Familiar name to lead Landisville church
BY JOAN KERN, Correspondent
When he was a Hempfield High School student, Tim Bistline dreamed about becoming a disc jockey.
After graduating from Temple University in 1988, his dream came true. Sort of.
A part-time DJ, he worked the weekend graveyard shift at the former Starview 92.7. But to pay the bills, he worked full time as media director for the Hempfield School District.
Once a day, he gave the in-school suspension teacher a 45-minute lunch break, and that's where he found his calling to minister to teens.
"At first I hated it, but I grew to love it," says Bistline, 47, of Lancaster city.
"I'm passionate about reaching out to hard-to-love people."
Now, after 23 years in youth ministry in local United Methodist churches, Bistline is returning to his roots, following in his father's footsteps as pastor of the Church of God of Landisville, 171 Church St.
He will be installed as senior pastor of the church, founded in 1832 as Bethel Church, in a service at 10:45 a.m. Feb. 3. He will preach on "The Life of the Party," from Luke 19, about Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector who meets Jesus and pledges half his wealth to the poor.
"I felt a calling to move on," Bistline says. "I've grown as a leader and felt I had more to offer the church at large. But I never aspired to be a senior pastor."
Bistline's father, the Rev. Robert M. Bistline, of Lancaster, served as pastor of the church from 1980 to 1993. Previously, his father served a church in Findley, Ohio, the denomination's headquarters. His father's brother, the Rev. Randall Bistline, was pastor of Mount Joy COG for 30 years.
"I come from a long line of preachers," Tim Bistline says. "I think the first Bistline in America was a preacher."
Bistline, who received a master's degree in divinity from the Lancaster Theological Seminary in 1997, said the switch from the UMC to the COB is not really an issue.
"It's more that the Methodists tolerated me over the years," he says. "I'm just coming back to my roots."
Bistline describes the Landisville congregation as aging, with about 260 members and 120 worshippers attending on a typical Sunday. When his father was pastor, membership was about 450.
The church once played an important role in the community, with a number of prominent and influential members, including Amos Herr, who donated his home and 56 acres of farmland for what is now Amos Herr Park.
"They definitely had a heart for the community," Bistline says.
And that hasn't changed. Current members tell him they built a multipurpose extension in 2006 "with the community in mind."
"That's the heart of this church," Bistline says.
The congregation hosts a senior citizen lunch and program once a month and allows the community to use its gym for free. Members also mentor first- to-sixth grade students at the Landisville Intermediate Center in the Good News Club, a Child Evangelical Fellowship program.
"The mission of this church is to transform this community," he says. "I'm concerned that Christianity is in decline in America. I don't want to be in denial about that. I'm very passionate about the community of faith.
"I want to do things that are very simple to build an honest, trusting relationship with our neighbors."
Among other things, he plans to revitalize The Well, a Wednesday night outreach program for Hempfield High School students.
"We want to utilize our time and space for greater impact in our community," Bistline says. "I'm just hoping to jump on that mission and push it further with some radical ideas God's given me to share.
"This congregation wants to leave a legacy to the next generation, what it means to be a true follower of Jesus," he says.
"We just don't want to be the wealthy church on the hill that goes away quietly."
Bistline says many churches are stuck in "right thinking, believing if people just believe what we believe everything will be fine." He wants to help people "live healthy, purposeful, impactful lives."
"I don't know if churches have figured that out."
He wants to reach out to people who think church is irrelevant.
"I want to say I'm sorry to them because the church has failed them if they think the church is hypocritical, judgmental and a waste of time," Bistline says.
"I would take the radical approach. Jesus spent most of his ministry with broken people who thought religion was a waste of time."