KINGSTON TWP. — Pastor Dan Miller won’t take credit.
“God always does good things, despite what he has to work with,” Miller said Monday.
But he can’t deny the facts: When he felt called to come to a small church on Carverton Road there were “10 people and we had $32 in the check book.”
Yet the congregation grew to about 1,000, and what started as a brief Christmas production using “flashlights for lighting” to tell the story of “Batman finds Christmas” has become an annual “Broadway production” called “The Gift,” that costs up to $50,000 to stage and has drawn as many as 16,000 people.
But that success isn’t enough to keep him here, nor is the new granddaughter he will leave behind, or the house he and his wife just finished building.
Miller is moving to Clarks Green Assembly of God in Lackawanna County, a parish that has seen membership dwindle to about 80, and where he had served before coming to Luzerne County.
“I want it to be known big time that I love this area. The Back Mountain is awesome,” Miller said. “The reason we are moving on, it’s just a God thing.”
Heard a calling
Specifically, it was an aha! moment as he sat in his vehicle, having just parked and ready to head to the stadium for a football game between Dallas and Abington Heights high schools at Abington. “The Lord spoke to me,” Miller recalled. “He said, ‘You’re going to be pastor here some day.’ ”
And no, it wasn’t his radio, and it wasn’t any of the construction crew working nearby to repave a road. “I actually checked. I thought, what the heck?” Miller said. “Did someone on that crew say something like ‘When are you going to come here to be pastor?’ Of course, it wasn’t anything like that.”
So Miller, 55, is making his fourth move in a clerical career that started at the age of 16 as a part-time volunteer and took hold for good at 27 when he became a full-time pastor. And each time he has moved to a congregation on the wane, helping build it back up.
“God always calls us to places that are struggling,” he said. “You should never be a minister just to be in a profession. You need to be called by God. If you are not called by God, you should not be there.”
Miller helped oversee a congregation that became one of the fastest growing, if not the fastest, in Luzerne County, at a time when many others were shrinking.
The evolution of “The Gift” may epitomize the growth. It started by cobbling together a short musical presentation, the “Batman Christmas” skit performed by a youth group, and a hot dog and marshmallow roast over an open fire. It drew about 100 people each of its two nights.
Now it is a massive production with live animals, more than 100 actors with sophisticated costumes, lighting and a sound system that draws at least 10,000 a year.
What’s the secret to success? Miller goes first to God doing great things regardless of the raw materials, but concedes it helped that Back Mountain Harvest Assembly was blessed with a strong music ministry, a congregation that responded to a more contemporary worship, and a deep commitment to giving back to the community through offerings such as “The Gift,” free fireworks, swimming and recreation events.
The congregation will vote on Miller’s recommendation for a replacement — Pastor Ray Petts — next Thursday. It is a yes/no vote, Miller said, and requires two-thirds to vote yes.
His advice to his successor, regardless of who gets the job?
“Work like it all depends on you, and pray like it all depends on God.”