BROOKSVILLE — The folks responsible for selecting Matthew Everhard as the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church say bringing him here was a "God thing."
"Our search committee looked at all the resumes and files of people that applied, and he's the one that fit all the criteria that we set out," said church administrator David Steadman.
"When it came down to who was the top choice, every single one of them, without knowing what the other person was going to say, had his name on the top of their list. That was really incredible."
Gayle Brooks was the chairwoman for the Pastoral Search Committee, asked to find a new pastor for the 20-year-old church after the former pastor, the Rev. Ron DiNunzio, retired.
"By January, we had lots of applicants and some great candidates," Brooks said. "Matthew just jumped out and stayed at the top of our list the entire time. We just sat back to see who the Lord was going to send us. There was not a doubt in any members' mind that Matthew Everhard was that man."
Brooks said the congregation is very happy with its unanimous decision to offer Everhard the position here.
"We have heard nothing but rave reviews from every age range and gender and different interest groups," she said. "He is a passionate preacher, a wonderful teacher. He loves the Lord so much. It was not our decision. We did not choose this person. The Lord chose this person, and we just love him to death."
Everhard, 31, who took over his position in August, agrees that it was God who led him here. From the time he was converted to the present, he said, God has prepared him for his current role as pastor.
"I was one of those people who was called to ministry when I was really young," he said. "I had learned a lot about God and the Bible, and yet I didn't have a real relationship with Christ until I was saved when I was in the eighth grade. God just grabbed a hold of my heart and created a love for him inside me. It wasn't long after I had that conversion experience that I felt called to the ministry."
Everhard said a youth pastor took a special interest in him.
"I saw the way he lived and I thought, 'Man, I want to live a life like that, one that is significant for time and eternity.' Then it was a process of figuring out how to do that."
The young man tried to decide whether to become a youth pastor, a preacher or a missionary.
"I had to eventually do all of them to really figure out where God was pointing me," he said.
Everhard received a scholarship to attend Malone College, a Christian school near his home in the Akron, Ohio, area.
"Without the scholarship, I wouldn't have been able to go," he said. "It was the only school I applied to. So, that was affirmation to me. I wanted to consume God's Word for those four years and get as many ministry skills as I could."
While in college, Everhard began thinking about the mission field, and he made a commitment to spend six months in Africa as a trial period.
Meanwhile, he was taking on a new perspective for his life.
"That was when I was falling in love with Kelly," he said. "So I ended up proposing to her just a week before I left. We were deeply in love, and yet I had already made a commitment to go."
Everhard asked the mission organization for the most difficult assignment they had available, and he got it. He was sent to an area where he had several setbacks, including contracting malaria twice. By the time he returned to Ohio, he felt that, while his missions experience had been valuable, God was pointing him toward matrimony. He and Kelly were married in April 2000.
"God did some wonderful things in my life on the mission field," he said. "Through suffering, God really drew me to himself and it taught me how to minister more compassionately to people that are suffering or sick."
The next phase of Everhard's life took him to a church in Tallmadge, Ohio, where, at age 23, he worked as a youth pastor.
"It was the first time I was in charge of anything," he said. "I had the experience of planning lessons and devising programs and coming up with events. They were all early pastoral skills that I was acquiring. Then I landed at Hudson Presbyterian Church in Hudson, Ohio."
The church there took an interest in helping Everhard develop his pastoral gifts.
"They were able to discern that my call was more than just a youth director. So for six years, they gave me opportunities to preach, to lead mission trips, to do stewardship campaigns, to do grief and guidance counseling and hospital visitation. They saw something in me, and they just wanted to help that blossom," Everhard said.
The church in Hudson helped pay for Everhard's seminary training. During those busy years, he authored two books (Rock Solid: Helping Teens Discover the Truth of Christianity, and Abortion: The Evangelical Perspective).
He and Kelly also began a family, Soriah, now 6, and Elijah, 4.
The time had come for Everhard, who by then had found that he had a strong desire to preach, to look for a pastoral position. He found one at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Being able to sell their home in Ohio in 13 days and finding a pro-life ministry here for which Kelly has a passion (A New Generation) was further confirmation to the couple that Brooksville is where God means them to be.
"Everything that went before was all training and experience and God getting me ready for the next stage," he said. "That's what brings us to Brooksville, finding that the call to preach is the one consuming passion, the one ministry focus that I believe I'll maintain for the rest of my life."