no matter what,’ has become the heart of our mission in Madison County and beyond,” Paul explains. “People need to know about the absolute and unconditional love of God through Jesus Christ. When we can dare to believe that God loves us, we can accept by faith that he has saved us, and we can trust him to transform us. God’s love changes lives!”
Paul should know; it changed his. And through the wide variety of ministries of the church he leads today, God’s love continues to change lives.
“We’re seeing God at work not only at Madison Park, but at wonderful Jesus-centered churches throughout our community,” Paul reflects. “Madison County has had some challenges, but God is reclaiming this community as his own—taking back what hell has stolen. The addiction recovery community is stronger than it has ever been. People are working together to address poverty and homelessness. Madison Park Church has recently adopted a hunger initiative to work together with other congregations and agencies throughout our community to address food insecurity in over 25 percent of our population. We’re also transitioning our adoption agency to a broader ministry of orphan care, supporting foster and adoptive families. Plus, we have a ‘Next Gen’ team making an enormous difference in the lives of our children and students. People of all ages are accepting God’s love and committing their lives to Jesus. We believe this is a wonderful time to live, serve, and love Jesus here!”
Madison Park Church of God is no stranger to the broader Church of God movement. For many in the movement, coming back to Anderson for the Regional Convention next year will be more like a homecoming. Still, there are sure to be others who are new. Pastor Paul Strozier and the Madison Park family look forward to welcoming everyone, and doing so with unconditional love.
“We are grateful to be part of the Church of God, and consider it an extraordinary gift to host our brothers and sisters from across the movement,” Paul concludes. “Our prayer is that we may, in some small way, provide a refreshing respite for everyone who gathers at the Regional Convention next summer. We want every person to sense God’s Spirit as we gather and to be reminded of God’s love. As a pastor who serves on the front lines every day, I know what a smile, a hug, or a warm welcome can do to encourage your soul and refresh you for the wonderful work God has called us to do. Our staff and congregation love the fact that we get to provide the setting in which God’s Spirit can move among God’s people!”
The Regional Convention in Anderson, Indiana, is scheduled for June 24–26, at Madison Park Church of God. For details on all three Regionals and to register, visit www.chogconvention.org, where more event details will continue to be posted as they emerge.