March 9, 2023

Dear Thrive Family,

I trust you are well.  I began writing this letter to you while flying back from Israel where I spent 9 days on pilgrimage with 35 other believers.  While walking where Jesus walked, ministered, died, and of course, resurrected, I have asked the Lord to give me clarity as Lisa and I have recently sensed that God might be leading us in a new direction.  After careful thought, reflection, and prayer, I’ve decided that I will step down as Thrive’s Lead Pastor on June 1st.

For nearly 17 years I have served as the Lead Pastor at Thrive.  As many of you know, I had never planted a church before, and I was already turning 40 years old when we moved to the Grand Forks area in 2006.  Most church planters are in their 20’s or early 30’s, but we felt such a strong call to start a “different kind of church” in the Grand Cities.  We just had to answer that call. The church we envisioned was one for regular people, broken people, folks who don’t have it all together, and those whose past may not have lived up to the ideal of the straight and narrow.  Our church was started in a humble manner.  We rented from the YMCA for 5-1/2 years as we set up a portable church in their basement mini-gym each week.  Those were some challenging days when we were absolutely convinced that the church wouldn’t survive unless God showed up.  But God did show up, and we saw people coming to Christ almost weekly.  Of course, we eventually moved into our current Grand Forks location, and then we stepped out again in faith 5-1/2 years ago and launched another campus in Grafton.

The call that the Lord placed on my heart when we started Thrive was to be a pioneer – to break new ground and to take back territory the enemy believed to be his. I also believed we were meant to strategically reach out to young families, youth, and children.  From the beginning, that is what we have done.  God also gave us a burden for our airmen and their families at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.  I sure do love our troops.  Their service and sacrifice have been an inspiration.

For the last several months I have wrestled with the Lord.  The sense of completion has been a consistent thought.  It is almost like the Spirit has been telling Lisa and me that, although the work and ministry at Thrive is not finished, our part in the race is ending.  The more we lean into God about this decision, the more we know we feel at peace about Thrive’s future as well as our own.  Pastor Steve Hoffman (Prairie Lakes District Church of the Nazarene Superintendent) was my roommate on this trip to Israel.  As both my friend and my boss, he has walked through this decision with me.  It has been a blessing to process this with him as he loves Thrive.  Pastor Steve is 100% committed to ensuring that Thrive finds an awesome pastor for our congregation.

From my perspective – and I shared this with Pastor Steve – Thrive may be ready for a different kind of pastor.  My strengths are that of a pioneer, but it might be beneficial for Thrive to have a pastor who will focus equally on the needs of the flock and on the gaining of new ground.  I trust that God will provide the right leader for Thrive’s next chapter.

As to what is next for the Hales, we are waiting for God’s direction.  I do know that I want to write, paint, and spend more time with Lisa.  We are praying about the possibilities of working with the next generation of pastors and leaders.  Our greatest desire, though, is to do whatever God wants us to do.

Here is what I ask of you as we finish up.  Please continue to attend and support Thrive.  Don’t jump ship!  I am confident our Leadership Team will continue to be there for you in the future.

Lastly, please accept my heartfelt thanks for joining my family and me in chasing after the things of God.  After over 30 years of full-time pastoring, I can honestly tell you that serving you and Thrivers near and far has been the greatest joy.  Our family loves Thrive and will continue to pray for you and the future of this great church.

Remember, God loves you and there is nothing you can do about that – so rest in Him.


Pastor Mark