Coming to Utah Valley to lead a small congregation in the large shadow of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be a daunting proposition. In the case of Pastor David Stolarski, however, who recently moved to Provo to assume leadership of Provo Bible Church, it's right where he wanted to be.
For Stolarski, 57, who was born in Ogden and partly grew up there before moving to California with his family, Utah is just like home. After going back to school to further his ministerial education for a few years in his 50s, Stolarski wanted to reconnect with his roots and be close to his extended family. "I love the Rocky Mountains," he said. "I just have a heart for Utah."
Many of his relatives are LDS and, growing up, Stolarski was, too. He became a born-again Christian at age 18 after starting to meet with a church in California that studied the Bible "verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter." "Hearing the Bible come to life that way just challenged my heart," Stolarski said.
Provo Bible Church, a nondenominational, Bible-centered Christian church, meets at a building near Footprinter Park on the Utah Lake side of Interstate 15, has a relatively small fold, with only about 50 people at Sunday services. The church has been meeting for almost 30 years, however, and size isn't everything.
"One of the benefits of being a small church is that we really consider each other family," said Karisa Clark, who's been attending Provo Bible for about seven years. "We know everyone's names, we know when there are visitors and we do whatever we can to make them feel welcome."
Provo Bible Church was formerly led by Pastor Joshua Harding, who moved to Indiana earlier this year, after almost eight years of ministry in Provo, to further his religious training at Grace College & Theological Seminary.
Stolarski hopes to be in Provo for the long haul, and Clark, who works as a public relations director at KEYY, an independent, Bible-based Provo radio station, said that was an important factor in his hiring. "I think we all definitely wanted someone who would make a long-term commitment and see the potential here," she said.
Stolarski said that he doesn't expect to rock the boat much. Unless, perhaps, churchgoers are dependent on apps and podcasts, or anxious to align with each new cultural trend that comes along. The new pastor said that he and his wife, Gloria, "have a pretty basic approach to building church ministry. We're not necessarily trying to be contemporary and relevant."
The Bible, Stolarski said, still has plenty of relevance. "I think you build a ministry on the preaching of the word," he said.
That's right in line with what Provo Bible Church hopes to accomplish. "We're a church that is committed to a Biblical emphasis," said Chris Allinger, a 14-year congregant and member of the steering committee that hired Stolarski. "That's our strong point."
Stolarski said that he hopes to emphasize people more than programs in his pastoring. "Programs are tools that help you, but each individual person and their growth and potential before the Lord is more important," he said.
There are some programs, of course, that Stolarski would like to help grow. He'd like to have home Bible study groups in place, to encourage fellowship and further church members' immersion in the Bible. Stolarski said the key to a good Bible study group is dynamic leadership and warm hospitality. If those elements are in place, he said, a study group "will grow by its own energy."
Stolarski also hopes to encourage personal study of the Bible, and said that an important aspect of personal study is setting a regular time for it. It's also important, he said, to be an engaged reader: "You have to be active, you have to spend time in the word and allow it to challenge you.
"It can't be mechanical. You have to really enjoy coming to it and looking for something."
Stolarski personally finds a lot of meaning in the writings of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. One of his favorite Bible stories is the consecration of Isaiah, described in the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah. After being purified by the touch of a burning coal on his lips, Isaiah boldly declares that he will take up his calling and speak for the Lord.
"I think that is such a good picture of worship, not just for a prophet, but for every believer," Stolarski said.
Here to stay
Among the Provo Bible congregation, Stolarski is particularly looking forward to working with the men. He said that he believes men have a divine responsibility to be leaders both in the home and the community. "We'll be teaching the men to lead scripturally and Biblically," he said.
The Stolarskis are empty nesters, but raised two daughters, Katie and Krista, both still living in California. (No grandchildren yet.) Pastor Dave, as he's already known among the Provo Bible congregation, and Gloria met as co-workers at a Harris and Frank clothing store when both were age 20. (Later on, they realized that they'd previously crossed paths in high school.)
"We just started hanging out," Stolarski said. After roughly a year of dating and getting to know each other, they married at age 21.
One benefit of moving to Utah that Stolarski has already enjoyed is the changing seasons. "We drove the Alpine Loop last week," he said. "Every fall color you can imagine is up there right now. In California, there's just green and brown, with almost nothing in between."
The couple hasn't found a home in Provo yet, but Stolarski is also looking forward to starting a garden. "Gardening is almost therapeutic for me," he said. "I love to get out and work with my hands."
He also enjoys carpentry, reading history ("I'm kind of an amateur Civil War buff") and sports. "Basketball, football, baseball -- I even like martial arts," he said. He's also a lifelong Denver Broncos fan, but said that some of his other allegiances haven't been determined yet.
"There's a big rivalry right now between whether I should support BYU or Utah," he said, adding that he's leaning toward BYU, which is, after all, the hometown school.
It's important to make those kinds of decisions, if for no other reason than that Stolarski intends to stick around for a long time.
"I believe God called me to Provo," he said. "As I've told the folks at Provo Bible Church, this is not the start for me. This is the end for me. Provo Bible Church is God's blessing in my life for my work in other places."