Extension Ministry: Rev. Mike Linger, House of the Carpenter

By Barry Steiner Ball

Rev. Dr. Mike Linger is an elder who serves in extension ministry as the Executive Director for the House of the Carpenter on Wheeling Island.  Mike grew up in West Virginia, first living in Ripley and then moving to the Charleston area after his parents divorced.  After graduating from high school, Mike began to experience a call to ministry. He enrolled at WVWC and eventually graduated from WV State College, the only HBCU (historically black college or university) in WV.  He then went on to United Theological in Dayton, serving a congregation in West Ohio while in seminary.

United and the folks in the West Ohio Annual Conference gave Mike a great foundation for local church ministry.  Upon graduation, Mike found his way to Route 50 and headed east till he stopped at his first appointment in Salem, WV. 

The Mission Projects of WV became part of his ministry after serving as a summer intern with Patricia Jarvis at what was then Charleston District Outreach Ministry.  As positions opened in various projects, Mike always considered applying.  In 2010, Mike’s District Superintendent David Erenrich helped confirm this call when he asked Mike if he would be interested in applying for the Executive Director of the House of the Carpenter job.  Mike jumped at the opportunity, though it was a huge learning curve going from a local church to mission site leader. 

The House of the Carpenter was started on Wheeling Island in a small store front in 1964 as a food pantry.  By the time Mike arrived, it had grown some, but still wasn’t too large.  Mike was able to spend time working in the food pantry and thrift store while still being Executive Director.  What soon became apparent to Mike was that the strategy from the 1970’s was to help people living in poverty by giving them food and clothing and shelter.  It was a continuous cycle of giving, but nothing really improved in the people’s lives.   Mike wanted to make a difference in his new neighbor’s lives, helping them live into Jesus’ desire for them to “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Mike saw that when people are “kept” in poverty, while they do experience life, it is not abundantly. 

“Learning how to lead a mission project and make the transition to helping our neighbors experience “Abundant life” was, at times, overwhelming.  Patterns of poverty, consequences of poverty, education issues, pipeline to prison concerns, violence, trafficking, self-sufficiency standards, others partners and agencies, along with all of the assorted issues with generational poverty became a regular part of everyday.  Let alone what I had to learn about funding, grant writing, reporting, licenses through the state, facility management, staff management, program development, presentations, social media, and, one of the hardest, proper accounting procedures.” 

With the help of the Board of Directors and the growing staff, the House of the Carpenter began changing how they carried out their ministry.  Education has become a very large part of the House of the Carpenter’s ministry.  One of the early examples of this change came about when they changed the food pantry from just handing out a set box of food to allowing the family to select what they wanted in their food box.  What became obvious was that healthier food was being left behind at the pantry.  When neighbors were asked why they did not select the healthier variety of food, many responded they did not know how to cook it or they did not have the equipment to cook it.  The ministry of just giving out food changed to supplying food and hosting cooking classes and suppling measuring cups, measuring spoons, and other needed cooking supplies.  Teaching adults how to cook healthier meals grew into teaching children and youth, who very often do the meal preparation in local homes, how to cook healthier meals. 

Another change came with the program for suppling money for utility support.  Instead of just paying a bill for a neighbor, House of the Carpenter began teaching money management classes for adults and children.  So much of what middle class Americans take as common knowledge, families caught in poverty have never had an opportunity to learn.  Each summer, House of the Carpenter hires 10 middle school youth to participate in the “Pathways to Success” ministry.  The youth are taught about arriving to work on time, being properly dressed for the day’s activities, how to open a bank account, the importance of goal setting, and the importance of education. They are paid for their efforts.  Results from this type of ministry do not come rapidly, but like seeds planted, with time and nurture, these neighbors are growing into abundant life.

Mike has set a vision for House of the Carpenter to always be looking for new needs in the neighborhood and ways to help neighbors overcome that need.  In ten years’ time, House of the Carpenter has grown from 9 programs to 40 programs, serving approximately 1,400 neighbors a week in some form or fashion.  Mike credits an early learning experience that helped him move into all of these unknowns; be honest about what you do not know and be willing to find folks who do know and let them help. 

Mike is serving outside of the local church in this vital extension ministry, but he is convinced that any local church could be doing this same type of ministry if we would just step outside our church buildings and meet our neighbors.  Many of the House of the Carpenter programs have Procedure Manuals that describe exactly what they do, why they do it, and how they do it.  Mike and the staff are willing to share any of this information.

How we can pray for Rev. Dr. Mike Linger:  Mike asks that we pray that all middle class Christians take the time to learn about poverty, stop judging, and begin to find ways to offer neighbors ways to grow into abundant life.  He also requests that we pray for the staff of the House of the Carpenter for health, vision, courage, and strength.

Additional Note: during our conversation Mike brought up the need to begin looking for his replacement in the near future. Is God tugging at your heart? 

For more information on House of the Carpenter:

Facebook @ houseofthecarpenter01