Thrive

Matt Hook believes pastors are not only appointed to a church, but to an entire community. As pastor of Dexter UMC, he seeks to serve those in his congregation, community, and surrounding area in tangible ways, so none are unreached and everyone has a chance to hear the Gospel. Throughout his 18 years of pastoring at Dexter United Methodist Church, he and his congregation have focused on being the hands and feet of Jesus, through community outreaches, blood drives and the Healing Children Program, which provides temporary homes for children needing medical care in the U.S.

“Our buildings are nothing more than tools to reach people for Christ and to serve people in His name,” he said.

Matt’s not just talking about church buildings. He’s talking about our homes.

“Our number one investment, our number one finance asset that we own is our house,” he said. “And yet how many of us use our houses? The idea of using your house for a witness, using it as a ministry to host somebody was really a tremendous gift of God for us.”

In 2004, a woman called Matt repeatedly. She told him about Sarah, a two-year-old, coming to the U.S. from Guyana for a medical procedure because her bladder was outside her body. Sarah needed a host family to care for her and take her to her medical appointments. The woman asked if someone in the church would care for Sarah for about six months.

“I called my wife, and we said, ‘Why not us?’” he said.

Since then, Matt and his family have provided care and housing for several children and teens from Honduras and Guatemala. Matt believes it is a great way to witness to those who weren’t sure about the Jesus stuff but were fascinated by baby Sarah and wanted to help provide diapers, toys and clothes.

“To me, social witness is seeing a need and meeting it,” Matt said. “Sometimes it’s a systemic need. Sometimes it’s missions or housing those experiencing homelessness, and it’s helping hands ministry that helps people who need stuff done at their house that they can’t do. It’s being present in the community.”

Dexter UMC is 189 years old and used to be part of the Ann Arbor Circuit that started in 1832 as a Bible study. The church burned down in 1925, but the congregation was determined to rebuild. In 1983, they bought and re-modeled an old boy scout lodge to make more room for people to gather. Matt and his family arrived in 2003 and continued the church’s commitment to grow, focusing on youth, families and missions, using their spaces for more than Sunday morning worship. A few years ago, the church built a gymnasium. They hoped the gym would be more than a place for basketball or a community center; they wanted it to be the center for the community.

In March of 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, area homeless shelters needed overflow space to accommodate social distancing. Dexter and its sister church in Ann Arbor opened its doors to house additional people so that all had a place to sleep safely. The church also hosted a weeklong blood drive in the gym, following all the guidelines, and continues to host blood drives every other week.

“Attempting something big for God, for me, would mean being at such complete rest and peace in Christ, that His Holy Spirit would remove the angst and the confusion, or at least allow me to continue to be thrilled in Him in the midst of all that is going on,” Matt said. “So it means something big for me that my confidence in Christ would come across and have an impact on all the work and all the meetings.”

Matt graduated from Asbury Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry in 2003. In the program he studied burnout and “How Seminaries are Preparing Spiritually Alive Pastors for the Local Church.” He quantified what it means to be spiritually formed and to help pastors engage in lifegiving practices as they serve others. He co-hosts The Shepherd and the Shrink podcast that brings together the bible, theology and psychology.

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