"Remember your leaders who first taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and trust the Lord as they do." Hebrews 13:7 (New Living Translation)Reverend Rudy Sauter was the first to touch my life, as he was the pastor of the Crawford Nazarene Church where my parents attended when I was born. He & his wife Lois were pivotal in bringing several members of my family to the Savior. Lois was a very special lady who led a Bible study in my grandparents home every week. And Rudy was the one who dedicated me as a baby. He has since gone on to live with the Lord but he no doubt holds a special place in the hearts of countless believers (including my parents) who are doing God's work today.
There were several pastors who served at Crawford Nazarene Church during my childhood. There were the Darlings, the Runyans, & the Phlegers who all had a role in my spiritual development. When I was a young teenager, Pastor Lee Eads and his wife Sherri moved into the parsonage of the New Hope Church of the Nazarene. Pastor Eads served as pastor there for around ten years during one of the most formative times of my spiritual life. He was young and nice and was unintimidating. During my college years when I would be back home from college and attend church with my parents I enjoyed the discussions that happened at the adult Sunday school class. Pastor Lee officiated at my brother's wedding & my great grandmother's funeral and Russ & I asked him to say the meal prayer at our wedding reception.
In 1998, I started college. It was at this time that I really found an excitement for Jesus. I attended Ridgeview Bible Baptist for awhile...and watched one of my best friends get baptized there but after a bit I started going to the Chadron Berean Church and that is where I found a home under Pastor Dan Williams & his wife Dee. For five years, I grew in the word thanks to the weekly teachings of Pastor Dan and felt like a part of a church family thanks to the community of believers at Chadron Berean who have a gift for taking college students under their wings and making them feel at home. I met my future sister-in-law for the first time at Chadron Berean and Russ & I were so pleased to have Pastor Dan be the one to unite us in our marriage covenant. Pastor Dan & Dee have recently moved on to bless a new congregation. A bittersweet end for those who love them so dearly in Chadron.
A year after Russ & I got married, he got a job in Colorado Springs. Not long after we moved there we began looking for a church. The third church we tried was Grace Bible Church which was just blocks away from our home (a rarity in the city) and we loved it there and felt right at home. Right away we were introduced to Pastor Jeff Anderson & his wife Nancy. It was quite an interesting experience for me to talk to him at my 4 feet, eleven inches with his height being well over 6 feet! Pastor Jeff is one of the most friendly people and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone sweeter than Nancy. We got involved at Grace Bible right away. Russ got in the rotation for working the sound board on Sunday mornings and we both volunteered to work with the Awana Cubbies. Even though it was a significantly sized congregation, Pastor Jeff never failed to make us feel valued. When he would greet us after the service, even with all the distractions and other people needing his attention, his words to us always felt focused and sincere. It was while attending Grace Bible that Eden was added to our family. The ladies of Grace Bible threw me a surprise baby shower and it was Pastor Jeff who dedicated Eden to the Lord. We moved back to Nebraska in 2006 and leaving Grace Bible was one of the saddest parts.
After we moved we spent several months trying out the different churches in the area. There were a lot of good churches but none that really felt like home to us. One of Russ' co-workers invited us to a Tuesday night Bible study at a very small storefront church. We went and really liked it. I was hesitant however to attend the Sunday service because it was such a small congregation and I knew that it would be harder for my non-social self to function in a smaller environment. However after resisting for a few weeks Russ finally talked me into going on Sunday morning to Calvary Chapel Scottsbluff. It was basically what I expected only my reaction was totally different than what I expected. Somehow it just felt right. Pastor Kevin Carradine and his wife Lyn and basically everyone at Calvary Chapel were unlike any congregation I'd been a part of before. It suited us very well at that time. Services were super casual. Pastor Kevin would sometimes preach without any shoes and there was nothing strange about it. The thing we liked best, though, was Pastor Kevin's style of teaching. There was no frills, no schemes, no pretense. He just picked a book of the Bible and would teach it verse by verse. When the time ran out, he'd just stop and he'd pick up where he left off the next week. He never preached morality at us...instead he just taught us the Word and let it do its work in us. I adored this simple, systematic approach! Because it was such a small congregation, we all got to know each other pretty well. And there was plenty of opportunities to spend time together. Since pastor Kevin is of Jewish heritage one of the cool things that they did at Calvary Chapel was have a Passover Seder. While we were there, they started up a local low frequency radio station that broadcast sermons and kept the men busy. But one of the special things about Pastor Kevin & Lyn is the openness of their home. Almost every Sunday, people from the church were welcome to have lunch with them and then stay to play games all afternoon but there was never any pressure. It gave ample opportunity for the regulars to become very familiar with each other and to develop varying levels of friendships within the group.
