Sunday 25 August 2019
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Pastor Matt Hearn: Making a Difference Alongside Gateway Community Church


“Many are called but few are chosen.” ~Jesus Christ

Anyone who knows Pastor Matt Hearn of the Gateway Community Church is
familiar with his meaningful yet unconventional ways as a pastor. He
has experienced a spectacular level of ministerial growth over the
past years. At first glance and upon conversing with him, it’s obvious
that Pastor Matt does not exemplify the typical image of a pastor. In
jeans and a t-shirt, his usual attire, Pastor Matt’s down-to-earth and
welcoming nature allows almost anyone to be comfortable around him.

Pastor Matt was born in Lexington, Kentucky but spent many years
in North Georgia. He recalls his very first mission trip—he was 17
years old. Not realizing his ministerial calling at the time, he did
know that he was tremendously inspired by the experience. He enjoyed
working with young people most of all, so he began to serve in his
church youth ministry. At the time, he was already very acquainted
with ministry. His dad, Steve Hearn, was a pastor. Furthermore, his
grandparents were missionaries who spent an impressive amount of time
in Kenya. He even mentions his uncle, Dave Crosby, who was a
missionary in Colombia, South America. Regarding his family’s service
in ministry, Pastor Matt says, “That’s something that’s been in my
family for a long time.”

Pastor Matt spent four years at Asbury College in Kentucky
pursuing a psychology degree.  Being unfulfilled with that career
choice, he went to seminary school. Having a sincere heart for young
people and desiring to reach as many as possible, Pastor Mat
eventually relocated to Columbus, Georgia where he began a teaching
career at Calvary Christian School. He understood the profound impact
that teachers can have on their students. He continued his youth
ministry alongside his teaching. Pastor Matt was very comfortable
leading the kids, but had been apprehensive about becoming a pastor—an
actual shepherd. He admits, “I was really fighting my calling to be a
pastor.” He goes on to say, “Looking back, it was what God was moving
on me.” He mentions several children in his ministry admiring his
sermons. He recalls his thoughts at the time. “If you can keep 7th and
8th graders entertained, you can probably do this.” He and his wife,
Lori, prayed about the steps they needed to take in their lives in
order to fulfill their destinies. They soon became members of Pierce
Chapel United Methodist Church in Columbus, Georgia. Pastor Matt felt
that it was “a really great church and good for him.”  He recalls, “It
was the first time I’d actually saw a church that was healthy.” He
adds, “I’d seen how dysfunctional and broken churches could be and how
that really hurt people.” He also comments, “Pierce Chapel was great
because it allowed me to see that ministry could be done in a way that
brought broken people in and healed them.”

In time, Pastor Matt began to identify with his calling even
more, noting, “God was moving my heart.” He and his wife later moved
to Savannah, where they joined White Bluff United Methodist Church; he
joined the ministerial team. “I loved the people at White Bluff; it’s
a good church.” However, it was on Pastor Matt’s heart that “God was
calling him to something different.”

He would soon find that difference. He always appreciated a
church leader that anyone would feel comfortable approaching for
help—a person who was relatable and reachable. He wanted to reach as
many people as possible through the Gospel of Jesus Christ while never
compromising very essential biblical principles. He decided to obey
his calling; he found himself in Pooler where he began to establish a
new church. In 2006, Gateway Community Church was started. Pastor Matt
tells how the church got its name and slogan. He wanted something that
was welcoming to anyone seeking to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, “Gateway” became the favorite of him and others in his
ministry. They also decided on a very compatible and fitting slogan:
“Same Bible, different church.” He says the mission of Gateway is to
“invest and invite.” He feels that everyone should “invest in the
relationships that God has given us—invest in your families, invest in
your friends, invest in your co-workers; be a loving, kind person.” He
states, “When the opportunity arises, invite those people into a
relationship with Christ; that’s what it’s all about.” Regarding
Gateway, he remarks, “We want to be invested in our community; we want
to be a church that if the church closes its doors, Pooler, Georgia
would miss Gateway Community Church.”

