Q&A: Doug Marks, Pastor at River of Life Fellowship

Doug Marks and his wife, Nancy, had been on the pastoral team at Rainier Hills Christian Fellowship in the Buckley/Bonney Lake area when he was asked to pray about coming to Grays Harbor. That was 10 years ago and Marks has been the lead pastor at River of Life Fellowship in Aberdeen ever since. He said the opportunity came out of the blue, “but as we prayed over it as a family, and spent time with some of the great folks at the River, we sensed God was in this thing, and so we came. We weren’t looking to move; we were in a great church with a wonderful team. But as they say, ‘when God calls, you go,’” the pastor says.

Marks, 51, and his wife, Nancy, have three children: Daughters Kari married to Elisha; Ali; and a son, Chase.

How did you come about being a pastor?

Actually, I never thought I could be a pastor. I was in “pastor denial.” I was always involved in ministry, but never felt like I measured up to what a pastor was — others seemed smooth and together — whereas I felt pretty ordinary and flawed. In college I met my mentor, Pastor Tom Isenhart, who was planting a church in Tacoma. The thing I loved about him is that he was just an ordinary man who has a passion for Jesus and loved people and shared his journey with them — the wins and the warts. I felt like, “You know, I could be like that.” As I served with him, in too many ministry roles to mention, this thing started developing in me. The pastoral call was just a natural expansion of what I was already doing — loving God — serving people.

What is it REALLY like to be a pastor?

It’s a bit like skiing in front of an avalanche. I grew up in a big family, lots of noise, a fair amount of chaos and a lot of love. That’s what the family of God is like. Being a pastor is similar to being a dad in a big noisy family.

And dads don’t have i t easy, as you know. Your kids know good and well your strengths AND your weaknesses.

One thing helped me relax in my role is the definition that “a leader is one who just learns in front of others.” When I can live a transparent life in front of those I lead and share my journey’s joys and weaknesses with them — my job gets a lot easier. People tend to emulate the leaders they follow. If the leader is open in sharing their growth journey in a transparent way, it’s easier for those that follow to let that happen in their own lives as well.

I try to reflect the Father Heart of God — a dad’s heart — in how I lead.

What is it like to set up a church in a small town like Aberdeen?

Each area has its own gift — its unique flavor and need. I think a pastor’s job is to discover the unique flavors and culture over whatever community he is in and discover the vision that is the “right fit” for that congregation.

In regard to setting up and establishing a church, how is Aberdeen different from other places?

I LOVE the pastors and ministers of our area! We have a rare and unique thing with the Harbor Minister’s Fellowship in our community — I’ve never seen anything like it. We have some of the best relationships and collaborative efforts of any community I have ever seen. The pastors/ministry leaders gather together regularly to build good friendships, pray for our area, support one another, and on numbers of occasions we’ve done city service strategies.

I also appreciate how there has been a partnership with church leaders and city/county leaders in serving our community. Convoy of Hope is one example. This was a major event two years ago, that touched thousands of lives in our county — as we served in multitudes of areas, giving out food, free medical/dental exams, free hair cuts, social service networking, free family pictures, etc. One of my greatest joys was to see leaders from various backgrounds, both in the civic community, and church community — serving in practical ways and giving hope.

One of the great treasures of a smaller county — is that we really join forces together… We are uniquely blessed to have so many churches work together. We have made so many great friendships as we’ve partnered together to serve our city. I love these leaders, they are my friends and it’s an honor to serve with them. There are a lot of “hidden heroes” throughout the Harbor doing amazing things serving people.

What is the most difficult thing to deal with as a pastor?

“Need fatigue.” There are so many needs, not enough time to meet them all. There are many needs in our world, and I love people — I want to meet all the needs around me. But I have to distinguish between what God’s assigned me to do as opposed to everything I see around me. What’s my assignment? How can I use the gifts I’ve been given to meet that need in the best way?

What is the best?

Watching God change lives. Watching people transformed by God’s love and discover their purpose in their life.

Do you struggle to find a new message every Sunday?

Ask me Saturday night.

What are you listening to right now music-wise?

I have a wide range of taste in music from rock to classical. Recently my daughter, Ali, has me listening to United Pursuit Band, Cory Asbury, Hillsong United.

What about as a teen?

You probably won’t know these. But I was involved in the Jesus Movement of the early 70s, and I loved “Second Chapter Of Acts,” “Keith Green.”

Along with the Bible, what are some other literary works that have changed you life?

That’s a tough one to answer. So many thoughts here. Lately I’ve been really getting into biographies. I’m intrigued by the lessons and stories of a life lived. There is so much to learn from other’s journeys. Biographies challenge me how can I “finish well, how can I win the race He’s got out for my life.”

What is something about you that people would be surprising to most people?

We’re a close family. We sing goofy family songs — most which we make up. Though I’m the songwriter, my wife is famous in our family for writing goofy family songs. There was a lot of silliness in our home as our kids grew up. For a number of years I served on a North American Leadership Team of a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) ministry. It was thrilling to work with leaders of many nations all over the world. I developed training materials — spoke at conferences. I also produced a few musical recordings, some of the music I wrote was translated into different languages and used in nations around the world.

You have a child who is autistic. How has that affected your walk as a person and a Christian?

Our journey with our son has been a journey of faith, and unbelievable faithfulness and pressing through — even when we didn’t get the answers we wanted. (My wife and my daughters deserve medals!) We learned the difference between going through a short-term problem and going through suffering. When you suffer you can’t get away from the pain. The journey has changed us — hopefully for the better. It’s really hard to be “bite-size” with my son’s condition. My son’s story is an article—or a book in itself. And we actually have thought of writing our story some day. Chase’s form of autism is one of the most challenging disabilities to deal with. Research shows that the stress level of raising a child facing the specific form of autism that Chase has is one of the highest stressors a family can face. On the other hand, we’re deeply grateful for the incredible support structures and by the grace of God our family has remained tight and close. Our church has been extremely supportive of Chase’s need on our journey, and in spite of this challenge, our entire family remained active in church and community life and the entire time he lived with us in Aberdeen.

Chase is 17. He is dual diagnosed with severe autism coupled with a bi-polar disorder that was only fully recognized two years ago. About the time of finally getting his bi-polar diagnosis, his needs exceeded what we could safely provide for him in our home. Unexpectedly, Two years ago we had to move him out of our home. After an extended process, he settled into a home designed for children with these extreme needs in Port Orchard. We see him weekly. Chase is non-verbal. His core personality is very friendly and sweet. He is impulsive and trusting. He isn’t aware of what can cause him danger, so he has to have 24-hour line-of-sight supervision.

Chase is the place where our deepest love and deepest pain converge. Our love and bond with him is so deep—and yet his challenges so great that they have been overwhelming. We have a lot of PTSD from the bi-polar cycles—but we’ve received counseling, various supports and we are all healing/recovering. His core personality is very loving and sweet. His difficulties occur when he is in a bi-polar cycle.

Because the bi-polar condition was undiagnosed for most of his life, it made raising him very unpredictable and challenging. He remains close to our family — very bonded — with a deep love for his parents and sisters. We are all very bonded and protective of him.