By Carl Stagner
Pastor Scott Andrews farms for a living. He also serves as interim pastor for First Church of God in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. His experience as a bivocational interim pastor hasn’t precluded him, however, from ministering through some of the most challenging and blessed times. In fact, it’s often the interim pastor who is called to walk congregations through the difficulties of church-wide transition. But the story unfolding at First Church of God isn’t just about an interim, bivocational pastor who sows seeds of hope in addition to corn. The story there is about a church that was struggling, uncertain of its future, and nursing the wounds of broken relationships. This is a story of reconciliation and restoration at the southeastern edge of the Ozarks.
When Pastor Scott Andrews talks about the congregation at First Church of God today, he beams, “It’s amazing to see the unity in the church and the people coming together.” But less than a year ago, there was confusion, discord, and anxiety. Less than a year ago, the congregation was hurting from the departure of previous pastors and rifts that developed between the church, the district, and the state ministries. Handel Smith, chief domestic officer for Church of God Ministries, offered his time and energy to pay a personal visit to the church. While some were nervous about a representative of the “national offices” coming to visit their church, it wasn’t at all what some were expecting.
“I don’t know how he found out that we were having trouble,” Pastor Scott explains, “but it had gotten ugly. There was tension that wasn’t resolving. Handel came and just listened. He listened to our story and was extremely encouraging to us. That somebody in his leadership position would just come and listen was so helpful. He got to know the church, then set up another meeting with Chris Cottrell and the state leaders. It was a very healing time for the church.”
Chris Cottrell, husband of Ohio Ministries state pastor Esther Cottrell, often works with Handel Smith through Handel’s boot camp experiences when reconciliation is needed. First Church of God has resumed attending district and state functions, and Scott Andrews couldn’t be more pleased with the church he’s spent more time with than any other. “We have always been involved in churches where in some cases there was conflict resolution,” he explains. “Just a job that interim pastors come into. What we have learned is that we all need to get to know Christ better and better. Our battle is not against each other, but against the dark spiritual forces.”
But it’s this experience as an interim pastor which Scott feels God has called him to, at least for now. He’s served several different churches, and his bivocational status has enabled him to take on the not-so-glamorous duties of interim pastors, all while continuing to provide for his family and take needed breaks from church life. There are both blessings and challenges, though, to bivocational ministry. Though the challenges include not being able to attend every function, and the hour-long commute for Scott makes immediate hospital visits impractical, he rejoices at how the situation has inspired the laity to step up to the plate.
From the worship leadership to the Sunday school teachers (one of whom has served as the mayor Poplar Bluff) to the board, the laity has become heavily involved in responsibilities often assigned—or unintentionally given—to the senior pastor. The body of Christ at First Church is functioning from head to toe, a fact that blesses Scott’s socks off.
“They are so much more willing and ready to be in ministry,” Scott reflects. “And that’s a beautiful thing. And as a farmer, I can get on the tractor and get away from it for a while. I can listen to God and retreat.” Then, when Scott returns to the church, he’s armed with several farming illustrations for his sermons. “There are so many parallels in Scripture. The folks in the church really enjoy me talking about the farm.”
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