He tells a story of a young lady, far from a consistent
church-goer, who visited a church for the first time. She was
unacquainted with the procedures of service. It was quite obvious that
she wasn’t wearing fancy church attire. She seemed to feel
uncomfortable and left out. Due to this, she was apprehensive about
ever attending again. Over time, Pastor Matt knew that he wanted to
create a very particular type of church. He emphasizes, “I wanted to
create a church whose culture could love a young woman like that—could
love people who maybe felt a little outside of the normal church
life.” He goes on to say, “My hope is that the young lady will find
her way out to Pooler and find the love and grace of God.” Pastor Matt
recalls another occasion that he was asked about the dress code by a
young lady who thought about visiting Gateway. However, she admitted
that she had no “church clothes.” Being in his jeans and a casual
shirt at the time, he responded, “This is what I preached in this
morning.” Pastor Matt mentions, “It frustrates me to think that people
that might go to church and might get connected to God and have their
lives transformed feel that way.” He understands the mindset of many
people who feel, “I wanna look my best to come and worship God.” He
also understands that God is very loving, compassionate and faithful.
He loves us and wants us to serve Him in spite of whether we have an
impressive wardrobe. His main objective is for souls to be saved and
set free through His Son, Jesus Christ—through the redemption and
reconciliation that only He provides. Pastor Matt admits that
“sometime we create a culture where people feel left out.”

Since its inception, Gateway has experienced a remarkable amount
of growth. Pastor Matt recalls Gateway’s humble beginnings. It started
out in the Pooler YMCA. “The Y was a real blessing to us for a long
time and we’re thankful for the relationship.” However, he knew that
more room was needed for the constant level of growth at the church.
Presently, Gateway has services at the Godley Station School on Sunday
mornings—a 9:30 a.m. service and an 11:00 a.m. service. The church is
grateful to have a lot more room. He further says, “It’s not how big
or how many, it’s about Jesus.” He thinks, “Jesus, how many do you
want us to reach; that’s our goal.” The church is now in the process
of purchasing property on Pine Barren Road. Pastor Matt says, “We’re
excited about it.”

Gateway currently has almost 800 in attendance each Sunday.
That’s a huge rise from their first official service of about 144
people. More importantly, 73 individuals committed to Christ this
year. Another campus was opened in 2010 in Effingham:
Gateway-Effingham Church under the leadership of Pastor Andy Lamon.
Pastor Matt feels that his church tries to invest as much as possible
in the community; the church takes great pride in benevolence work.
They partner with other churches to participate in Loaves & Fishes, an
interfaith food ministry through which about 150 families are fed each
month. Additionally, Gateway is involved in the Backpack Buddy
Program. Here, $3 is given on one Sunday each year for every person
that goes to Gateway’s Sunday morning church service. The church also
participates in overseas missions and even sponsors an orphanage in

Beside every blessed individual, there are many others that God
has allowed to help them along the way. Pastor Matt speaks highly of
the people that have helped the church be what it is today. He says,
“I hung in there long enough for God to send the right people around
me to help us get where He wanted us to be.” Pastor Matt speaks fondly
of the people that he’s privileged to work with. He even introduced
one of the assistant pastors, Executive Pastor Sam Martin. Pastor Matt
talks about the high level of excellence that Pastor Martin has
brought to Gateway through all of his contributions of service.

Pastor Matt speaks of the sources of much of his inspiration. He
mentions his father, stating, “My father was my greatest mentor.” He
adds, “If you ever heard my dad preach, I’m a chip off the old block.”
He also mentions his uncle, Dave Crosby, who tremendously influenced
his life as a young man. “Following God’s calling has always been a
clear thing in my family,” he asserts. He would surely never forget
the apples of his eyes: his wife and little ones. He loves Lori and
their two children, Jack and Emma, to pieces!

Pastor Matt really enjoys what he does. He’s confidently
anticipating a bright future for Gateway. He knows that he has come a
long way, but he still has so much further to go. It’s quite apparent
that he is truly making a difference.

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