MIDDLESBORO — Members of New Heights Church and the community of Kentucky Baptists are grieving the death of Pastor Mark Elkins, who died Saturday after a two-year battle with cancer.
Church leadership sent the word out on social media about the passing of the beloved pastor known for his evangelistic style. The church in Middlesboro has become a beacon of hope for the community through Elkins’ leadership.
“In recent hours we have learned that our true friend, wonderful mentor, and beloved Lead Pastor, Mark Elkins has passed away from his two-year battle with cancer,” the message said. “While we are saddened at his passing – we have joy that he is with Jesus. Join us in praying for Alice, Collier, and Caroline and the family but also join us as we grieve together.”
Elkins’ health issues kept him from being able to do as much at New Heights as he would have liked. But more and more he found others stepping up and taking over duties as they blossomed through their discipleship.
“It has been amazing to see how the people that weren’t leaders before have stepped up,” Elkins said in an April story in Kentucky Today. “Our attendance numbers are better than we’ve ever had, and the giving is getting better. It’s way better. We set a goal of wanting to baptize and disciple 52 people – that’s one a week.” The pastor believed discipleship was part of being a growing Christian.
Elkins said “the Lord has given me strength” to continue preaching on most Sundays. He writes down the sermon and preaches it “no matter how bad or how good I feel. He gives me the strength to do it.”
The church started in 2019 in Middlesboro after launching as one of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s high-impact churches in the early 2000s.
“Larry Baker, who was the church planting guru, helped get us going in 2007 and we launched in 2008 in Pineville,” Elkins said in April. “In 2018 we started getting a push from Pineville (to move) because they wanted to clean up the court square. We moved to Middlesboro, found a piece of property and were able to purchase and build.”
Elkins was the “second or third pastor” in the church plant’s history.
The church started a clothing bank and food pantry called Hope Project that has blossomed as the church grew. It has become a go-to place for the homeless or non-homeless to find a meal or a set of clothes. They feed about 150 a week and the community saw what was happening and began donating to them.
Kroger and Food City give them carts full of items that were near the expiration date, and when somebody ran across some new clothes that needed to find a home, New Heights was suggested as the place to take it.
“The Lord continues to provide in ways and means that are miraculous,” Elkins said.
Church leadership has been processing the death of their pastor. They opened the church on Saturday for a “time to mourn, to talk and to be together.”
“We are thankful for the wave of support coming from the Christian community across the state and throughout the country both now and during Mark’s battle. As people support from a distance and as we come together today at the church, may we all feel that love and togetherness in the midst of tragedy.”
Senior Pastor Allen Bonnell of Immanuel Baptist in Corbin was a close friend of Elkins.
“Mark is one of the most genuine people I have ever known,” he said. “His love for Jesus was so evident in how he expressed love to others. I didn’t matter your age or background, Mark treated you like you were the most important person at the moment,” Bonnell said.
“Two things happened when I walked away from a conversation with Mark. I would be encouraged. Mark was committed to building others up. Secondly, I would want to walk closer to Jesus, because Mark’s conversations inevitably would always come back to Jesus.”
The leadership’s message included this statement:
“In this tragedy know that it is okay to not be okay. We will all process grief and loss differently, and that is okay. Again, know that our volunteers and leadership team are available to meet with you, pray with you, or just process with you. As always, we will point you to the gospel, which ultimately means to Jesus. Tim Keller said, “We grow in our faith not by going beyond the gospel, but by going deeper in the gospel.” Know that we will journey with you deeper into the truth of Christ’s gospel that saved us, is saving us, and will save us. The same gospel of Jesus that Mark placed his faith in.”