New pastor to lead Evangelical Free Church

Pastor Russ Berg steps down after 22 years

by Danielle Dullinger

Murphy News Service


The members of Maple Grove Evangelical Free Church have persevered through a transition of pastors this September.

Russ Berg, who had been the senior pastor of the church since 1992, announced to the church April 25, 2011, he was planning on stepping down as pastor, church documents said.

“I think because Russ announced he was leaving so far in advance, it kind of gave everyone an opportunity to deal with it in their own way and their own time,” said Mark Neubauer, preteen coordinator and a member of the church for 23 years.

Maple Grove Evangelical Free Church (MGEFC) began service at its current location, 8585 Rice Lake Road in Maple Grove in the 1980s, the church’s website said.

Once Berg announced he was stepping down, the church assembled a search team and reached out to SIMA International, a pastoral search consulting firm, church documents said.

Danielle Allen, director of adult ministries for eight years and a member of the church’s senior pastor search team, said SIMA initially interviewed 80 candidates for the position. This was then narrowed down to five candidates, and the search team met with three of the candidates, Allen said. One of those candidates was Jon Platek.

Rev. Russ Berg, left, hands over a baton to Rev. Jon Platek to signify Berg handing over Maple Grove Evangelical Free Church to Platek. Berg recently retired. (Photo by David Swanson)
Rev. Russ Berg, left, hands over a baton to Rev. Jon Platek to signify Berg handing over Maple Grove Evangelical Free Church to Platek. Berg recently retired. (Photo by David Swanson)

Platek, previously serving at The Chapel as Senior Associate Pastor in Akron, Ohio, was recommended by SIMA after he completed a profile about his faith and call as a senior pastor, church documents said.

After he was recommended, the church’s search committee conducted a number of Skype and face-to-face interviews, church information documents said. Members of the church were able to meet Platek and his family in June, Allen said. MGEFC members were then asked to vote to affirm Platek as Senior Pastor June 24. MGEFC bylaws require that 90 percent of the members who vote must approve of Platek, said Lisa Walter, receptionist, generalist and assistant to the new pastor.

Platek was voted in and began his ministry at the church with a hand off service Sept. 8, the church website said. At this service, Berg handed over a baton to Platek to signify Berg handing over the church to Platek, Neubauer said.

“[Berg] wanted to have kind of a ceremonial event to say ‘I’m handing over this 20 years of what I put into this church, and I’m handing it over to you, and I want you to carry it on to continue to serve the community and the congregation,’” Neubauer said.

Platek, 38, who received his Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications from Taylor University in Indiana and his Master of Arts and Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, has been married to his wife, Chrissy, for 12 years, church documents said. The couple has three children.

“When Russ said he was leaving, we thought ‘How are we ever going to replace him?’ ” Walter said. “Yet God has brought us this person. We were prayerful and tried to be obedient, and He has answered our prayers with this Godly man who is fitting right in.”

Berg decided to step down in order to pursue the marriage ministry, church documents said. He will be working with Hope for the Hurting Heart, a Christian ministry that helps marriages in crisis, church documents said. Berg will be helping with marriage counseling, along with training pastors and volunteers, Allen said.

Kristy Kratky, director of children’s ministry, member of MGEFC for 25 years and longtime friend of Berg, said she will miss Berg at the church.

However, “I’m excited for him to move into marriages,” she said. “He has a real heart for it.”

Many members agree that this has been a positive transition for the church.

“I think it’s been a very healthy transition,” Kratky said. “We’ve walked through this process together. We have faith in God to help us make a good transition.”

Platek said the people of MGEFC have been extremely welcoming and genuine. Minnesota has been a good fit so far, he said.

“Neither my wife nor I would have chosen to move to Minnesota,” Platek said. However, “we felt a sense of God’s call to come here.”

Platek feels Maple Grove is an exciting community to be in. The young families in the expanding area offers continued building for the church, he said.

“My desire for this church is to continue to really honor God well,” he said, “and for us to continue to have a real impact in Maple Grove and surrounding communities.”

The new senior pastor was also drawn to the foundation Berg set, Platek said “Pastor Berg has done a very fine job leading a really healthy church,” he said.

Platek has jumped right into the senior pastor role, Walter said. He’s been preaching, meeting with board members and members of the congregation, and getting acquainted with his new surroundings. He’s also had the chance to learn about Minnesota. His family had the chance to attend the State Fair, a Minnesota Twins game and a Minnesota Vikings game, he said.

Platek and his family are working to settle down and get into a rhythm, he said, but he’s focused on the future of the church.

“My hope as I go about leading my congregation is that God will smile; my kids will be proud of their dad; my congregation will feel loved,” he said.

While the future is yet to be seen and the changes are unknown, members are keeping faith.

“We’re looking forward to see how God leads us through Jon,” Allen said.