Above: Ron and Marsha have taught marriage conferences and led couples retreats all over the world, including one in India. Photo courtesy Ron and Marsha Harvell
By Pam S. Walker
Ron and Marsha Harvell’s ministry life had already been extensive: serving as missionaries in the military for 28 years, providing spiritual care to more than 300,000 airmen and their families, leading over 100 Bible studies, and serving together in 29 countries. But in 2014, God gave these humble servants and grandparents an even greater vision for ministry. One that would expand their mission field by equipping shepherds to feed their sheep, encouraging believers to pray more deeply, and pointing more people to God’s greater grace.
The vision for their ministry, God’s Greater Grace, came while Ron and Marsha were living in Qatar and teaching military chaplains. Marsha was teaching on God’s covenants and had become passionate about the subject, having completed in-depth Bible studies and conferences on the topic that she said is the “foundation for understanding who God is.” She taught it to youth, young mothers, and pastors with doctorates in theology. People asked if they could get the material she was teaching in a book. She had never considered authoring a book. In fact, she said she was reluctant to do so. That was until one of the chaplains who was writing a book told her about a writing coach named Wendy K. Walters. The book needed to be completed in time for the conference in March, which was less than three months away. More than 100 women were expected to attend the conference, many of whom would be bringing non-Christian friends.
The Covenant Maker — A New Chapter of Ministry Begins
Through prayer and help from the coach, the book, The Covenant Maker: Knowing God and His Promises for Salvation and Marriage, was completed in time for the conference. Each lady received a copy, which shows nine elements of God’s covenants from the Old and New Testaments and Western marriage ceremonies. A section in the book is dedicated to those who have failed to live up to God’s standards in areas of their lives and shows how God forgives and restores lives. In the chapter titled “God’s Forgiveness is Complete,” Marsha wrote, “God is so good to you that despite your past He wants you to live as a righteous and holy child in abundance of joy and love. God knows everything about you, and He still loves you and forgives you and wants to be in a saving intimate relationship with you.” This lifechanging truth is what influenced the name of their ministry, which comes from James 4:1–6, where God provides a “greater grace” than our sin.
Learning to Pray Daily Like a Watchman on the Wall
Also during this time in Qatar, military wives asked Marsha to write devotions. She felt God speaking to her to write about praying through His Word. When her two children were young, she had attended a ladies conference where one of the speakers led a seminar on praying Scripture over family. She fell in love with it and started practicing it daily.
“Every day when I would do my quiet time, I would have index cards with the verses on them and would pray those verses over my family. I just saw how the Lord is so faithful to His Word and how He was answering those prayers from the time our children were babies until they grew up, got married, and are now honoring the Lord overseas as missionaries. It’s like, wow, God, You are faithful! And You really love it when we ask things according to Your Word,” Marsha said.
Out of this inspiration came the devotional book, The Watchman on the Wall: Daily Devotions for Praying God’s Word Over Those You Love, that she co-wrote with Ron. The book gets people into an entire book of the Bible by having them read one chapter a day throughout the year. Each devotion is formed from that chapter and ends with a verse or two that can be prayed back to the Lord over yourself and loved ones. The name comes from Isaiah 62:6–7, which says that God has appointed watchmen who all day and all night never keep silent.
Ron encourages men to become watchmen for their families, writing the following in the book’s introduction:
“Men, take the lead in being a watchman on the wall praying for your family. I have witnessed the value of sentries on the walls in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are literally protecting those who live within the walls. Evil is real. And God is greater than evil. Most of you would physically die to protect your families from an outside intruder. I want to challenge you to die to yourself and your work for a few minutes of each day to pray for God’s blessings on those you love.”
Knowing that she and Ron wanted to write a prayer devotional from each of the 1,189 chapters of the Bible, they continued the devotional series in Volumes 2 and 3 and are in the process of writing Watchman on the Wall, Volume 4.
