• Mike

5 Questions With...



On January 21, 2021, Living Water Community Church in Harrisburg, PA celebrates their 20th anniversary. I had a chance to sit down with the church planter and lead pastor, (also my pastor) Mike Leonzo. I asked him five questions over lunch and he was gracious enough to share with me his thoughts regarding the last twenty years of ministry.


Mike B:

As we celebrate the twenty-year anniversary of Living Water Community Church, the church that God called you to plant back in the year 2001, what are some of the first things that come to mind for you when you think about all that God has done over the last twenty years?


Pastor Mike:

I think the first thing that comes to mind is the ethnic, economic, and educational diversity of our church family. That's always been the dream from day one. We started out, as you know, a predominantly Caucasian church with a small smattering of people from different ethnicities. And it really took until Pastor Andrew (a black man from Manchester, England – who served as our Worship Pastor) came on board for things to really start moving. Then with Pastor Ben (a black man from Houston, Texas – who shares the preaching responsibilities with me) coming on board, we really hit our stride. There's more multi-ethnic churches now more than ever. Twenty years ago it was a complete anomaly.


So that would be one thing. I think the other thing that I'm so very pleased about is I finally came to understand what it means to be a gospel-centered church. I don’t think we were that in the beginning. My buddy, Mike Gunn (who teaches church planting around the world), would talk to me about that, but I didn't fully understand what he was telling me. Then others helped me to see it, and getting plugged into good teachers like John Piper and Tim Keller and others, really helped solidify that. So I'm really grateful for that. I think our preaching changed radically, probably about five years ago.


Mike B: We were never preaching simple morality…or just encouraging people to behave simply for the sake of behaving properly…but maybe over time it was that the gospel became more and more woven into everything that we do – as we preached that people must be born again and operate out of a regenerated heart, etc.


Pastor Mike:

Yeah, where you're looking at the text from, creation, fall, redemption, restoration, that kind of thing. Even today as I'm working on the message, I'm always thinking: Where is the gospel showing up in the midst of this text?


I'm also pleased that we're well respected in the community. We have a good name. I think people will not always agree with what we believe, but they know that we love them. I'm just thinking about the transsexual guy that you're ministering to right now. I mean, he could never say Living Water hasn't been kind to him.


Mike B:

Alright, question #2. What's one or two things that you learned through all of this COVID-19 debacle? Good, bad or otherwise?


Pastor Mike:

Ugh. Well, I guess the first thing that comes to mind is dying to self. I think I've always known I needed to die to self, but this is a constant reminder of dying to self. You can't have everything that you want, that’s just the reality of it.


I think the other thing that I've learned is that God will keep his church going in the midst of something like that. I would have never dreamed that our giving would have stayed as strong as it has. There are lots of people who are watching Living Water online. I'm so grateful for the Livestream because when you know soldiers, who are part of our church family, are watching from Iraq or Kuwait, that's pretty remarkable.


So I think I've also learned that I don't like not being able to plan for the future. I don't like not knowing whether or not we will have VBS this year. It’s a reminder to live by faith and not by sight.


One last thing that comes to mind is that I don't like Sunday mornings when people aren't hanging out talking to one another. I really miss that. I think COVID has shown me just how drastically important being together really is.


Mike B:

Very good. Question #3. 2021 – What's one or two things that you'd love to see happen in the life of Living Water during this year?


Pastor Mike:

Well, I really would love to figure out a more systematic process of how to develop the discipleship process at Living Water. What does that actually look like? I think that's a really important thing. In addition to that, I want to help our church family have a biblical perspective on important issues like race and justice.


Mike B:

So that's the immediate future, let's think like 10 years down the road…I don't know how much more you have left in the tank…but question #4 is: What do you see in the not so distant future at Living Water? Maybe 5 to 10 years down the road…


Pastor Mike:

I would love for us to have a Living Water on the West Shore. Maybe another two years from now, starting to lay the groundwork for doing that. I would want it to be a satellite campus. I've always pictured it be you, me and Ben on a rotating schedule where one is preaching at Living Water East Shore, one at Living Water West Shore, and the other having a weekend off.


It would also be great to plant some other churches in Lebanon, Lancaster, York, or up in Sunbury perhaps. Those types of plans over the next nine years would be great!


Mike B:

So, is that the clock? We got you for another nine years before you hang it up?


Pastor Mike:

I got nine years left – 2030. I’ll be 65 on December 3rd, 2029. In the meantime, probably about two years out from that I want to bring in the next person who will take my role and I want to have time to help them get up to speed. I want a good hand-off. And I don't want to have to leave. I want to be able to worship at Living Water and not be a pastor.


Mike B:

So you're not going to move to the Caribbean and plant a church there?


Pastor Mike:

No. I wouldn't want to live there. Kathy wouldn't want that either.


Mike B:

So remaining here in the Harrisburg area, you would call Living Water home, you’d just be relieved of all the pastoral duties…


Pastor Mike:

I really feel like I could, but we need to find the right guy. I wouldn't want to be on the elder board or anything like that either. I want to be here to help whoever takes my place, to encourage him and stuff like that.


Mike B:

All right. Last question, question #5, this is probably the most challenging of them all. What is something that we don’t know about you? What would be something that you have never shared from the pulpit…something that few people know about you?


Pastor Mike:

(long pause)


Mike B:

I told you this is the hardest question!


Pastor Mike:

I have dressed up as a woman twice in my life. Once in San Diego at SeaWorld in front of 3000 people. I was a volunteer there. They brought me downstairs to participate in this show that they had and it involved me wearing a dress. And then the other time was out in Ohio. I was a pastoral intern at a church and we had a church talent show (or lack of talent show) where the senior pastor, the youth pastor and I were Gladys Knight and the Pips. I was a Pip. So that was kind of crazy.


Mike B:

Now, hold on. You made this mistake before with the Pips. You must have been Gladys Knight. The Pips are guys! You were either Gladys Knight or maybe you’re thinking of Diana Ross and the Supremes.


Pastor Mike:

You’re right! I think I was a Supreme!


Mike B:

I know your stories better than you do!


Pastor Mike:

I think you’re right!


Mike B:

So, what was the song? Ain’t No Mountain High Enough? I’m trying to figure out the spiritual connection, after all, this was at a church, right? Faith…moving mountains…was it something like that?


Pastor Mike:

Who knows, it was a long time ago…


My post-interview commentary:

I imagine twenty years of being a lead Pastor will cause some memory loss! I simply would like to express my profound appreciation for Pastor Mike and all that he means to me personally, our church family at Living Water, and the city of Harrisburg. Thank you Pastor for your faithful service. Congratulations on twenty years and may God continue to bless you, your family, and all of us who have had the pleasure and benefit of being led by you.

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