LAPEL, Ind. — Don’t be fooled by the sandals and the relaxed demeanor, Tyson Priest has a laser focus. The pastor of Lapel’s young church, theRiver, has a mantra that includes three words: transform, renew, pursue.
Never mind there’s no steepled building outfitted with pews. After founding the church less than two years ago, theRiver is a going thing with about a hundred members turning up each Sunday. They meet in the auditorium at Lapel High School, where the congregation sets up and takes down each time.
“We wanted to create an environment for people not in church, that’s welcoming for everybody regardless of their walk,” said Priest, 39. “We just love loving on people. ... The difference really is just saying, ‘We’re here for you. We don’t want anything from you.’”
Priest grew up going to church in Anderson. “I always felt like I had a close connection with God,” he said.
Priest earned a bachelor of arts in social work from Ball State University, and a masters in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University. In 2006, he earned his doctorate in Christian ministries from Master’s International.
Along the way, Priest got married. He and his wife, Lynn, a teacher at East Elementary, have been married 12 years. The couple has two sons, Jeremiah, 8, and Isaiah, 6.
Priest’s career path took him into project management. He was a senior project manager in the health insurance industry when he had some realizations.
“Sitting in my cubicle is not what I was designed to do,” said Priest. He began to pray and ask God what it was he wanted him to do. “I began to feel God’s call to step out.” Priest and his wife started a Bible study at their home.
“It got too large for our house. We sat back as a group and asked what was happening,” said Priest. “We really felt led by God to start a church.”
Priest recognized he didn’t know anything about starting a church, so he sought out mentors. That path led him into a mentoring network called Converge MidAmerica.
“Their sole purpose is to help churches get started,” said Priest. TheRiver was born in October 2011, at first meeting in the elementary school.
“It’s been very cool to see a church that has to work together to get set up,” said Ben Eades, who serves as the music pastor. “Tyson – he’s genuine. He’s very genuine in his talk, his demeanor, and how he lives his life.”
Cameron Kusmeirik and his family searched for the right church for quite a while.
“We didn’t find anything we really loved until theRiver. It’s like you’re part of a family, like you’re at home,” said Kusmeirik. “We love the atmosphere. It’s very welcoming. Nonjudgmental.” He said it’s a great place for the kids.
“There is this sense of family,” agreed Jessie McClintock. “Everyone there is there for everyone else.” She attends theRiver with her husband and two kids. “I have learned more in the past two years than in my entire life. ... I now have a relationship with God. It’s changed my whole life.”
“My church is pretty simple. ... Church should be a place you let your hair down and relax,” said Priest. While you’re there, he’s going to steer the focus onto transforming lives, renewing hope and pursuing God, and he’s going to do it with a tangible slant.
The church kicks off a six-week series on the family beginning in September. Guest speakers include Curt Smith, president and CEO of Indiana Family Institute, Pete Campbell, youth pastor at New Life Church in Kokomo, and bestselling author and host of the No. 1 nationally syndicated Christian counseling radio talk show, Steve Arterburn.
Learn more about theRiver at their website, www.theriverlapel.com, or on Facebook, or at 10:30 a.m. Sunday in the auditorium at Lapel High School.
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