Sojourn Network Films: Substance Church w/ Ronnie & Melissa Martin

Ronnie Martin: We are gospel centered, relationally driven, God glorified. So, I don't know what that says about us, except for the fact, that we really value glorifying God, and helping, and liking people, as much as we can.

Hey, this is Ronnie Martin, I'm pastor of Substance Church.

Melissa Martin: Hi, I'm Melissa Martin, I am in Ashland, Ohio, we have planted Substance Church four years ago. We have been married, Ronnie, and I have been married almost 23 years, we have one daughter, who is 21, she's in Denver. So, we're empty nesters. 

Ashland, Ohio is a small town of about 30,000 people. It's a university town, halfway between Cleveland, and Columbus.

Ronnie Martin: Well, when we talk about, "Why this small town?" I'm still trying to figure out the answer to that. I am a California boy, born, and raised in Southern California, and at some point, God took my wife, and I into the Midwest. It's a long, horrible story, but at some point, He did a left turn in the path that we were on, and He compelled us, and inspired us to plant a church in a small town.

Melissa Martin: We took our California plates off our car as soon as we could, because everybody knew exactly where we were, and what we were doing at all times. There's a lack of anonymity that is amazing. You're actually able to be known in a way that we hadn't experienced before. In Southern California, you drive in, you pull into your driveway, you close your garage behind you, and that's kind of it. Where, in a small town community, you actually get to know people faster in a way, because your proximity is there.

Ronnie Martin: There's not a lot of new things that come in. So, when something new comes in, there's a general level of suspicion. It's gonna take you a little bit of time before you have built up a level of trust, I think, with the people. Once you've built that level of trust, there's also a loyalty that goes with that, and they're with you, and they're gonna stick with you, and they're gonna be with you probably through thick, and thin.

Melissa Martin: We're in the heart of downtown, and we're in a revitalized warehouse, that meets on Sunday mornings, and then Sunday evenings, in Wooster, about a half hour away. 

Ronnie Martin: We like reclaimed barn wood, and we like our church to look like an ad from a Pinterest, or an Etsy store, you know? So, it kind of pops in that sense. We're actually very conservative, theologically. It's a way that you're really going to stick out, not in attractional way, but in a way where people can say, "Hey, we haven't seen anything like this, ever, in the history of the town. Hey, the things you're saying, the gospel that you're preaching, I've literally never heard that." 

Melissa Martin: We sat down with this 60 year old man, and he said, "I've been in this church for this generation, my grandparents have been in that church, their parents before them, I have never heard this. Why has nobody ever told me this?" We asked him, we said, "If we asked you what the gospel is, if we asked you what God has done in your life, if we asked you have you ever repented, and turned from your sin." His answer was, "I'm a Lutheran."

Ronnie Martin: When we hear that over, and over again. People coming from mainline denominational churches that have been dead for years, and they step in, and they say, "I've never heard it said like this." And they stay with us. They become involved with us. We start seeing life change, within the hearts of these people that have said, "This is a gospel that has been unfamiliar to me, up to this point."

Melissa Martin: It's hard, and it's a struggle, because you feel like you're fighting against a tide of something that's been there for many generations, but I think, and I know, that is what God has called us to. It's a slow work, but it's a work that we're excited about. 

I think, as we ... I remember our very first pastor's wives retreat, we were in Destin, and we were walking down the beach together, and it was pretty new in our planting experience, and I told Ronnie, it felt like oxygen in our lungs.

Ronnie Martin: We're literally right between Cleveland, and Columbus, connecting with churches in Columbus, such as Veritas, and for me personally, has been a big thing, because we feel like we're out there a bit, like on an island, so I think the network is really more like family for us. We know that we have brothers that have our back, and that are praying for us, and they are only a stones throw away.