Published June 1, 2019
When a pastor serves in western Kentucky, the challenge of going the distance is seeing that the Lord is at work. Driving through some parts of rural western Kentucky, one may only see plowed fields or abandoned buildings. Western Kentucky was built around farms and small towns whose growth depended upon good soil and access to rivers, railroad or roads. Cites flourished by the rivers and waterways of the region early in the history of Kentucky. The railroads created a cultural and commercial shift and some towns grew while others were left behind. The roadways across western Kentucky created another cultural and economic shift that has impacted its growth and opportunities. Going the distance in this region requires a special type of person.
Three qualities that assist pastors in reaching a church's community are calling, vision and perseverance. Calling is the knowledge that God has someone at a time and place for His glory. God designs each of us for His work. When a pastor identifies he is designed for such a moment and place, he understands he is called by the Lord.
Vision is the ability of the pastor to see what God has called him to a church and community to accomplish. He brings fresh eyes and energy to a congregation and a renewed hope.
Perseverance is a persistence of pushing against the odds. A new pastor and his family will be told "we tried this before" or "it never worked here"—but he doesn't give up. Perseverance is demonstrated best when the honeymoon period ends—then the real challenge begins. A pastor sees the challenge as an opportunity to demonstrate God's vision.
The story of Pastor Jason Sipes illustrates essential leadership qualities of pastors in the west region of Kentucky. Pastor Sipes and his family began ministry at West Hickman Baptist Church 14 years ago, arriving in 2005. The church is located in Hickman in Fulton County, a river community along the banks of the Mississippi River. The community settled around 1834 and the church dates to 1910.
Pastor Sipes displays each of the above qualities previously mentioned of call ing, vision and perseverance. He said he moved from preacher to pastor when the church faced one of its most critical circumstances. The church's structures were dated and the congregation was comfortable. The church building burned in 2013—it was a total loss. This crisis moment was a time the congregation and the "community" demonstrated the strength of the word community as they pulled together. Services were held in various locations, assisted by other churches and the local school. Members who had not attended in years renewed their commitments to worship services and Bible study. There was a new vibrancy in the congregation, and it was shared by several in the community.
A crisis allowed Pastor Sipes to rally his congregation seeking the Lord's vison for new opportunities. After much prayer, the congregation relocated to a better site and rebuilt. Carpenters for Christ of Alabama volunteered to help the congregation rebuild. Pastor Sipes stated, "…in June 2014 approximately 120 men showed up and completely framed our new 12,000-square-foot building in 10 days. We moved into the new facility debt-free."
Volunteers from the congregation and Carpenters for Christ of Alabama saved them enough financially to allow building facilities for worship, education, fellowship and activities. The loss added much needed energy to the congregation and has resulted in increased attendance and involvement in missions. On Sunday, April 28, 2019, the church reported the largest Annie Armstrong offering in its history—more than $8,000.
The journey at West Hickman Baptist Church has been filled with opportunity and challenge. Jason serves as a coach and assistant coach for the county school. He and his family have become significant members of their community. Seeking opportunity to serve the community has provided greater acceptance of someone from outside the context.
Pastor Sipes expressed that longevity for him was understanding "the seduction of the feelings that come with a brand-new leadership position. A new leadership position is fun until you begin to experience resistance." Experiencing resistance, Jason expressed, leads too many pastors to begin "looking for greener pastures." The most fruitful years come with a longer pastorate.
Jason said a pastor must not be afraid of criticism. "Be secure enough in your own skin to listen to criticism and consider the fact that it might be exactly correct." He saw this as opportunity to grow as a follower of Christ and as a more effective leader. He said that a pastor should not take himself "too seriously."
Lastly, Pastor Sipes stated a key to his going the distance at West Hickman Baptist is "don't be so discouraged when people leave that you forget to lead the ones who stay."
He expressed that it is always amazing to see people come back to worship week after week. Pastor Sipes stated, "Leadership is not always having something new or clever to say, it is saying the important things over and over."
The western region of Kentucky offers new challenges and opportunities. If you feel God can use your gifts in such a context, contact the KBC, your associational mission strategist or a KBC regional church consultant.
Larry Purcell is West Regional Consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
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