ELKO — For almost eight years, Nathan Hornback has been lead pastor of Living Stones Church Elko. Whether he’s serving his growing congregation or accepting foster children into his home, Hornback inspires others to show love whenever possible.
In his tenure, the church has made a list of top 100 fastest-growing churches in America, changing locations three times to accommodate the growth.
This year the church is gearing up for a massive expansion and remodeling project, turning the current buildings into a beautiful place of learning and worship.
“We’ll be paying cash for everything. We have a no-debt policy across the Living Stones churches … I’m pretty stoked. We’re almost done raising it in two years.” Hornback said.
Elko’s Living Stones is one of five Living Stones Churches in Nevada.
“My reason for existing in Elko is that people would see the love of God in a true and Biblical sense. … It bothers me that Christians are more known … for all the things we are against than for all the things that we’re for. I want to be a place that changes that. I want people to know what we are for. I want to be a church where anybody from any walk of life can come in, wherever they are, and investigate Jesus and work through the Scriptures.”
Hornback always felt he would be in the ministry, but he never thought he’d being doing what he is doing today. In 2007, he and his wife, Audrey, moved to Reno where they attended Living Stones Church. Under the teaching of Pastor Harvey Turner, “our whole lives began to change. It was verse by verse preaching through whole books of the Bible. …. Growing up, I thought you only heard sermons on the verses you had underlined. … God changed our lives, changed our marriage.”
In 2009, Barrick called him with a job offer.
“Within 72 hours, I had moved back to Elko … I just moved here and started doing the mine thing, making a ton of money. More money than I knew what to do with. … Over time, the marriage started to deteriorate a little bit. I was gone so much, and she was working, too. We had this moment where it was like, ‘We have to get back to the Lord.’”
While looking for the right fit, they began a small Bible study at their home. Instead of reading a book or sharing what they had learned on their own, they listened to podcasts from Living Stones in Reno. Within three months, 35 people gathered in his living room.
It was then that a fortuitous meeting occurred at GNC. “While I was in there, Pastor Fred [Earnhart], who used to pastor the Foursquare church in the airport building, he came over and goes ‘You’re Nathan. Tell me about this Bible study that’s going on. I’m hearing about it.’
“So I just told him, ‘We just want to get back to the basics. We want people to know the Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus that the culture is painting to everybody. Just the Scriptures. Who is Jesus of the Bible? What is the gospel of grace?’ Right after I said that, he handed me a key."
“‘What’s this?’" Hornback remembered asking.
“‘Well, if that’s the message that’s going out, you guys need more space, so we want to let you use our building at the airport terminal,’” Earnhart said to Hornback.
As the Bible study continued to grow, Hornback recognized that listening to a podcast was not practical. He began to listen on his own, taking notes and then sharing what he’d learned “community style.” It was then that people began calling him “Pastor Nathan.” When members of the group began asking about communion, tithing and baptism, Hornback realized the Bible study was growing into something more.
In August 2011, Pastor Harvey Turner came up from Reno to make the official announcement. That night, 128 people packed the terminal.
“Do you want to become a Living Stones Church?” he asked.
“And right when he asked the question,” Hornback said, leaning forward in his chair, “the place erupted. I was standing in the back and I was bawling. I was so overwhelmed with what God was doing. The glass walls behind me were moving because people were cheering so loud.”
When Living Stones outgrew the airport building, they moved to the Girl Scout house and then to their current location on the corner of Fifth and Silver streets. Now, with a staff of seven, Living Stones holds four services to accommodate its more than 500 members.
But success breeds rumors. By relying on his faith and at times employing humor, he’s been able to deploy the oldest weapon in the war against gossip: the truth. He once did a Facebook live video that went viral. In it he addressed the top 10 rumors about Living Stones, and in a fun and engaging way told the truth.
“What else do you do?” he asked. “If you’re not going to laugh about it, are you going to just let people define you and smash you into the ground?”
While combating rumors was his greatest professional battle, his greatest personal one was the one to grow his family. After being married for 10 years, the couple had not been able to have children.
“We didn’t have money to go get poked and prodded and figure out why we can’t get pregnant.” But when Audrey finally got pregnant, the child they had so anticipated was stillborn.
“Then getting pregnant that same year and having it happen again. …Overcoming that personally, even as a pastor, really, really shook me up,” Hornback said.
During this time of grief, one of Hornback’s mentors gave him words that would change his suffering into hope.
“He said, ‘Nathan, it’s OK to not be OK.’
“I was raised to suck it up, pretend that it’s all right,” Hornback said. “I had grown up feeling like if I wasn’t good all the time, then something was wrong with me …. and I broke.”
His mentor continued to explain: “When you admit that you’re just not OK, that is when Jesus can come in and heal.”
Now, Nathan and his wife, Audrey, have two adopted daughters: Finleigh May and Lennon Ivy.
“Adoption has always been part of our story,” Hornback said. “My wife was adopted. Her mom was adopted. And now, we are this third generation of adopting little girls. We wanted to do that before we knew my wife and I couldn’t have our own kids. Adoption was always part of it.”
Finleigh May’s adoption happened privately, while Lennon’s was through the foster care system.
After a full morning of church, the family had gone home to relax before the last service of the evening. When they heard a knock at the door, Audrey answered it.
A lady stood there holding a car seat. “Please, take care of my baby,” she said. “I have to go to work. I’ll call you later.” But she was never heard from again.
As officials searched for the birth mother, the Hornbacks learned to open not just their home but their hearts.
“I guarded my heart a lot,” Hornback said. “Trying to emotionally protect my family, and maybe myself, from the event of someone taking her.”
At the end of a training course held at the hospital, he found the strength to love.
“We are listening to 12 hours of trauma counseling .… watching all these videos about fetal alcoholism and all of these things … at the very, very end of the class in this video, this doctor talks about all the damaging effects of all this stuff. And then, at the very end, he goes, ‘But you know, no matter how much we say in the medical field about all of these damages that are done,’ he says, ‘You never underestimate the power of a healing home.’"
“It was in that moment, when I had this heart shift; for not just this little girl, but for foster care, and it was an accident,” he said. “It was something I was thrust into.”