By Carl Stagner
Growing up in the shadow of his older brother isn’t an accurate description at all. Seventeen years separated the two of them, but very little else did. Sibling rivalry wasn’t an issue, neither was the need for either brother to be in the Church of God limelight. In fact, Gilbert Stafford was more of a second father figure for Rod, the senior pastor of Fairfax Community Church in Fairfax, Virginia. Rod Stafford considered Gil a role model, though he never planned to follow in his family’s ministerial footsteps. As the Church of God Regional Convention at his home church nears (September 18–19), Pastor Rod Stafford opens up about life, family, and calling.
“So, when I came into the world, Gil was basically graduating from high school!” Rod exclaims. Certainly, he looked up to Gil, and though a formal arrangement was never established, Gil was a mentor to Rod. Their father D.C. was a role model to both boys, as well as another brother who went to seminary at Anderson and then taught at the university. While Rod was growing up, Gil served as pastor in Boston, Massachusetts, and Midland, Michigan, and was teaching at the seminary when Rod was in high school. But all the traveling and teaching didn’t deprive Rod of the chance to learn from his older brother, at home, in the pew, or in the seminary classroom.
“It was kind of funny,” Rod reflects. “We never tried to hide how we were related, but we had friends in classes that never knew we were related.”
Rod didn’t go on to author some of the most widely used theological books in the Church of God like his brother, but he did go on to pastor one of the most dynamic churches in the Movement—one that reaches across the globe and has yielded kingdom fruit like few others. God generously gifted Rod with traits and skills for the unique purposes he’s had for Rod. “But much of my approach in ministry was shaped by my brother, including the way I think about things theologically,” Rod explains. “Whenever I was thinking through church issues, theological issues, political issues, or social issues, he was often the person I would turn to and say, ‘Gil, I’d love to process this with you.’ Since he passed away in 2008, that’s one of the things I’ve missed the most about him.”
With his family immersed in vocational ministry, Rod naturally looked at other options for his life. For example, his undergrad at Oklahoma State was for economics. His ultimate call into ministry was anything but conventional, and it was uniquely specific. “I don’t know that there was any one time where I sensed the call,” Rod reflects. “Growing up, the last thing I wanted to be was a pastor. Where that changed was with the opportunities God kept setting before me. It was like he was saying this was my next step. I felt called more to a church, to the unique needs that were there, knowing God had positioned me to respond to those needs.”
Thus, Rod Stafford has only served in three ministry settings his entire life. It was at age nineteen that he worked with his dad for two years in Bristow, Oklahoma, as youth pastor. He only went to Anderson University for continuing education, but South Meridian recruited him to serve as their youth pastor, a position he held for eight years while Rod earned his master of divinity. With a kindled fire in his soul for a very specific kind of ministry in “cities of influence”—as he describes them—Rod and his wife started down the fundraising path to plant a church in Boston. But in the midst of that process, God directed them to Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of another very influential global city—Washington, D.C.
“When I came to Fairfax, it was a church of a hundred,” Rod recounts. “But they had a huge heart for mission and a huge heart to reach the next generation. When I came, I sensed this would be the place where we would spend our lives. My first year or so, the leadership board asked if I had a one- or two-year plan for ministry there. I said, no, but I have a forty-year plan! I just had a sense that if we could get focused on the mission God was calling us to that, in one generation—roughly forty years—we could make a difference. I’m thirty-two years into that forty-year plan, and we’ve seen God do some absolutely amazing things.”
Indeed, God has done some amazing things in those thirty-two years. The congregation now numbers about 2,500. Tangible impact has been made on the Washington, D.C. area and around the world. And they’ve helped plant or restart twenty churches in global cities. Those churches have now gone on to plant fifteen “granddaughter” churches of Fairfax. Now, that’s some influence! But it’s not the Stafford name anyone’s excited about. It’s the name of Jesus only, and Rod Stafford wouldn’t have it any other way.
In his spare time, Pastor Rod loves to ride his Harley Davidson and travel internationally with his wife, Donna. They have two adult children, Kora (Ted) and Zach (Heidi), and six grandchildren.
Early-bird registration for the Church of God Regional Convention in Fairfax, Virginia (September 18–19) ends August 16, 2018. Early-bird registration for Safety Harbor (September 25–26) ends August 23. Register now at www.chogconvention.org.