A new kind of mayor
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes ….”—Romans 1:16.
Residents of Ashland, Ohio, are accustomed to hearing Mayor Matt Miller evoke the name of Jesus Christ at public events and talk openly about his faith.
Ashamed of the gospel? “I’m not—and I don’t think I can afford to be,” says this 43–year–old former employee of the Salvation Army’s Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Ashland.
Miller, who was elected mayor two years ago by a three–to–one margin, remains a strong supporter of the Kroc Center where he feels right at home. He was on hand Wednesday to help with a children’s feeding program and to pass out 100 U.S. flags for the Fourth of July celebration.
Miller was born in the Ashland area, learned about Jesus at an early age, and was one of the youngest elected officials in the state of Ohio.
“My mother had a strong faith and we always attended small country churches,” said Miller. “By that, I mean just what you picture—something you would see in a history book or a magazine,” he said. “Even though I’m not that old, we attended the churches where there were those old wooden pews. That was how I was raised.
“For as long as I can remember, I knew about Jesus, prayed to Jesus, and believed in Jesus.”
Miller said it wasn’t until his mid–20s that he really “asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life.”
“I had asked him to be my Savior many years before in my teens and I prayed to Him all the time and saw Him work in my life, but I’ll admit that I was someone who always had a plan,” Miller said. “I always knew I wanted to do ‘this’ at this age, and ‘this’ at this age, and ‘this’ at this age.
“Somewhere in my early 20s, it became clear that God is the one who made me, and He knows what He wants me to do in this life. He knows where I will be the most content and get the most satisfaction and accomplish His purpose.”
Miller remembers going into his bedroom to pray and to surrender his life to God. From then on, he would follow God’s will, whether that was politics or not.
“It’s a struggle every day to stay in that mindset, but I meant it and I think He took me seriously,” Miller said.
Miller had just graduated from Ashland University when he felt led to run for county commissioner. He won and at age 22 was the youngest county commissioner in Ohio.
Trusting God daily
While Miller was in his second term as commissioner, news broke that a Kroc Center was coming to Ashland. Majors Larry and JoAnn Shade, the former Salvation Army officers in Ashland, approached Miller at a United Way event and asked if he might want to work at the new facility.
“This was really going to take our little Salvation Army, which was on a back street in a quiet part of town and make it one of the premier community centers in Ashland,” Miller recalls. “I think I surprised them when I said I would be interested in talking about that.”
Miller was hired as the business and development administrator and came to work in 2009 while the building was still under construction. In those early days, he helped hire staff and get things going.
Three years later, Miller took a position with the Ohio Department of Transportation. He served as a city councilman in Ashland before getting elected mayor. His wife, Melanie, is the executive director of the Ashland Pregnancy Care Center.
“Our faith is very much a part of our daily lives and even our professional lives,” Miller said. “I’m often reminded that He is our rock and it is in Him we place our trust. I hear that echoing through my mind almost every day.”
The rigors of leading a city of 20,000 can be difficult at times, but Miller says his trust in God comes in handy.
“I absolutely believe with all my heart and soul that God knows best,” he said. “I believe that if I read the scriptures, from the front to the back, what I read about is basically a political novel. Story after story, I see where one group of leaders sought God and to carry out His will according to His ways and those nations were blessed.
“In the next chapter, I see where a nation’s leaders sought to do it their own way and place their trust in man’s wisdom and man’s intelligence and man’s intellect and over and over again that led to doom and despair for the people.
“It would appear to me that if we truly believe God is who the Bible says He is, and we believe that Jesus is our Savior, then it might be worthwhile paying attention to His guidance in all affairs—not just our personal affairs, but our professional affairs, and even the affairs of our nation.”
Miller said amid the uncertainty of COVID-19 and racial strife gripping the nation, he is focusing on Jesus’ kindness and compassion.
“When you take a look at all of the situations and unrest that are going on all around our country, it’s easy to become afraid, frustrated, and sometimes even bitter,” Miller said. “We may even be cold-hearted because it looks like this world is growing increasingly harsh.
“My daily focus on Jesus is helping remind me that we’ve got to continue to exhibit His kindness and His love and His mercy and His grace, even in a world that may not be thrilled to see it or experience it.
“That’s why places like the Kroc Center and organizations like The Salvation Army are so important by providing food, clothing, and shelter,” Miller said. He also remains amazed at how his small Midwestern city benefitted from receiving a portion of the $1.5-billion donation to The Salvation Army from McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc to build the Kroc Center in Ashland, in addition to many others across the United States.
“Of all of these charitable organizations, The Salvation Army continues to be the one that does not hide the fact that it does all of these good deeds in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Miller said. “I believe with all my heart that is the reason God completed one of the most amazing transactions in world history by moving this fortune that was accumulated through fast-food restaurants into the hands of an organization that puts Him first and foremost in their mission.
“Over and over again, we’re reminded that The Salvation Army is first and foremost a church of Jesus Christ that meets human needs in His name—and they don’t shy away from that. They don’t deny that. It would only follow that God would honor a ministry that honors Him.”
Miller said the Kroc Center “has been transformative for this community” and that influence will only grow after a recent groundbreaking for a $7.2-million indoor water park and fitness center expansion.
“Here we are again with this extraordinary story and what’s at the center of it? The Salvation Army,” Miller said.
by Robert Mitchell