by Elsie Walker
“The love and acceptance there,” said Bonnie Jantzen, of Hackettstown, when asked what drew her to become a congregation member at Mountaintop Church in Mt. Olive. Jantzen has been a member for 17 years; she and her husband were also married there 17 years ago. She found support there during tough times in her marriage and raised her children in the church, where they are now involved in the Worship Team. Love and acceptance are threads running through this church, and are not only experienced by the adults, but also by the youth and children, especially in special programs for them. Jantzen shared that the Senior Pastor, Rev. Matt Jones, “always sees the best in people. He is a wonderful example of a Godly man.”
Jones came to Mountaintop Church, an Assemblies of God church, 17 years ago. He had been the principal of a Christian school in Livingston and had briefly pastored a small church in Middlesex before he came to Mountaintop Church. He and his wife, Diane, have been married 29 years. They have three children: Matthew, Anthony, and Dionna.
“My goal is to share the forgiveness and the love of Christ,“ said Jones. He shared that he’s seen changes in many people’s lives as a result of taking in that message. Jones said that today many people struggle and so he tries to make faith practical and real for them.
Mountaintop Church was found in the 1980’s by pastor Ken Young, a quadriplegic, and originally named Bethesda Christian Church. Young’s goal was to offer hope to the handicapped. However, by the 1990’s, the church’s name had been changed to Mountaintop Church and Young had developed health complications and could no longer pastor. When Jones arrived, the congregation only numbered about a dozen people and Jones thought he was coming to close the church. Instead, working with the determined congregation, the church grew. Today, Mountaintop Church has two English services and one Spanish service on Sundays.
The English services are held at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Nursery care is available for infant through age two during the services. The services are contemporary and “make tremendous use of video and other media,” said Jones. Drawing on his background in, and love of, photography and videography, plus using different sets and a green screen, Jones will make short videos that run before his Sunday messages. In them, he becomes familiar characters like Sherlock Holmes or Marty McFly (of the Back to The Future movie series). The videos help him share spiritual truths in a relatable way, with titles like, “It’s Elementary – Clues to a Solid Foundation in Christ.” Before and after the services, there is a hospitality time with Jones doing a “meet and greet” once a month.
There are educational offerings held Sunday morning as well. Two different adult Bible studies are held at 9:30 a.m. and Mountaintop Kids Church is held during the 10:30 a.m. service for ages 3 – 11. The children start out in the adult service and are then dismissed to their own time of worship and spiritual growth.
Jones likes to empower people and an example of that is the Spanish service held at 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. Sixteen years ago, Moises Gomez and his wife became part of the congregation at the church. They had come from Puerto Rico. Jones recognized Gomez’s gift to teach and preach. With the growing Hispanic community in the area, Jones suggested that Gomez start a Spanish speaking service. That contemporary service, and the Spanish ministry, have flourished. Jones noted Gomez’s warm and welcoming nature. He shared that if even just one English-speaking person visits the service, Gomez will offer translation.
Quarterly, there is a combined English-Spanish service.
The church offers growth and fellowship activities for adults and children from the church and community. There are men’s and women’s seasonal Bible studies. Every Wednesday night, there’s something for just about everyone. At 7:00 p.m., there is an adult Bible study where participants can growth spiritually and relationally. For children and youth, there are weekly Wednesday night programs starting at 7:15 p.m. that empower them and help them to grow in God’s love: Youth Refuge, Mpact Girls, and Royal Rangers.
Youth Pastor Kody Vagle leads the Youth Refuge, which is for middle school and high school youth. Vagle noted that today some youth are bullied; some feel like they don’t fit in. At Refuge, all are welcomed. Vagle explained that the name, Refuge, comes from the Bible, Psalms Chapter 46, verses 1 – 2: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” Vagle said, “[We want] students to come and find God as their ultimate refuge.” A Refuge meeting usually includes a welcome/”hangout time”, games, singing worship songs, announcements, a message, and closing/”hangout time”.
Vagle explained that there are four core values of Refuge. The first is “you are loved by us and God,” he said. The second he shared is “you belong”. The third is about purpose. “Everyone has a purpose,” Vagle shared. The last value is “You are royalty.” He explained that the youth learn “they are valued and are co-heirs of the Creator and King”.
Refuge youth participate in a variety of activities. Vagle gave some examples. There is a youth rally to kick off summertime. It is an all-night event including a live band, games, and activities. For a winter retreat, the youth go to Blue Mountains Christian Retreat in Pennsylvania. Recently, a color war was held where youth pelted each other with colored powder. “Missions is very big on my heart,” shared Vagle. Refuge youth participate in reaching out to help others. An example of that was going to Houston for a week last summer to help with hurricane relief through Convoy of Hope. There the Refuge youth gave out groceries to about 300 families and prayed with them.
In addition to Refuge, there are programs for children age Kindergarten through 5th grade. Vagle said, “[they] are almost like Christian Scouts…children can earn badges” These groups are Mpact Girls and Royal Rangers, led respectively by volunteers Ruth and Martin Weiss of Flanders.
“We meet on Wednesday nights, September through June, from 7:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., shared Ruth Weiss about both groups. “Boys and girls can earn badges and we have our own uniforms,” she added. Examples of things done in each group’s meeting are hearing Bible stories, memorizing Bible verses, working on activity pages and doing crafts. The groups also participate in events such as camp outs (Girlz Retreat for the girls and Pow Wows for the boys), sectional and district events, such as All for Girls Day, Ranger Kid Field Day, Girls Ministries Discovery Day, Pinewood Derby, etc. “During these events, we get together with other [Assemblies of God] churches from the State of New Jersey and have a Bible devotional, fun and fellowship,” shared Weiss. However, she noted that there are other churches that are not Assemblies of God that run these programs as well and attend their events.
Outreach is important to this church’s congregation. Two key outreaches are the Mt. Olive Food Pantry and the church’s Easter Drive Thru.
Jones notes that Mountaintop Church works hand in hand with Christ Episcopal Church on the Mt. Olive Pantry. (The Episcopalian church houses the pantry which helps about 120 families a month.) As explained on the pantry’s website (www.mountolivepantry.org), “Originally, Mount Olive Pantry started out as a small office in the Township’s municipal building. In 2013, Mayor Rob Greenbaum wanted to expand the pantry’s services and asked Pastor Matthew Jones and Reverend Sonia Waters if they could help to expand the pantry and its services for the people of Mount Olive. Both pastors visited a number of pantries to observe operational format, and in 2014, Mount Olive Pantry was privatized under the direction of Partners in Compassion, a charitable 501c3 organization. The physical pantry was relocated in late spring to its present location …[and] the office for the Mount Olive Pantry, a subsidiary of Partners in Compassion is located [at Mountaintop Church}.
The Easter Drive Thru is held on Good Friday and the Saturday before Easter (weather permitting) in the parking lot of the church. Cars come into the parking lot and each is given a pre-recorded narration. As they follow a route in the lot, there are stops along the way. At each stop, a scene from Christ’s life is shown (manger scene, Jesus’ miracles, Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, burial and resurrection). Jones noted about 50 church members are involved in running the event: from acting to creating scenery. At the end of the route, there is an opportunity to pray with the pastor. The program runs each night from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
In reflecting on the church and its congregation, Jones shared, “we have a community here who loves each other.”