A rural pastor’s response to God’s call to a small place.
By Hope Danzl
When young pastor, Paul Richardson, arrived at Licking Assembly of God at age 24, he said yes to God’s call giving his first years of ministry to serve a small town. Now, at age 34, Licking, Missouri has seen what can happen when a dedicated pastor gives his life to the call of God and passes this dedication to future leaders.
When Richardson moved to Licking ten years ago, the congregation averaged only 20 people, yet this young leader saw a desperate need for a vibrant, Pentecostal church in the community. Richardson believed God’s grace and his youthful energy could advance the church and reach the community.
Helping this intimate congregation of 20 people overcome obstacles required more than a strategy. It called for diligent and willing leadership that would “pour out” dedicated ministry, despite the small size of the community, the congregation and the challenges that would come.
Richardson commonly heard from people around him that Licking was too small of a location for such a young pastor. Their comments of concern resounded in his head—could he really make more impact and do bigger things at a bigger church? Despite his certainty of God’s call, Richardson asked himself multiple times, “Am I truly willing to pour out the best years of my life in one, little town with a population of 1,300?”
Over the last ten years, Richardson has continued to face this question, yet God has continued to remind him why he daily lays down his life to say yes to the call. As a result of God’s faithfulness and Richardson‘s dedication, the church has grown from 20 to 160 members. Licking Assembly and Richardson keep maintaining a mindset of “we can and we should grow,” rather than simply having a survival mindset.
Opportunities to spread Christ’s hope expanded as Licking AG experienced numerical growth. Partnership with the local community and Rural Compassion, facilitated hope and encouragement for the church, the community, and this rural pastor. This vital encouragement strengthened Richardson when he was tempted to “do all, be all” or to fall into the role of a “jack of all trades.”
Many pastors find themselves encumbered taking on the routine responsibilities of the whole church, but Richardson intentionally gave others the opportunity to minister. When individuals, couples, and families come to him in need of practical, or spiritual assistance he often directed them to resources that provided them with better solutions than what Richardson could offer.
“Pastors often embrace a savior complex that says they need to do it all. Yes, we must work hard and go above and beyond. Sometimes the answer is, ‘I’m not the best solution, but let me connect you with someone in the church or community who is.’”
When pastors take on the role of a director of resources, they increase their ability to dedicate more time to pastoral leadership. For Pastor Paul, raising up local leaders became a time investment that sent four individuals out from the church to lead ministry in other places over the last eight years.
When raising people for ministry, Richardson looks for a willingness and eagerness to serve, character founded in integrity, and a disposition of readiness to become “poured out” for Jesus. It’s easy to get sucked into the allure of ministry, of standing on a platform and receiving acknowledgement for one’s hard work, but Richardson asked potential ministers in his church questions such as:
- Are you willing, and even eager, to serve without recognition?
- Can you be faithful wherever the Lord places you and find contentment there?
- Are you able to find your contentment rooted in Jesus alone?
“If you’re not willing to be ‘poured out’ where you are, you won’t be willing to be ‘poured out’ where you’re going.”
God often rewards faithfulness in small things with opportunities to serve in greater things. Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10 NIV). Richardson’s strategy of training leaders to be content in the “unseen” areas of ministry became foundational to developing impact in the “seen” areas of ministry.
During intentional training periods, Richardson provides his disciples access to the nuts and bolts of pastoral work. He also gives them a view into the everyday world of pastoring a church. He invites young leaders to share in the problems he faces and to experience the process of debating how to make the right decision for forward movement, without the responsibility resting on their shoulders.
Richardson adopted a philosophy of loosely holding onto these young leaders. He says, “Jesus gave ‘the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers’ to the church (Eph. 4:11), expecting the Lord would direct them.” Realizing God gives the gift of each disciple for a season that does not last forever, Richardson rejoices when the Lord moves them somewhere else to bless others.
As a mentor to these future pastors, he accepts the responsibility to discover ways to strengthen each one in areas of weakness. Richardson encourages spiritual and practical disciplines. His mentoring gives opportunities to develop new strengths, so that when leading their own churches in the future, they will already have experience and discipline in their lives.
Richardson wished that he had realized ten years ago that being a rural pastor is a call not a drive. A calling roots pastors in the place God has asked them to serve even when the drive dies out and desires to chase something different arise. If pastors understand that God called them to a place, they can find their identity “in Christ,” rather than relying on the drive of personal motivation. Richardson’s grounding during the hard and frustrating days reaffirmed his faith in his calling that God asked him to minister in this place and to this people.
What can happen when pastors pour out the best of their lives in a small town? The decade of faithful ministry Richardson gave to Licking, Missouri created kingdom impact beyond the limits of this small community. Four pastoral leaders have launched into ministry in other rural churches. God called all believers to give every year, as the the best of their life. Indeed, Christ requires nothing less of every believer (Mark 8:34). For Richardson, the answer to the question, “Will you pour yourself out?” is, and will continue to be a responding “yes.”
If you are interested with connecting with Pastor Paul Richardson and Licking Assembly of God in Licking, Missouri, you can visit their website at https://lickingag.com/.
- How much of Your life would you be willing to lay down if the LORD asked for all of you?
- What does it mean for you to “pour yourself out?”
- Is your assignment a calling or a drive?
- Who are you discipling?
- Are you giving them an example of faithfulness in the little things?
- Are they willing, and even eager, to serve without recognition?
- Can they be faithful wherever the Lord places them and find contentment there?
- Are they able to find their contentment rooted in Jesus alone?
- Have you discovered ways to strengthen them in areas of weakness by encouraging spiritual and practical disciplines so they can lead their own church?