Written by 9:00 am Rural Interviews

When God’s Plan Is Not Your Own…

Jon Sanders thought he had mapped out his life and assumed he had settled into a life-long career; …
A pastor’s personal experience of the sovereignty of God’s plan

A pastor’s personal experience of the sovereignty of God’s plan

by Hope Mayes

God’s plans are always better than our plans…

Jon Sanders thought he had mapped out his life and assumed he had settled into a life-long career; however, the young soon-to-be pastor realized that responding to God’s will remains far better than attempting to direct his own life.

At age 21, when his aspirations to become a professional football player fell from his grasp, young Sanders selected his second-best career option: fighting fires in big-city Illinois. While pursuing his dream job, Sanders wrestled with the thought that God’s plan for him involved more than firefighting. He loved God and the church, yet continued to run for several years from the underlying and growing sense that the Lord had created him to work as a minister. God’s plan conflicted with his personal ambitions.

“Before being obedient, I couldn’t see all that God had in store for my life

and the adventure He was inviting me to take”

Finally, Sanders realized he no longer wanted to spend his life running from the calling God placed in his heart for many years. “Lord,” he said, “If You want me in ministry, I have a really long list of reasons why You are making a mistake and choosing the wrong guy. But at the end of the day, it’s Your will and if You want me to serve You in ministry in a pastoral role, I will.”

After resisting it for so long, the moment Sanders surrendered to God’s plan, he felt peace in God’s will. At this point of surrender, God revealed to the young pastor the next few steps in His perfect plan. His only regret was not obeying God sooner.

God’s plan will be something we love

Immediately upon entering ministry, Sanders knew that God directed and superintended his life in ways far above his own control. His ability to work as a bi-vocational pastor and continue to serve as a fire-fighter made the transition extra ordinary. Sanders testified to many advantages of bi-vocational ministry, such as less financial struggle for the church.

“When pastors find ‘something’ they love and brings them life,

they and the church receive financial benefit”

Today, Sanders loves to help current and aspiring rural pastors discover ways to make money and serve the world using the unique giftings that God has placed inside of them. In addition to shepherding their flock, pastors get to take part in ministry outside the four walls of the church, which can become an affectual component in impacting a community.

God’s plan on our lives will affect others

Pastors often have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the same community they are called to reach while acting in the dual role of a businessperson, farmer, carpenter, or fire fighter, and taking financial pressure from themselves and their church.

Jon has seen marketplace ministry affect the way pastors view their communities. Bi-vocational ministers often have more opportunity to reach out to their communities and represent Christ beyond the walls of the church. It can put into perspective the roles of both the pastor and the congregation in how they should represent Christ to their community. This also pushes the congregation to function in their role within the body of Christ, as they recognize the pastor cannot “do everything.”

Sanders has experienced the many strengths of this ministry firsthand; however, he does not prescribe a bi-vocational lifestyle for every pastor. Sanders believes there are many potential benefits for pastors working in bi-vocational roles in their spare time, in unique areas of numerous giftings. Of course, these benefits only become evident as long as the pastor’s second source of income includes something they love to do; not a draining obligation.

After pastoring in a rural setting for 16 years, Sanders recently entered a ministry of a different form. As the new Director of Content and Conferencing at Rural Matters Institute (RMI) Jon exercises his God-given gifts in a new way. Part of his job with RMI includes executing eight different one-day summits for rural pastors around the country and administrating Rural Matters Institute’s annual National Conference. In 2020, the National Conference will take place in Dallas, Texas starting September 21st and going through the 23rd. These events are meant specifically to build up and encourage rural pastors and churches.

This new ministry has provided a fresh opportunity for Sanders to continue his personal podcast, Small Town Big Church, on a larger platform for a wider audience to benefit. The name, Small Town Big Church, conveys that God loves to do big things in small places, rather than the misconception of a numerical reference. Sanders aims to help pastors believe that serving a small church does not mean only making a small impact.

Sanders often reminds ministers that the Lord loves rural. God is not disappointed when He reads the relatively small number on the population sign that sits on the edge of your community. Not at all. Jesus knows, loves and gave his life for every individual in your rural setting.

“Jesus doesn’t read that sign, drop his head in disappointment and say,

‘man, I wish there were more people on that sign.’

He has you pastoring in that place on purpose,

for the purpose of serving them and reaching them for His eternal kingdom.”

When rural pastors believe the mindset that they play in the minor leagues, it effects and projects onto their people. Jesus looks for leaders willing to believe for the impossible to occur in rural communities because it is in these obscure, tucked away places where He receives all the glory.

“If we can get a generation of pastors believing this truth and responding to it by going to the small

places, it is going to be very impactful for the kingdom.”

In his time in ministry, Sanders has seen numerous salvations, baptisms, marriages saved, addictions overcome, and testimonies of God working in the lives of people. “When I look back, I can think of so many cool stories to tell. The coolest part is when all those things come together to transform a life.”

Whether ministering as a bi-vocational pastor, making a podcast, or coaching and encouraging rural pastors through RMI, Sanders life testifies that God’s plans never fails to be the best option, bring the most fulfillment, and produce the most fruit in a believer’s life.

Reflective Engagement:

  1. How has God challenged you to surrender your plans to His?
  2. What is God calling you to do that you might be holding you back?
  3. What gifts do you have that may assist in financial strength for you?
  4. Spent several moments asking, “God how do your view this community?
  5. How should your view change to line up with His view?

For more information on the Rural Matters Institute, visit, https://www.bgcruralmatters.com/.

Or to listen to the latest Small Town Big Church Podcast, visit https://www.smalltownbigchurch.com/podcast.

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