Life in Southern California
How did I, a Southern California native, land in Small Town, Kentucky pastoring an average sized SBC Church?
God does have a sense of humor.
I grew up in a loving home in the 90s. My parents worked, my mother in the schools and my father in law enforcement. In those early years we went to the same Baptist church my folks had met at some years earlier. Life was normal in my single digits. I asked Jesus into my heart at age five. I still remember standing by my blue Afghan adorned bed as my mother helped me pray. But did I know the gospel?
Off To Northern California
My father moved us to Northern California for his job the next year. It seemed that evergreen trees took up every free plot of dirt, a stark contrast to the LA metro area. Though I did not know it, God used this to prepare me for small town life years later.
It was a nice town but boring for a city kid. God was nevertheless moving.
I engaged in all manner of normal teen sin. Nothing insane, just your “regular” sins. I look back with shame but also realize this is the common pattern for kids like me. It’s a sad indictment of the Christian tradition I grew up in. I was never discipled.
I do remember a handful of boys in high school that seemed like “different Christians.” They acted like Jesus was real and the bible mattered. But this just reinforced that I was not like those WWJD bracelet wearing guys. I was not that “kind of Christian.” Because I wasn’t a Christian!
I moved from Boringtown, USA one year after graduation and headed back to LA to be a famous movie star. And probably attend college. The balance proved difficult after a few years and I gave up on the lime light and finished university. In 2007, I got married to my amazing wife Jenny.
She grew up Christian too, but did not have a true relationship with Christ. We had a “don’t ask don’t tell” type of faith amongst ourselves. We would have called ourselves Christians if a street preacher confronted us on the curb, but we weren’t. God still moved.
God Has a Sense of Humor
Around the time of college graduation and our wedding, my dad asked me, “Do you think you’ll do more school?” I smiled, and in typical fashion, said, “Why?! I don’t even like school!” Famous last words!
Well, that next Fall I came under conviction of sin at the church we had been attending for the past two years. A different one from the one growing up. I understood my true need for a Savior. God showed me that I was never going to be good enough for Him on my own. All my works were filth. Jenny came to Christ too. Looking back, all of it very awesome! The gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.
Things Changed Fast
I began to enjoy singing biblical songs publicly. I enjoyed reading, not just the bible, but all books! (I hated reading growing up.) I wanted to be with other believers. Life was good. Marriage was hard but authentic. Both of us, new believers, and two small girls living in a condo in sunny Southern California. What could be better?
Around this time I got the “itch.” I felt I wanted to do more for God. But what? I was working a 9-5 design job at a local company but felt like I needed to do something more. I had a Bachelors in design but no formal bible training. I wanted to make a change and teach or work for a ministry or something. One thing I didn’t expect and would never have thought some ten years later that I would be pastoring a typical SBC. “Ha! That would never happen!” 2013 Richard would have told time-traveling 2023 Richard. “Never!”
Despite my low view of denominations and frowning at my baptist heritage, before long I was visiting the flagship Seminary of the SBC in Kentucky. I would sometimes ponder those words spoken to my dad some years earlier, “why do more school?” But that didn’t stop me!
While visiting the seminary, I remember hearing the stories of the 1980s “Conservative Resurgence” and how the denomination and schools used to be liberal. I was not Southern Baptist and had no knowledge of these events yet they resonated. All of this in spite of me quietly mocking denominations, after all, I was just a “Bible Christian.” I had no need for denominations. More of God’s humor!
Before I knew it, the four of us were moving 2,000 miles eastward to Louisville, KY to do “more school”. Man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
Coming to Caneyville
Fast-forward to March 1, 2020 – before everything went sideways – I answered a call for pulpit supply. Having completed seminary a few months prior, I waited in the wings. I wanted to hone my preaching as I had off and on the past four years.
That first time driving to Caneyville I thought it was like any other small Kentucky town. Highway driving. No traffic. Winding through the two lane roads. A few gas stations here, a couple Mom & Pop businesses there. A post office. And of course, a Dollar General! Many different sized and style homes. And a lot of church buildings!
My first moments at New Harvest were similar to many I had before, a “run of the mill” building, both in size and style, average congregation, regular songs, Baptist decor and customs.
But two things struck me immediately: their generous hospitality and a craving to know God and His word. These two things would ultimately confirm to me the Lord’s leading us there as full-time pastor later that year.
Benefits of Small Town Church
I could give many favorable statements on small town life/pastoring, there are cons too, but they truly are dwarfed by the mission. A few practical positives–
- Present with the Body: I can see everyone’s face from the pulpit on Sunday morning. I can personally pray right then and there with anyone. I can greet new people with ease.
- Genuine Discipleship: Jenny and I are much closer with the church body than we ever were in either our 750+ member churches before. Sure I wasn’t the pastor of either, but something tells me this reality would still ring true. We easily share meals and burdens with the body. It’s not just us though, the spirit of Christian hospitality lives here.
- A speed boat not a cruise liner: In a small church we can get things done quickly. If the church trusts the pastor and is guided by the Word, then things generally move well. What are those highlights this church has done so far? We cut the bloated member role of 200+ to those who actually attend. We instituted a call to worship, scripture reading, and benediction during the worship service. “More Bible, not less” is my motto. We recite the Apostles Creed once a month, rooting the church in the deep history of Christianity. We moved to observing Lord’s Supper once a month with a fellowship meal to follow.
- Very often I will invite to church, pray with, and have gospel conversations with people I see regularly out in public. Smaller town equals less people, which means more transparency and ability to be authentic. All this is nearly impossible in a big city.
Yes, each church is different, and it takes time to gain trust between pastor and congregation. But this is a joint effort within the body. My goal here is to lift up the benefits of small town life, where the gospel is needed just as much as in the city, where souls are saved and sanctified just like in the suburbs, where people are people regardless if they are in Los Angeles or Louisville.
Where ever the Lord may call you in whatever capacity, go there, be present and serve there, as long as you are there.
Be active. Be real. Be faithful.
Proclaim the gospel like lives depend on it. Because they do.