By Dave Arden
When Pastor Tony Lineberger moved to Phoenix in 1984 to plant New Life Baptist Church, little did he know he would serve the church as pastor twice.
Lineberger is the founding pastor, “pastor emeritus” and current pastor of the church in southwest Phoenix near 87th Avenue and Encanto Blvd. Lineberger’s wife, Sarah, has been an influential and instrumental leader as well.
“The most difficult part was in the beginning,” Lineberger said. Starting the church in their home on Nov. 11, 1984, no one except the family came to the first service.
The church is comprised of the unique and diverse peoples that make up their community: Hispanic, African American, Anglo, Asian and Native American.
Over the first 20 years of his tenure, the church went through land acquisition, building a sanctuary and constructing fellowship hall space.
In January 2002, the church sanctuary was broken into and brutally vandalized. So many light fixtures were smashed that the shattered particles ruined the carpet and all the floor covering had to be replaced. The copy machine was destroyed, and over $50,000 in damage was incurred.
Nevertheless, the church regrouped and the community responded to the need.
“We picked up two or three families, and the church grew from the crisis,” Sarah Lineberger said.
The church baptized 130 people in their first 15 years.
One of their biggest highlights is that New Life Baptist Church has ordained 10 men to gospel ministry and helped sponsor two new church plants. Currently, the church is hosting a Spanish speaking church that meets on their campus on Sundays.
Tony and Sarah spent 20 years at New Life and then left Arizona to take care of their aging parents in January 2005.
Twelve years later, Linegerger received a unique phone call. “Would you consider moving back to Arizona?” the representative from New Life asked.
They returned to Arizona in April 2017, and Tony took back the point role.
“Returning to the church felt like coming home,” Sarah said.
Moving forward, Lineberger has renewed vision to keep reaching out to their sector of the city. “Our objective is to reach our community for Christ,” he said.
The church’s choice of their location was strategic at the outset, focusing on the center of the upstart housing development. Visiting with people in their homes is still a big priority, all these decades later.
“I’m still old school in that meeting face to face is a big thing,” Lineberger said. “We try to go out and catch people at home. We post to Facebook also.”
This Nov. 10 will be a special day as the church celebrates their 35th anniversary. The church has called two other pastors in between those years: Rich Crecelius and Alvin Frances. The church has only had three pastors total.
No vandal, no thief and not even a wrecked copier could stop the Lord’s work at New Life over the last three-and-a-half decades.
This next season promises to be truly an original.