Burdened to Feed His Sheep
Even before completing the Watchman on the Wall series, Ron felt burdened by another calling. Although he had introduced many people to Christ and baptized 500 new believers, he regretted not discipling them well enough. Contemplating the Lord’s commands to Peter in John 21:15–17 to feed His lambs and shepherd His sheep, Ron set out to develop discipleship material that would be easy to understand, while providing new believers a solid biblical foundation. Marsha shared the same concern for feeding new Christians, stating that “We just expect new believers to go feed themselves. We spend more time feeding our dog or cat than we do feeding fellow believers, especially new believers.”
Partnering with Marsha and writing coach Wendy K. Walters, Ron wrote 50 Steps with Jesus: Learning to Walk Daily with the Lord, a seven-week spiritual growth journey that includes a “New Believer’s Guide” and “Shepherd’s Guide.” The material is designed to match new believers with a “shepherd” who meets with them for seven weeks (face-to-face once a week and some form of contact other days), guides them through the basics of Christianity, and shows them how to have a personal relationship with Jesus.
The first “lamb” they used the material with was a master sergeant named Marie. As Ron would write each lesson, Marsha would meet with Marie and get her feedback. They also tested the material with a life group in Colorado of older believers where the average Christian was over 50. As they practiced shepherding each other, they were drawn closer together, with many saying they wish they had gone through this as a new believer.
In addition to producing faith-equipping resources, Ron and Marsha have built an extensive website, godsgreatergrace.com, which offers additional support for Praying God’s Word, and a 50 Steps Journey site that includes additional resources for new believers, shepherds, and ministry leaders.
The Lord continues to expand Ron and Marsha’s ministry as evidenced through Ron’s promotion in August 2018, when the U.S. Senate confirmed his promotion from U.S. Air Force Chaplain Colonel to the rank of Brigadier General, becoming the Air Force’s 26th Deputy Chief of Chaplains. A Baptist Press article states he will “assist the Air Force Chief of Chaplains to provide guidance on the religious and moral welfare of Air Force personnel and their families. He will also be responsible for helping train and equip the Air Force Chaplain Corps and joins the United States Armed Forces Chaplains Board whose members advise the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on concerns related to religion, ethics, and morale.”
In sharing about their new journey, which has brought them to the Pentagon, Marsha said, “We’re just thankful that the Lord has given us these opportunities. We’re never ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To have the religious freedom and to be able to encourage and share Christ with these young families, chaplain leaders, and senior military leaders, is just so exciting.”
Leading a Churchwide Campaign With 50 Steps With Jesus
While the 50 Steps with Jesus materials are ideally designed for one-on-one shepherding, this ministry resource can also be used in small groups or on a broader scale. A “Ministry Leader’s Guide” located inside the 50 Steps with Jesus Shepherd’s Guide offers churches guidance on how to implement this teaching as an entire churchwide campaign. As stated in this section, congregation-wide participation “creates a churchwide enthusiasm for 50 Steps and increases the pool of members who desire to be shepherds.”
The authors offer the following ideas that can help churches create a congregation-wide or ministry campaign for launching this New Believers program:
• Have a season of prayer leading up to the launch.
• Prior to the launch, preach or teach messages on the value of shepherding (Ps. 23; John 21:15–17; 1 Pet. 5:1–4).
• Dedicate eight weeks for doing 50 Steps with Jesus.
• Weekly sermons can be based on the Big Step themes discussed in the material.
• Implement the Big Step themes in your ministry groups for the weekly curriculum.
• Have members do their Big Steps in a group and then do the daily lessons on their own and be in contact each day with another member.
• Have a celebration on the eighth week when you reach Big Step 50!
• Have participants who feel led to participate in
ongoing shepherding volunteer to become your lamb shepherd team.
• Develop a plan for usage that is common knowledge to the entire congregation so they know whom to contact for support of new believers.
Pam S. Walker is the former national editor of Answers magazine, a publication of Answers in Genesis, and is a freelance writer living in the Cincinnati area, where she writes for various Christian publications. For more information, visit her website at pamwalkercommunications.com.