Mitchell Neth is no stranger to the halls of Pleasant Valley. In fact, if walls could talk, they would tell of Mitchell’s boyhood, running to and fro in the nursery and preschool areas and beyond. Mitchell has called Pleasant Valley home for as long as he can remember and his parents’ involvement in the church certainly helped him feel more at ease here.
“My dad led worship and my mom was leading K-2. All throughout elementary school my parents and their relationship with the Church had kind of a complacency. We did church and knew God was a part of our lives and could check it off of a list. For me, I thought my church experience was to reflect what they did.”
Mitchell settled into his chair, adjusted his glasses, and folded his arms on the table in front of him as he began explaining that a legalistic mindset began early on for him. He believed that he needed to serve in order to have a relationship with the Lord.
“I needed to do something that is a part of this organization to further grow it and then it will grow me.”
Mitchell’s willingness to serve was certainly commendable, but he never knew and never practiced what it was to be a disciple.
Mitchell never experienced community in the church. In middle school, he began attending LUMY – the local Methodist church’s student ministry – because many of his friends from school also attended. It was there Mitchell began to discover community.
“I value that time because it turned church from being, in my mind, a service opportunity into a community opportunity, and I realized I have friends that are here for a reason because they actually care about spiritual engagement. They’re active in something other than just school.”
It was around that time Mitchell began to learn that the role of the Church is in God’s Kingdom rather than just in his own life. However, His personal relationship with God still revolved around how Mitchell could serve the Church and not on how God could change Mitchell’s heart.
While Mitchell still attended Pleasant Valley, he wasn’t involved in the student ministry. He had spent years fine-tuning his skills on the tech team and working with production for the weekend services and faithfully served in this capacity.
Mitchell leaned back into his chair, folding his arms against his chest as he wondered if anyone ever asked: “What does Mitchell need at this time? How does the Lord want to move in Mitchell besides what he needs to learn for production? How do we challenge his heart?”
Mitchell’s skills were exceptional and his heart bent towards serving led him to working, rather than attending, several Summerfest camps with PV’s student ministry.
“I was blindsided to the fact that [camp] was meant for me to engage in and not serve in. I always had a separate room with leaders and wasn’t tied into general activities. That was the story of my middle school years.”
However, a few people in the student ministry recognized that Mitchell was missing out and began encouraging him to engage more – as a student not just a servant.
“I was blind to what happened downstairs in our church because my weekends were occupied with running cameras or graphics or helping the tech director however I thought I could. It was sad that I got drawn in too much to the service side, but I didn’t know what else to expect because that was the model my parents had painted for me.”
Then, during Mitchell’s freshman year of high school, things began to shift for him.
“My freshmen year I finally attended camp as a student. That was the first year we split Summerfest with middle school and high school. What that meant for me was that I could see what the life of a raw Christian student is like.”
High school students who also served, led for the first week of middle school camp then joined with all of the other high school students for the second week. Other students who also served in different capacities reached out to Mitchell and showed him a healthier balance of serving, engaging, and growing.
“God intentionally put people around me who were peace in the chaos of camp. In the midst of middle school students and a lot going on, they still were able to dedicate their time as a student leader and be able to focus on the Lord effectively, really listen to His word and not always have to act.”
At Summerfest, Mitchell experienced a powerful night of worship.
“It was the first time I actually sat in a group of people with one collective voice, no worship leader and just a few guitars. Some of the songs I didn’t actually know. I remember hearing ‘Heart of Worship,’ for the first time and the lyrics just washed over me.”
It was in that moment Mitchell prayed and surrendered to the Lord.
“I said, ‘I want to be ready for what You have for me beyond my service. I want to be able to surrender to You in this time.’ I saw this as a short sighted time, but He wanted to carry it out a lot longer. With the teaching that week, and the community, I finally accepted Christ as my Savior. I got baptized later that week. People were shocked. They thought I was a Christian.”
This turning point was critical and distinct in Mitchell’s life.
“The Lord cared for a heart that was so involved in His church, but from a work level shrouding it in service. He said to me, ‘I need you to surrender to Me in this moment and for a lifetime.’ For a while I was upset with God. I felt like I’d missed something for my entire life. But He spoke to me and simultaneously revealed that what I was missing out on was Him. And I was missing out on community with other students.”
From then on, Mitchell has focused on not just stacking up service but figuring out what he’s actually good at and called to do.
“My relationship with the Lord and love for the Word and the hope that He has provided has formed what is now the necessary overflow for service. It fuels anything production-wise way better than whatever I was doing before. There’s a lot of calling and responsibility the Lord has placed on my shoulders. I need to really surrender to the Lord and focus on Him as my core to give Him much better quality service rather than quantity.”
Mitchell doesn’t just want to serve because he thinks it would further his relationship with the Lord, or because he feels like the church might have something to offer him, he now serves because of a deep desire to glorify God in his actions – whatever way he can.
“Surrendering to Jesus was the start of the desire. I’ve seen and tasted a glimpse of His goodness and I want to put Him at the center of that.”
Mitchell’s relationship with the Lord has deepened as He’s learned that God didn’t put him here to do it alone. God has given Mitchell community and opportunities to be discipled by others as he continues to grow in his walk with the Lord.
Mitchell still serves on the production team at Pleasant Valley, but he also serves as a leader for middle school boys pointing them to Jesus. Mitchell’s deep study of God’s Word has only excited him and continued to reveal to him his purpose and calling in the Church.
“Every word in Scripture is meant to be offerings of hope for our place in His Kingdom. Jesus is the embodiment of that and His Word is that as well. Because I know that my service has a purpose and a place, Jesus is my living hope.”