You know the old saying, “Never say never?” Marty Baker said “never” about preaching.
During his early years, Michael Coffey’s friends might have said “never” about him becoming a chaplain.
Marty sits in his sunny pastor’s study with a polo, casual pants, and loafers. Michael sports a perfectly tailored gray suit and tie with matching handkerchief, and very short hair. Marty the talker, Michael the listener. Marty responds with a monologue. Michael? Two sentences.
Their differences complement each other, but they didn’t know life would end up this way. Their story began in 1982, when God providentially began weaving their cords at Dallas Theological Seminary. “Two are better than one, because they have good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.” (Ecc 4:12, NASB)
Dr. Marty Baker
On September 5, 1967, the Vietnam war raged on the other side of the Pacific and participants of San Francisco’s Summer of Love nursed their hangovers. Young Marty, however, stood up from the front pew of his church and accepted Christ’s gift of salvation. He began fourth grade the next day.
Three years later, missionaries shared their experience at DTS with him. Marty planned his entire high school and college curriculum to prepare for DTS—while in middle school. He finished his undergraduate program at Azusa Pacific University and dreamed of teaching just like Professor Hadden Robinson and “Prof” Howard Hendricks.
In the meantime, Marty led his beautiful Jewish girlfriend to Christ. Marty and Liz married a year later in 1980 and a year after that they headed to Dallas. In 1981, Liz left the only state she’d ever known to help Marty through seminary. When the doctors diagnosed their first child with mild Autism, his plans to finish his PhD came to a halt. Instead, he graduated in 1985 with a ThM in Old Testament, and they returned to California.
Marty told Liz he would never plant a church.
At thirty-one, he took over a church plant. “I told God I wouldn’t do it. And He said, ‘Oh really?’” After nineteen years of nurturing the church, the Bakers felt the need for a change. After seeking God’s guidance for their next move, Marty answered Burke Community Church’s (BCC) job posting the night of the application deadline. A rigorous interview process ensued, and he became Senior Pastor of BCC in 2008. They relocated to Virginia—a state Marty had sworn he’d never visit again because of the heat and humidity.
Never say never.
Dr. Michael Coffey
Michael Coffey was born in the hot, sticky state of Alabama. Soon after his birth, Mr. and Mrs. Coffey moved their family to another hot town—Atlanta. The heat wasn’t the only challenge Michael faced:
“We experienced a lot of chaos and pain. Both of my grandfathers preached in primitive Baptist churches, which influenced my parents to attempt indoctrinating us.”
When Michael was ten, his family started attending a new church, and the pastor noticed their dysfunction immediately. Showing up at their home unannounced, he found Michael’s father intoxicated. Michael—terrified of his father’s reaction—hurried his little sister to the back of the house. When things quieted down, he tiptoed back for a peak into the living room. His father lay on the couch, surrounded by his mother and the preacher. He could see they were praying, but couldn’t hear the words. “That scared me more than the violence.”
He put his sister to bed and returned to his room. The next morning Michael sat down for breakfast as usual. As he reached out to grab bacon off the serving plate, his father stopped him and said, “Hold on, let’s say grace.” His father changed his clothes that morning and took the family to church. Michael continued with misty eyes. “My father, a career truck driver, loved Jesus. Back then, CB radio connected him to other drivers on the road like cell phones do today. Each driver had his own name, or ‘handle.’ He changed his CB handle to ‘Preacher Man,’ and never drank again.”
Michael respected his father’s decision, but he wanted no part of Christianity. “People prayed for me over the years. Everyone in my family became Christians quickly, but I held out.” Ironically, the release of controversial rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar changed Michael’s life. A poster-child for the early 70’s hippie movement, he bought the record album and played it on a loop. Belting songs that church goers deemed completely sacrilegious, Michael mulled over the question, “Was Jesus a nutcase or God?” During his junior year, Michael gambled on Jesus’s sanity and became a Christian. Soon after, he cut his hair up to his shoulders, ditched his plans to become a lawyer, and began working for the local Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU). He met his wife, Laura, through CRU and soon after the couple headed to DTS. In 1986 at Laura’s urging, Michael finishing his Masters in Chaplaincy and entered the U.S. Army.
Two Strands Woven Together
The two men don’t remember crossing paths at DTS. Marty learned later that he passed Laura Coffey’s receptionist desk often on his way to Prof’s office. After graduation, miles separated the two couples for almost thirty years.
Around 2012, the Coffeys needed a church home in Northern Virginia. Working at the Pentagon, Colonel Coffey served as Chief of Staff. He served under two generals and oversaw 1,300 Army chaplains. A friend and current elder at Burke Community Church (BCC) invited Laura and him to church. Marty did not recognize Michael but invited him to teach Sunday School. By 2016, the two met at IHOP for breakfast before work. Michael in fatigues and Marty in civilian work clothes, they discussed the idea of the Colonel changing titles to Executive Pastor after retirement. The fit and timing worked. The church kept growing at an astounding rate, and Marty needed administrative help.
God carved out Marty and Michael’s future to minister to this community of believers. Today, approximately 3,000 congregants call BCC home. Members drive from the far reaches of Northern Virginia. Every link in the military chain of command fills their worship center, mixing with police force, federal and government workers, teachers, and home-school moms.
Modern day idol worship infiltrates much of the Washington metropolitan region. Both pastors encourage the BCC congregation to refrain from bowing their knee to “Baal.” BCC’s ministry extended directly to the White House for Vice President Pence’s staff, the Pentagon during the Obama administration, federal agencies in undisclosed locations, and police departments surrounding the nation’s capital. Because of BCC’s unique and volatile location, apologetics plays a major role in their educational curriculum. Even their youth learn methods to defend their faith in preparation for life in an increasingly hostile world.
Burke Community’s strategic location, nestled among aging oak trees in a quiet neighborhood, provides the perfect spot for DTS’s Washington DC campus. Dr. Rodney Orr, Dean of DTS-DC says, “DTS likes embedding their satellite campuses within churches. We consider it a win-win. DTS attracts church leaders looking for higher education and educates clergy and lay people called to minister to the body of Christ.”
The church’s mission statement is simple. Painted on six sparkling white vans parked neatly in the church parking lot, the phrase “Gather, Grow and Go” sums up Jesus’s Great Commission. Prof once said, “Don’t get too far from the last words of Christ. Otherwise, the Great Commission becomes the great omission.” Marty’s goal has never changed: teach the congregation to make disciples of Christ. While they reach in to help each other, they reach far and wide to fulfill needs in the community and support missionaries abroad.
Six years into their working partnership, Michael calls himself, “the pebble in Marty’s shoe.” Marty needs the pebble. Their relationship illustrates how opposites work in harmony: Marty, the preteen-wannabe-professor; Michael, the long-haired hippy. Marty, the apologist, gardener, pianist, scholar, and teacher; Michael, the child protector, rebel, CRU worker who “charged hell with a squirt gun,” and U.S. Army chaplain. Today, they lead God’s army as a “cord of three strands” by the power of the Holy Spirit and a good dose of humor.