For Pastor James Marini, life in pre-COVID California was pretty sweet, at least for him and his family.
Marini had just become an assistant pastor on staff at Calvary Chapel Pomona Valley in the San Gabriel Valley, about 20 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
His wife, Jen, and their sons, Caleb and Titus, were surrounded by family and friends, laboring in ministry and generally enjoying life.
Then came the call.
“I remember sitting in my office as assistant pastor on a Sunday morning in 2019, and the Lord began to stir in my heart this idea, ‘I have something more for you to do,’ Marini told The Christian Post.
But planting a church in North Texas, Marini said, may have been the last thing on his mind.
'Living the dream'
After the Marinis were married in 2009, the couple moved from California to Flower Mound, just outside of Dallas, where James Marini began a career in marketing.
While they enjoyed their local fellowship at Calvary Chapel Flower Mound, Marini said once they were ready to start having kids, the couple felt led to return to California in 2012 to be around their family.
After working as the marketing director for a national tutoring company and serving as volunteers at their church, James Marini went on staff at Calvary Chapel Pomona Valley and began “living the dream.”
“I was finally in vocational ministry doing a little bit of everything: leading worship, teaching Bible studies, designing graphics, bookkeeping, street evangelism, et cetera,” Marini said. “I felt like my administrative skills and spiritual gifts were being utilized regularly, and I was getting to do ministry with many of my closest friends. … I imagined staying there for the rest of my life feeling like I was doing exactly what I was created to do."
“Then the stirring began," he added.
Marini said he and his wife had no plans to leave again even as they watched California drift further off-course, both politically and economically.
James Marini said they “quietly and prayerfully sought the Lord for five months." And then came the COVID-19 shutdowns in March 2020.
In those months, he said, the Lord began to confirm “this stirring to plant a church.”
“I knew it would be out of state but uncertain of where exactly,” he recalled. “Jen began to feel McKinney, Texas, which was the last place I expected, considering that we had already lived in the [Dallas-Fort Worth] area and had moved back to California.”
But as he wrestled with the idea of leaving what he described as a comfortable and ideal situation, the pastor said God confirmed the calling through several passages in his Word, including 2 Chronicles 25:9: “The Lord is able to give you much more than this.”
“I knew as difficult as it would be to leave, the Lord had something more for us to do, and we’d be blessed in whatever that was as we obeyed His call,” Marini said.
Obedience to God’s calling wasn’t exactly automatic for James Marini early on.
Despite growing up in a Christian home and going to a Christian high school and college, Marini initially dreamed of becoming a musician, not joining the ministry. He regularly performed at many of the trendy music venues in L.A. and Hollywood.
Following what he called a “season of prodigal living,” Marini committed his life to Jesus Christ in December 2008 and began to grow hungry for Biblical teaching. He listened to teachers such as Pastor Chuck Smith and Pastor David Guzik and “developed a love for teaching the Word of God.”
“I found myself teaching through the Bible every day at my desk while working on marketing projects at my 9-to-5 corporate job,” he said. “I was frustrated that I was ‘shackled’ to a desk in a corporate office instead of doing what I believed I was made to do, which was full-time ministry.
“But the Lord had a plan and used that season to refine and equip me prior to calling me into vocational ministry.”
After joining the staff at his then-home church Calvary Church Pomona Valley in 2016, that stirring came again, drawing him to the Lone Star State.
But this time, Marini said God’s hand was on the whole situation.
Rolling the dice
The Marinis packed up their stuff — their lives crammed into a POD — and left California behind a second time, arriving in McKinney in February 2021.
“There was a really odd mixture of emotions,” he said. “Happy to begin a new work in the Lord, sad to leave everyone and everything we knew in California, uncertain about how to even begin a church from conception, yet totally excited to see how God would bring this all together for His glory.”
Ministering to about three or four other families, James held the first Calvary Chapel McKinney church service in his living room on Feb. 14, 2021.
“It was a challenge coming from the ‘big church’ mentality and having to learn how to do church in this small format,” he said. “It took a month or two to figure out home church was less about plans and systems and more about the people.
“It really was more of a home Bible study for the first 10 months once we figured that out,” he added.
While teaching and leading worship were already well-honed skills for Marini, the financial uncertainty was something he said posed perhaps the greatest challenge.
“The biggest sacrifice for me was the idea of leaving vocational ministry to roll the dice on planting 1,300 miles from home,” he said. “I was applying for marketing jobs, and nothing was coming together, which was scary.”
Marini eventually found work teaching music lessons and picking up marketing jobs on the side to try and make ends meet while still serving as pastor.
For the first 10 months, Marini taught verse by verse through the Gospel of Luke to about the same handful of families.
And then, he said, God did something new and a little unexpected.
“It seems like overnight people started to hear about what we were doing and began to visit,” he recalled.
By January 2022, there were about 40 adults in the Marinis’ living room and another 25 kids in a small bedroom for children’s ministry.
It was time to move out of the house and into the Sheraton Hotel in McKinney, where the fellowship has been meeting ever since.
There are currently about 100 people regularly attending every Sunday.
For Marini, the milestone isn’t in the numbers but a deeper walk with Jesus — a truth reflected in Calvary Chapel McKinney's mission statement to “grow disciples of Jesus Christ through sound Bible teaching.”
“The Lord has reminded me in this season of the beauty of growing deep with few rather than growing wide with many,” he said. “I’ve learned that making true disciples takes intimate fellowship and commitment to minister to individuals.”
For others who may be praying about planting a church, Marini said it’s all about “caller ID.”
“First, make sure it is of the Lord. Test it against His word and prayerfully seek Him to confirm the call," Marini advised. “Once it is confirmed, step out as He leads, knowing that He is faithful to complete that good work.”