The CE Interview: MARI BETH POOR — finding solutions by serving

iServe Pastor | Mountaintop Community Church | Birmingham, AL

By Rez Gopez-Sindac

As iServe pastor, Mari Beth Poor oversees the “on the mountain” ministries that enhance the overall experience of people attending Sunday worship services at Mountaintop Community Church. These include guest services, student ministries, children’s ministry, and worship and media. She also leads the church’s “off the mountain” community efforts and global outreach.


As part of the directional team, Poor says one of the strengths that she brings to the table is longevity, which, she adds, gives a person a unique perspective. “In a fast-paced culture, time is often underrated and undervalued,” she explains — and reminds church leaders that:
• It takes time to form relationships that allow people to trust you;
• It takes time to implement and change things; and
• It takes time to give these things a true chance to succeed.

What attracted you to join Mountaintop and serve there for these past many years?
I came to Mountaintop at the invitation of a good friend when I was a junior in college. My friend had just been hired as the student pastor and he asked me to come and volunteer with the high school ministry. After volunteering for a few months, I was hired as an intern and eventually came on staff full-time, first as the student pastor.
It’s hard to believe it has been more than 17 years since I came to Mountaintop! The reason I have stayed and served here, along with believing it’s where God has wanted me to be, is because of the people at the church. I know the stories of so many people. It has been a privilege to do weddings, funerals, dedications, baptisms, share coffees and lunches, laughter and tears with the people here. Anyone involved in ministry knows that it has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day I truly believe in the power of God working through the people of the local church.

How do you think God prepared you for your current role?
When I was 14 years old, I went to a youth conference. At that time, I had not really experienced any significant struggle in my life. I distinctly remember leaning over to my student pastor and saying, “I’m having trouble relating because I’ve never had a deep struggle.”
Two months after that conference, I became very sick with an addiction that I almost didn’t survive. That experience completely changed my perspective and gave me the ability to empathize and relate to people no matter their struggle. It also expanded my understanding of grace. Finally, it helped me understand the importance of recognizing that God is the solution no matter what the circumstances. In missions, it’s easy for individuals and churches to think we are the solution, which can lead to unhealthy decisions. However, continuing to come back to the reality that God is the solution allows me to make healthy decisions and reminds me to seek Him for wisdom and direction in everything.

How did your role as iServe pastor come about? Do you see it evolving in the near future?
When our current senior pastor came on board, he made serving “off the mountain” (as we call it) one of the focuses of our church and asked me to lead our local and international efforts. It was perfect timing because I had been feeling a prompting to pursue missions. During my first few months in this position, I read the books Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts, both of which fundamentally changed the way we do ministry, both locally and internationally. My prayer is that over the next few years we continue to evolve in the way we do things.
I also hope to bring the Business as Mission conference to our church so that we can connect more business people and their gifts and strengths to needs around the community and the world.

What has been the toughest decision you had to make as iServe pastor?
A few years ago, a friend advised me rightly that in order to be most effective in our serving efforts, we needed to focus on one thing as a church. We were offering many wonderful serving opportunities, but we were so spread out that we weren’t able to make an effective dent in any one area. My friend encouraged me to listen to the heartbeat of our congregation and let it help me determine what our focus would be. He told me it would take three years to listen, see the response, and decide what our focus would be. I remember thinking, THREE YEARS! That’s a century in the church world!
However, he was right. It took all of three years to determine that our church best responded to anything involving children, particularly kids at risk. Therefore, our serving focus is now to “Kids at Risk.” This focus has made us a more effective partner to the ministries supporting that vision.
However, it also meant that we had to stop doing some wonderful ministries that pulled us away from that focus. It was a tough decision to stop doing some of the ministries. However, having a focus as a church has allowed me to say “yes” to ministry partnerships that help us pursue our focus and “no” to ones that will pull us away. Yet even when I say “no” to something, I try to affirm the passion of the person or people bringing the idea to me and help them find a place to be involved with that passion.

Regarding international missions, do you do it yourself as a church or do you work with an established organization? Why?
As far as our international efforts, we partner with established ministries and missionaries on the ground in various countries. This ensures that efforts begun will be continued by the local people and leadership rather than them being dependent on us.

Any leadership lessons you want to share with pastors in a similar role?
The lessons that have helped me most are:
• Pray for a focus as a church in regards to serving.
• As you offer serving opportunities, see which ones your church most quickly responds to.
• Don’t be afraid to say no to ministries that pull you away from your focus.
• Be willing to give change time to work!
• Listen, listen, listen. It’s tempting to want to be the one with the answers, but listening to others is so important.
• Be willing to share your mistakes with others so that they can, hopefully, avoid them.

You oversee multiple ministries; what do you do to stay creative, relevant and grounded?
First, I have a great team that works with me and helps make everything run smoothly. I have found that working with others makes everything fun and typically leads to creative, viable solutions.
To stay relevant, I enjoy going to conferences at other churches and learning new ways to do things. I also consistently ask my former seminary professors and other people who I admire to give me book and resource recommendations so that I can continue to learn and change as things are changing.
As far as staying grounded, I recognize the importance of getting away and having down time — trusting that things will be handled. Time away brings me back to the reality that I am not the solution for everything.

Quick Facts About Mountaintop

Year established: 1992
Senior pastor: Doug Ferguson
Denomination: Non-denominational
Number of campuses: 1
Weekly worship service attendance: 1,000
Full-time staff: 40
Yearly budget:  $2.8 million


One Response to “The CE Interview: MARI BETH POOR — finding solutions by serving”

  1. Churches mission is to spread the gospel worldwide, in many cases we provide meals, toys and medical treatment. Churches should look at sustainable impact programs that will propel farmers out of poverty. Most regions churches travel to have farmers that are growers of coffee, cocoa beans, bananas and other exotic fruits. As we give the gospel, we design program for local solutions to get farmers be more productive.

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