“So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you, and I will be with you always, even until the end of the age.”
Matthew 28: 19 – 20
New Century Version
Members of New Life Ministry take the Great Commission to heart.
They provide food for hungry bodies and the Gospel for starving souls.
Joe Stellato, leader of the loosely organized ministry, and his friends want to spread the word, period.
The 26-year-old computer network engineer isn’t trying to plant a church or gather a flock. Instead, the Brewer High School graduate wants the people to whom he ministers to attend any Christ-centered congregation.
“There’s a core group of us that believe we can accomplish the Great Commission outside the four walls of the church,” Stellato said earlier this week. “I have a job to do – to reach the unchurched. I don’t have time to fool with church politics. I just want to get the job done.”
New Life Ministries’ methods come straight from the New Testament, according to Stellato, who runs the ministry out of his Brewer apartment. He and a group of mostly twentysomethings, who believe the church doesn’t necessarily need walls, meet there on Sunday nights for Bible study and on Wednesday night for prayer.
“Jesus didn’t say to start at the ends of the Earth and work inward,” he said of the group’s methods. “He told the disciples to work outward, toward the ends of the Earth. That’s what we do.”
Stellato is not alone in his desire to minister outside the traditional structure recognized as church in America.
Author Jim Petersen advocated a similar philosophy in his book “Church Without Walls,” published in 1991. Petersen wrote that out of habit, church has come to mean a place – a place where people congregate and leaders build up believers.
“As long as that’s our whole understanding of church,” Petersen has said, “we miss one of our primary functions as the people of God – being out in the world for the sake of unbelievers.”
Petersen offered a definition of the church that pushed beyond the boundaries the church has inherited.
“First-century Christians had to sort out Jesus from Judaism in order to become a people for all nations,” he wrote. “Today, we have to sort out Jesus from our religious traditions in order to make him available to our nation.”
So far, New Life Ministries’ “nation” has been Greater Bangor. Over the summer, the group held outdoor events at Indian Trail Park in Brewer, Downeast School and Pickering Square both in Bangor. Before each event, Stellato and his friends went door-to-door in neighborhoods to invite people to the events and hand out fliers.
Last weekend, 250 people attended the event in Pickering Square. Stellato said they had planned to feed 150 and had to run out to purchase pizza to feed everyone. The two previous events drew about 150 people each, but the fine weekend weather and being in downtown Bangor drew a cross-section of people, from downtown business owners to downtown residents to teenagers who hang out in the square.
New Life Ministries grew out of the youth group at the defunct Brewer Community Church, according to Phil Cyr, 57, of Eddington.
“They’re the energy,” he said Wednesday night of the dozen young adults gathered in Stellato’s apartment. “I come and see what their needs are.”
Cyr helps New Life Ministries connect with churches and other ministries that help provide food, supplies and people power for the events. He also believes the group can be a vehicle for bringing churches together that otherwise might not collaborate.
“We need to forget about our denominational differences and work together to have a greater impact in the Bangor area,” Cyr said. “It doesn’t matter which one you go to as long as it’s under the cross.”
Essential to New Life Ministries’ success, according to Stellato, are the bands Last Resort and Milestone, which regularly play Christian music at events and help draw people in.
Peter Beaulieu, 22, of Burnham and Bangor is the lead singer and guitarist for Milestone.
“This is like family to me,” he said Wednesday night, gesturing to the others in the apartment. “Everywhere we play, we build relationships with people through this outreach.”
Balancing job, the ministry and a personal life is a challenging juggling act for Stellato, but the rewards have been far greater, he said.
“I believe I’m doing what God called me to do,” he said. “My heart’s really here for those that need the help. If I do all this work and just help one person, it will all have been worth it.”
The founder of New Life Ministries also is determined not to build walls that might become a church and to remain a lay leader rather than an employee.
“I’ve never accepted money for doing this and I’m never going to do that,” he said.
For information, visit www.newlifeme.org.