Spotlight Interview with Jeff Belcher

Prestonwood Network: How did God call you and your family to the Baltimore area to plant Church of the Harbor?

Jeff Belcher: I began leading worship while I was in college, and ended up serving as worship pastor at a church plant several years later. Throughout my life in ministry, I was passionate about discipleship and evangelism, and despite thinking I’d never be a preacher, it became clear that God was moving me from music ministry to a visionary, teaching ministry. Based on my experience in church plants, Kelly and I knew that was the right direction, so in January 2014, I applied with NAMB and said essentially, “We’ll go anywhere!” Baltimore had recently been designated as a Send City, and had exactly zero church plants within the past eight to 10 years. Because of the great need for churches, and the clear ways a lack of Gospel presence was manifest in the city—high crime, generational poverty, drug use, broken families, etc.—Kelly and I immediately felt a burden for Baltimore and moved here in November 2014.

Prestonwood Network: What makes Baltimore such a difficult city for church plants to have success?

Jeff Belcher: In our specific context, we primarily serve people we would characterize as “marginalized”. From a discipleship perspective, people aren’t only spiritually immature, but they also struggle to function in healthy ways on a practical level. Most of our people didn’t grow up in healthy homes, and they lack a lot of basic life skills. They have little education and they struggle financially, they have criminal backgrounds and have trouble finding work, they struggle emotionally and relationally, and have weak (if any) support systems. With this in view, it’s difficult for a church to become self-sustaining, as our “least of these” people barely scrape by themselves. However, despite the hard-heartedness of so many in Baltimore, we’re seeing the Gospel soften and penetrate hearts, and there’s much to celebrate.

Prestonwood Network: On the other hand, what do you think makes Baltimore ripe for a spiritual harvest and revival?

Jeff Belcher: When we share that the brokenness we experience is the result of our rebelling against God, but that He’s willing to forgive us if we’ll surrender to Christ, people appreciate that. However, most are (at least nominally) Catholic, and have heard some version of this before. But when we share that Jesus will one day restore all that has been broken by sin—that if we’re part of God’s family, we’ll live with Him in the new, perfect heaven and earth for eternity—this helps them see a hope they never before imagined. When we offer hope, and help people experience it in immediate and practical ways, we’re finding our neighbors are open to the Gospel. Jesus said the fields are ripe, and Baltimore is no exception. We’re simply working and praying that God would bring a harvest.

Prestonwood Network: How do you as the pastor emphasize evangelism and discipleship in the church?

Jeff Belcher: We have an evangelism team (which is overseen by a man I led to Christ two years ago) which reaches out to our community every week. Further, we regularly do community oriented events (cookouts, movie nights, coffee houses, community meals, etc.) that give us an excuse to knock on our neighbors’ doors and have a friendly conversation. We’re in our neighborhoods every week, and we’re always looking for opportunities to share the Gospel. With discipleship, we have what we call “Harbor Piers”—values that are foundational to our church—we use as measures of mature disciples. We continually encourage our people to measure their lives against our values, and we create opportunities for them to intentionally grow in the practices and disciplines.

Prestonwood Network: What does it look like for you to lead and love your family?

Jeff Belcher: I’m very busy with ministry, particularly since I work bi-vocationally, so I have to be really intentional about spending time with my family. For one, my wife and kids are highly involved in our church, so there’s time together naturally built in. Beyond this, Kelly and I make it a point to go out at least once or twice a month (thanks to our team members who are willing to keep our six kiddos), and we get away for overnights a couple times a year. With the kids, I teach them music, read to them most days, we eat meals almost every day around the table, we go hiking a lot (never knew Maryland had good trails until we moved here!), and I take one day off per week specifically for spending with family.

Prestonwood Network: What are you most excited about for Church of the Harbor in 2019 and beyond?

Jeff Belcher: Within the past six months, we acquire a permanent church home—which involved our gathering on Sunday mornings for the first time—and we’ve seen a lot of good things happening. God has brought us a couple mature leaders who are bought in wholeheartedly, our giving has increased substantially, and we’re currently working through starting a new congregation.

Prestonwood Network: Can you share with us a recent story of the work that God is doing at Church of the Harbor?

Jeff Belcher: Janet grew up in Baltimore City, and her earliest memories involve being abused by her mom’s multiple boyfriends as she bounced from house to house. Janet was removed from her mother’s care when she was six, and placed in foster care—where she was abused. She ran away at age nine, and lived on the streets of Baltimore. At 12, she was picked up and placed in a group home, but she had a bit of a rebellious streak by then, and ran away a year later. As a 13 year old, she became involved with a group of drug dealers who used her to run drugs, and they used her in other ways to make money. After six years working this way, she woke up one morning to another girl’s strangling her. Janet slept with a 9mm in her waistband, so she pulled out the gun and shot her attacker in the head. Janet went to prison. Twelve years later, Janet won an appeal, and was released from prison. She went back to life on the streets, including back into her addiction and scraping by through participating in any unsavory means necessary. A year and a half ago, Janet visited one of our events—one where we were serving our community in practical ways—because we knocked on her door. A couple months later, she visited our church, where she heard the Gospel clearly for the first time. She has attended fairly consistently for over a year, but refused to profess her faith in Christ. Recently, she called me and asked that I would meet with her. She said she wanted to be saved, but knew that God could never forgive her for all the things she’s done. I helped her to see the truth of the Gospel, and she, as a lady whose 50-plus years have involved some of the hardest things imaginable, surrendered her life to Jesus. At her baptism, in her uneducated Baltimorese, she read a poem she wrote to Jesus, and it was one of the most touching moments of my life.

Prestonwood Network: How can the Prestonwood Network pray for you?

Jeff Belcher: For God to raise up and bring us leaders to share in overseeing our people.

For our new congregation we’re working to establish.

For jobs for our people.

For God to deliver from addictions.

For God to bring reconciliation to many broken relationships (including helping our people to deal with their anger, bitterness, etc.)

For provision for our church, that we could continue to do good ministry among our neighbors.

Jeff Belcher serves as Senior Pastor of Church of the Harbor in Essex, MD. More information on Church of the Harbor can be found here: www.churchoftheharbor.org.

Please feel free to share a word of encouragement or prayer to Pastor Jeff at jeffb@churchoftheharbor.org.