PEOPLE OF FAITH ‘He points me away from myself’: Reformed Presbyterian pastor says his own weakness becomes God’s strength

Editor’s note: People of Faith is an occasional question-and-answer series focusing on leaders at area houses of worship.

When Pastor Joel Hart goes for a refreshing run, he prefers the rhythm of words rather than the rhythm of music in his headphones.

Currently, he pounds the pavement to the Audible version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic "Crime and Punishment," suggested by a church member.

"He told me it’ll teach me about human nature," said the 30-year-old Hart of the semi-Christian-focused work.

When Hart first came to lead Columbus’ Reformed Presbyterian Church only a couple months ago, he focused on his very human nature: weakness. In fact, one of his first messages at the church at 550 N. National Road zeroed in on how God regularly uses Hart’s weakness to best show divine strength.

The clergyman, who came here from the associate pastorate at Indianapolis’ Second Reformed Presbyterian Church where he grew up, leaned on 1 Corinthian 2:2 for his foundation of his sermon: "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power."

"We just recently decided (as elders) that that is going to be the center of our message," Hart said.

His down-to-earth explanation of the above passage is "Because of my sin, I need a Savior to pay my penalty. That’s what Jesus has done at the cross. And he points me away from myself. He points me toward the greatest story ever told, which is what Jesus has done for us. … And then our whole life becomes modeled after that (story and act)."

Hart certainly includes that Christian modeling in his family life with wife Orlena, whom he married nine years ago, as part of that. He said that acknowledging his weakness before God as a husband and father of five allows God’s love to freely work through him to be Christlike.

He sat on Tuesday afternoon and discussed other aspects of his new ministry in his office, where he works behind a specially hand-crafted desk made for standing.

Q: Do you find connections between running and the Christian life?

I’ve always been involved in sports. I see connections between something like running and learning the importance of (Christian) discipline and faithfulness.

Q: What’s the most challenging part of ministry?

(He refers to a passage about Paul’s extreme sufferings and acknowledged he can’t directly relate). But Paul refers to his anxiety with everything going on with the (New Testament) churches. There’s the pressure and weight of dealing with people’s pain and suffering. That definitely can be a challenge. 

And there’s our formal relationship with other Presbyterian churches. So I sometimes bear the weight of other churches as well.

(Wife) Orlena can see that immediately in my eyes.

Q: What’s one part of ministry here in Columbus that attracted you?

This is a good fit for me. There’s a big corporate environment here with Cummins and other companies here. And (with my experience at Eli Lilly & Company) I have a corporate background, which some pastors don’t. So maybe that can help me connect with people here, and understand better what they’re going through, maybe working long hours in the corporate world.

Q: Might your youthfulness help attract more young people to church?

In Indianapolis, I found myself often engaging with young families and things like parenting questions and even things like how do you make your way in the world, career questions, etc. There can be frustrations (among young people) in the workplace.

So that was a lot of my ministry there. And I think that will be a lot of my ministry here. 

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About Pastor Joel Hart” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Age: 30.

Hometown: Indianapolis. Born and raised on the city’s south side.

Family: Married to Orlena for nine years. Five children: David, Jenny, Elisha, Esther, Seth.

Hobbies: Running; big Purdue University basketball fan, and also follows the Indiana Pacers. Also a passionate lover of J.R.R. Tolkien’s "Lord of the Rings" series.

Initial education: Attended Purdue University where he earned a bachelor of science degree in management, finance and economics.

Business world: After graduation from Purdue, he worked in finance at Eli Lilly & Company for four years before feeling a call to ordained pastoral ministry.

More education: Left the corporate world to attend Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, where he earned a master of divinity degree.

Previous post: Associate pastor at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. That church planted the local Reformed Presbyterian Church in Columbus years ago.

Pouring on the ministry: Twice weekly, has set aside two-hour windows for one-on-one, casual meetings with his church members and others at Lucabe Coffee Co. in downtown Columbus.