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Mark McCulley

The day after Christmas in 2007, Mark and Joanne McCulley packed a truck and moved from Southern California to Arvada, Colorado to serve GCI’s Denver North and Colorado Springs churches. “It was both the fulfillment of a lifetime dream and the scariest thing I’d ever done,” Mark said. “Some five years later, I think both descriptions still apply!”

Joeanne and Mark McCulley
Joanne and Mark McCulley

Mark’s journey toward ministry began at about age eight. “I grew up near Wichita, Kansas and started attending the local congregation—then called the Radio Church of God—with my family in 1961. I remember praying one night, without knowing how, but realizing that I wanted to obey God (whoever he was) and needed him to take care of me.”

It was during his teen years that Mark became convinced he was to be a minister. “My first rude shock was that I was not accepted to Ambassador College like I was supposed to be and had to apply a second time. My second rude shock was, at the end of my junior year, two senior faculty members told me I wasn’t cut out for “the field.” So my senior year and graduation were a bit of a blur, because if I couldn’t be a minister, I really couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do. Two years later, I was able to land a job with the church’s Festival Office.”

Mark worked in the Festival Office for 19 years helping organize the fall festivals for WCG. After being laid off due to downsizing, he started his own business, organizing conferences for churches and other clients.

Mark has two children from his first marriage, Patrick and Heather. “I have no grandkids yet, but I’m keeping my knee ready for dandling, whatever that is.”

Mark met Joanne (whom he calls “The Lovely Joanne”) at church late in 2000. “We went from five-minute phone calls to two-hour calls to 1600 minutes per month on free mobile-to-mobile. We seriously thought about sending a wedding invitation to AT&T when we married in 2002. We still would rather talk to each other than anyone else. Joanne taught me (the native of a state with no discernible bodies of water) to enjoy the beach, and has even taken me on a scuba diving trip, on which I enjoyed watching her and the others dive. I also became a fairly decent snorkeler by the end of the week. She wants to retire by the beach, so I have to work on my metal-detector skills too.”

Mark says his most significant journey in GCI was “trying to comprehend and follow along with our denomination’s shift from legalism to grace. I learned what joy really was by being convinced, finally, that I’m saved by grace because of the immeasurable love of my Savior. But letting go of convictions I’d had since childhood was like letting go of one trapeze, not being sure I could catch the other one. As grace began to make more sense, and the more I’ve learned to focus on Jesus, the clearer everything else has become. I’ve described our experience as a denomination to be something like childbirth—those watching rejoice in the miracle, while the mother is screaming in distress!”

Mark had avoided talking to anyone about pastoral ministry for a long time “because I didn’t look forward to being turned down again. But in 2007, my wife and my dear friend Ken Williams both convinced me to ask to be considered for pastoral ministry for GCI. Soon we were buying airline tickets for Denver to visit two churches and see if moving there was the will of the Lord. Joanne had traveled to Colorado for business and was more than ready to move. It didn’t take us long to fall in love with the people in the churches there.” After praying with the leadership teams and all agreeing to seek God’s will, Mark and Joanne returned home. “When we landed back in California my phone had two voice-mail messages asking us to please come back. So nine weeks later, we waved goodbye to Los Angeles and started driving.”

Ken Williams continued to play a key role in Mark’s pastoral ministry by coaching Mark during his first year of ministry. Mark says he’s been blessed to have a number of good mentors in his life. “One of my bottom-line principles in ministry was given me by my dear friend Mel Dahlgren. ‘Love the people,’ he said. ‘You can’t change them, you can’t fix them and you can’t do anything else to help them except to love them.’” Mark also gives credit to Joanne. “She is about 97% of any wisdom I have in ministry. She loves on people in ways I wouldn’t have thought of, helps me figure out how to word difficult things and reminds me fairly often to follow Mel’s advice.”

Mark says he loves “reading the Bible and finding some nugget—usually with someone else’s help—that the Lord hid there to show me how much bigger his mind and love are than I realized. I love finding a way to explain that bigness to people by using stories or cartoons or physical examples.” Mark said finding that new nugget makes him feel like a kid in a candy store who just found a new flavor. “I wrestle with God in prayer, but I run and play with God in study. (Wow, I just realized that, and I’m blown away!).”

Being a pastor is hard work but quite rewarding, Mark shares. “Preaching is hard work. Sitting with people as they go through life’s challenges is also hard work, especially when I forget to wait on Jesus to say something first. Reading all the books I’m supposed to read is just impossible. But it’s all worth it when someone calls and says they’ve had a breakthrough in their walk with Jesus and others. It’s even better when that didn’t even result from something I said, because then I’d try to say it again. But I live for those breakthroughs! At the end of my time, I think the sweetest sound I could hear is that I somehow helped another person see Jesus better.”

PS: The Denver North GCI church is part of an inter-denominational group of over 50 churches in Arvada (www.artofneighboring.com). The group started five years ago and is focused on getting to know our neighbors and loving them in Jesus’ name. “We pastors are becoming friends and allies, helping each other find better ways to be the kind of neighbors we should be, doing kingdom work together.”

9 thoughts on “Mark McCulley”

  1. Hi Joanne and Mark,

    Do much appreciate this close up. It is indeed amazing how God leads us through many twists and turns, not to mention all the ups and downs. It all has a purpose, even when at times we may not first clearly recognize it.

    I am very happy for you both.

    May Jesus continue to magnify your ministry.

    In His hands,
    Santiago and Elke Lange

  2. Mark & Joanne!!

    So refreshing to hear your story, told from the heart & including the difficult patches in your journey!! We can all identify with those patches in our own journey!! Looking forward to seeing you folks in Orlando in August & seeing you, Joanne at the Connecting & Bonding Conference in September!!

    God Bless you, both!!

    Ted & Lila Millhuff

  3. Mark,

    Loved reading your bio. God is good and he certainly has a way to change our lives when we least expect it. Come a long way for a Bricket Wood farm and a Big Sandy Ranch hand.



  4. Hi Mark. I still remember meeting you first in Big Sandy in 1975. I have always been inspired by you enthusiasm and friendliness. Blessings to you both.
    Mohan & Nihara

  5. Hey Mark:

    I remember you as a young lad when I pastored Wichita in 1968-70. Then I got to know you better when you were over the Festival Office for a number of years. I am so grateful that our Lord fulfilled your dream of wanting to become a minister. Penny & I have many wonderful memories of our time in Denver from 1970-78. We still keep in touch with a couple of people back there. May God continue to richly bless you in your ministry there.

    With our love and very best wishes,
    Guy & Penny

  6. Mark, we have not met, but I know and value highly your wife. It is a pleasure to have read now of you and who you are as a fuller picture of the wonderful world that is Joanne.

  7. Hello Mark and Joanne: So good to read about your Christian journey and our thoughts and prayers are with you. Mark — we really appreciated knowing you while in Pasadena and thank you for your dedication while in the Festival office. You truly helped us all!
    Joanne — To you we were Uncle Barry and Aunty Wendy while in Bricket Wood. You were one of the first friends Karen had in the church when you were both 5 and your parents were our very good friends for many years. Past relationships are still very special to us. Take care and hopefully we will meet again someday.

    With love and best wishes … Barry and Wendy

  8. So glad to know even more of your story. 🙂 What a blessing you both are to so many! Thank you for the encouragement and love you have shared with me personally as we journey together on this adventure with God!

    Carrie 🙂

  9. Thanks for all of that good profile Mark and Joanne. We’ve seen much of it – – that presence of the Holy Spirit in you and are thankful for your love of those in the image of God and for God’s truth. Blessings in your continued journeying, Franklin & Cora

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