Note: Restoration Church Centerville lead pastor Tony Miltenberger is a columnist for Centerville-Washington Neighbors Magazine, and this profile appears in the March issue of the magazine.
By Jeff Louderback
It was seemingly a simple request, but for Tony Miltenberger, the words spoken by his wife brought forth the 20-something U.S. Army Reserve sergeant’s inevitable breaking point. The path he would forge from that moment would determine if the couple’s marriage would survive, and who he would become as a man.
Tony had recently returned from serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he was struggling with adapting to a normal world at home, far from the war.
“One night, Karen asked me to take out the trash. I yelled at her. Take out the trash? Do you know what I have done and seen?” Tony said. “Everything in Kuwait felt important. The mission gave me a sense of purpose. Life made sense there. When I returned, I had no job, and it felt like nothing I did had meaning.
“I remember falling to my knees, leaning on my wife’s pregnant belly and telling her that I think I need to go back to war because it is only thing that makes sense,” he added. “We both knew that I needed to ‘figure it out’ because our marriage could not be healthy without me being healthy.”
Today, Tony is the lead pastor of Restoration Church Centerville, a thriving United Methodist congregation. He is also the host of The Reclamation Podcast, a show that “helps busy people reclaim good practices of faith and life,” and the co-author of “UnBreakable: Forging a Marriage of Contentment and Delight,” which is based on his own marital struggles, and his experiences spearheading workshops for soldiers returning from deployment away from their families.
Long before Tony transitioned from a 14-year stint in the Army Reserve to his role as a pastor, podcaster and author, his story was shaped by his life’s earliest chapters. His parents divorced when he was a teenager, and that life-altering event led him to three sources of comfort that would plot his journey after high school.
“I attended a Catholic church, and the youth ministry group became an important part of coping with all of the changes. So did the Civil Air Patrrol” Tony said. “With both, I found structure and faith that gave me a vision for something bigger long term than the circumstances of my life at the time.”
One of the youth group members was a girl who sat across from him in the circle.
“She had a spirit about her that was amazing, and I was drawn to her,” Tony recalled. “We started talking and spending time together, and we became close.”
Karen was Tony’s high school sweetheart. Tony graduated from Chaminade-Julienne High School in 1999, when he joined the Army Reserve and departed for basic training.
“Part of my journey with the Army was about escaping and figuring out what I was going to do with my life,” Tony said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew is that I wasn’t interested in school at the time, and I needed to find my calling.”
After basic training, Tony was offered a six-month assignment in Germany. Upon his return, he proposed, and in 2003, the couple married. A year later, he deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“In the middle of a war, I felt a sense of engagement that appealed to my Type A personality,” Tony said. “It was fulfilling, and it felt like the most important thing in the world because of the mission and being part of a team.
“After the year there was completed, I struggled to find a sense of meaning in the world I lived in back home,” he added. “My head was a messy place. I didn’t know how to talk about anything I’d been through.”
Tony admittedly had no idea what the future would hold, but he was motivated to become a better man and husband the moment he became a father.
“When I held Connor for the first time, I realized I had to figure out what it truly means to be married, and how to be in a healthy relationship,” he said “The Army offers retreats and workshops for soldiers returning from deployment, and I started attending as many as I could and reading as many books about marriage as possible.
“I went to so many of those retreats that they (the Army) asked me to teach,” Tony said with a laugh. “In 2007, I was deployed to Minnesota, and I was part of a team that traveled all around the Midwest conducting retreats to help returning soldiers successfully transition to their lives as a husband.”
“UnBreakable: Forging a Marriage of Contentment and Delight” was inspired from those experiences. He co-authored the book with Charles Causey, who was part of the team that conducted the workshops. The book is a powerful resource for couples who want to repair, strengthen, and shock-proof their marriages.
When his stint in Minnesota was over, Tony returned to the Dayton area, moved by a calling to the ministry. He earned a Master of Divinity from United Theological Seminary and served as Director of Adult Discipleship at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City before he was named lead pastor of Restoration Church Centerville.
The property has housed a church since 1833, and a Methodist church has called the building home since 1924.
“We’re a neighborhood church. Most regulars live within a few miles,” Tony said. “We’re an authentic community and work hard to connect with each other and grow in our walk with God.”
Tony and Karen have three children – Connor, 14; Caleb, 9; and Shiloh, 7. The ministry is a perfect calling for Tony because it is similar to the mission-based objectives that exhilarated him in the military. Finding balance between being a pastor, and a husband and father, is vital to thriving in all three roles, he believes.
“Serving as a pastor is obviously not an 8-to-5 job. It can require being involved morning, noon and night,” Tony said. “Karen and I made a rule that I won’t work more than three nights a week. We have our own date nights, and I devote time to my children by offering to coach their sports that are in season, which allows me to be directly involved.”
As Connor approached his 13th birthday, Tony and Karen brainstormed an idea where father and son would have a “yes” weekend when Connor would get to partake in any activity he wanted, within a budget.
“All the men in the family, myself included, wrote a letter to Connor about what it means to be a man,” Tony said. “Over the course of the weekend, he was given instruction of what it means to flourish in the next season of his life.
“We forget to celebrate seasons of change and growth in our children’s lives,” he added. “I believe it’s the family’s job to bring that back because it makes a powerful impact.”
Tony’s typical weekday begins at 5 a.m., when he works out at the gym. He arrives at the church around 8 a.m., when he spends the morning blogging (www.twmilt.com), podcasting and preparing his sermons.
When he arrived at the Methodist church in Centerville, Tony and the leadership team changed the name to “Restoration,” a word that reflects his own journey, and the promise provided to everyone through the Lord’s saving grace. Tony embraces the opportunity to tell the story of his personal struggles.
“I think it’s important for people to realize that many of our leaders, pastors included, are not perfect,” Tony said. “Whatever problems you have, you can start anew.”