Another congregation & pastor worth mentioning is Chadron Community Church and Pastor Dominick Warne & his wife Loralie. When Pastor D came to the Chadron AG church a few years ago, it wasn't long before my entire family were regulars. My brother's family already attended CCC before the Warnes arrived but when they took over, a new life was breathed into this congregation and my parent's & sister quickly discovered that it was the home for them, as well. Since Russ & I live 2 hours away, we can't be considered "regulars" but this is definitely my church home away from home. When I walk in the door, I immediately sense the Spirit of God there. The people at CCC are a very diverse family and there is no mistaking the love among them that they are ready & willing to extend to anyone. Pastor D brings a straight-talking evangelistic-style of preaching that is biblical and is relevant for both the believing and the seeking. He & Loralie also brought vision to the congregation and serve in leading them to be light within the community. Pastor D is also talented musically and has allowed God to use that in setting the tone for community worship. I always look forward to Sunday services at CCC with excitement when I have the opportunity. God is clearly at work among the people there and Pastor D & Loralie are certainly playing a part.
Finally, I must show appreciation for the pastor who is leading me into my next phase. Pastor Bruce Peterson of Grace Chapel. We had been jumping around a bit again over the last year or so hoping to find a place with the same special qualities as CCC. We finally realized that there were many great congrgations but none that were obviously speaking to our hearts above any of the others. We narrowed our choices down to two and finally just decided to go to Grace Chapel. After making that decision, God has been revealing himself to me in obvious ways and using Pastor Bruce's sermons to hit home the things He is teaching me. We have only been attending regularly for a couple months now but I can see already that we are going to be right at home at Grace and am excited to get to know Pastor Bruce & his wife Sally better as God leads us to our role in this new congregation.
If my experiences have collectively taught me something, it is that God's giftings & callings come in a variety of forms and that the body of Christ should be unified. Denominations are just a way of accommodating different styles and although they may differ in opinion on some issues and stress differing aspects of the Christian life, they all serve the same Lord. In my journey I have attended Nazarene, Baptist, Berean, Calvary Chapel, Bible Churches, Church of Christ, Congregational, and Assembly of God, as well as non-denominational varieties. At every place, the Bible was of utmost importance, the love of Christ was evident, and there was a heartfelt desire to live for His glory. Nothing else matters...we are one in Him.
I have been blessed to have had so many wonderful people of God touch my life. This list doesn't even cover all the pastors and churches that I have learned from (such as Willie Coop and David & Karalyn Kennedy) . It doesn't include all the pastors that have blessed me through friendship (Such as Daniel & Shelley Feister and Jim & Connie Sponable). It doesn't include those who serve through student ministry (Such as Ruel Danner, Rick Demerest and Shawn & Jodi Bahnzaf). It doesn't include all the associate pastors, bible study leaders, & others who have affect my life through ministry. But I am grateful for what all of them do as well. Full-time ministry is a sacrificial profession that requires more than a person can give on their own but the people who do it and rely on Christ's provision so they can do it--they deserve our thanks; they deserve our appreciation. And I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how a few of those people have blessed me in my spiritual journey and say, "Thank you."
"Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you." 2 Corinthians 9:13-14 (NIV)
"And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love." 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (The Message)