By Cynthia J. Thomas, article reprinted from news.AG.org, August 13, 2021
Sherry L. Welch likes to have a full plate. In addition to being director of women’s ministries since 2001 for the Assemblies of God Southern Missouri District — plus a mom, grandmother, and minister’s wife — she is an ordained AG minister serving as lead pastor of Seymour Life Church since 2014.
After eight years as sectional representative, Welch hit the ground running at the district office, supervising the first women’s retreat under her leadership right after the tragic events of 9/11. The pace hasn’t let up. The district offers women a yearly spring conference, “Empowered to Serve,” and a fall retreat at the district campground, where this year’s theme is “Abiding in Him,” along with other events to encourage women in leadership. Welch has spoken at women’s conferences in several African countries, the Middle East, Central America, and Mexico.
“Our primary goal is to encourage women,” says Welch, who travels regularly throughout the district assisting churches in establishing or expanding women’s ministry. “We try to help them find their giftings so they can use them to encourage others and further the kingdom of God.” The district also offers specific support for ministry to single moms, younger women, and widows.
Another big priority is missions. Under the motto, “Compelled by Compassion,” women’s ministries in the district support Southern Missouri missionaries through multiple projects, often focusing on worldwide needs of women and children. There is also a shopping room for missionary needs, kept stocked by annual “Compassionate Heart” rallies across the district. Welch says needs have been high in 2020 and 2021, as multiple missionaries unexpectedly had to leave the field due to COVID-19, even as no in-person rallies could be held to gather supplies. God nevertheless has provided abundantly.
Welch lives 45 miles east of Springfield in Mansfield, where for 25 years she served alongside her husband, Stan, as he pastored Mansfield Assembly of God. Stan L. Welch accepted the district position of secretary/treasurer in 2006. Commuting into Springfield, the Welches regularly passed the church in Seymour. As district staff, they knew the church faced impending closure with dwindling attendance. Stan felt Sherry could pastor there.
Although she has held ministerial credentials since 2010, Sherry hadn’t considered pastoral ministry in addition to her district work.
“I do like to stay busy, but being a pastor was not on my spiritual radar,” she says. My life was full and blessed.” Son Steven and daughter Summer both live in the area with their families. With Stan’s encouragement, though, Sherry gave the idea some thought.
Further confirmation came through Ted L. Cederblom, pastor of Springfield’s Life360 Church. As district executive presbyter, he had been tasked with oversight of the struggling church, including appointing a pastor if the district felt closure could be avoided.
“Sherry is anointed of God, a talented leader and project director,” he says. “It seemed clear God was calling her.” She accepted the position.
One immediate challenge involved the reality that some in the rural church didn’t embrace the notion of a woman pastor. The congregation had dwindled to about a dozen regular attendees, and more left with the announcement of Welch’s appointment. The situation didn’t surprise Cederblom, who is familiar with rural communities comprising the Life360 network. He believes a woman’s tendency toward a nurturing heart is frequently exactly what rural communities need.
Perseverance has paid off, as the congregation now averages 105 on Sundays. The church has a part-time associate pastor, youth and children’s ministry, girls ministries, and Royal Rangers. Seymour Life Church reaches out to area single moms and also partners with local schools in a food program to help children who would not otherwise have a decent meal after coming home for the day.
The turnaround has not been without personal sacrifice of family time, finances, and the ability to travel with her husband. Others have come alongside, including Stan, who leads Wednesday evening Bible study. The church holds an annual kids crusade, and a friend day outreach.
by Tamie Bixler Lung
“I thought being a pastor’s wife looked different than this!” That was the embarrassing thought I had rolling around in my head before Covid hit and changed the way many churches ministered, including ours. We only had a small congregation, and the people were friendly. Yet this church of over eighty years had somehow gotten lost among the community. Its congregation had decreased over the years. We were in hopes of implementing programs and reaching out to the community in various ways. Due to the aging congregation and the declining health of the previous pastor, there had not been much happening in that way.
The people seemed to enjoy our new way of doing things. However, there wasn’t a lot of outward support or appreciation shown for events. Was I wrong to feel discouraged or disillusioned? Was my perception of being in ministry flawed? Did other pastors’ wives in smaller churches struggle with these same thoughts?
When we became officially recognized as the new pastors, only two of our members came to the special service. Luckily, our family members came to support us that day. Honestly, I was hurt and embarrassed. In a small church, it’s more noticeable when several are missing. Was I being easily offended? I just wanted to be the best pastor’s wife and be an asset to my husband’s call as the pastor. Was I expecting too much?
Like the ebbs and flows of any ministry, ours was beginning to become like an unnavigated river of uncharted waters. Did they not see all our efforts to minister to them effectively? Did they not realize how many hours Tim studied to prepare the sermons? Did they not see the time I put into preparing the children’s church lessons or the time I took to study and prepare the Adult Sunday School lesson? I guess they didn’t think about the time I spend helping prepare the worship or notice the special meals I prepared and organized for our holiday lunches, Tuesday night ministry, and the donuts and coffee provided every Sunday morning.
It’s not that our people were mean, but I was expecting more of an outward appreciation for our efforts and the new vision God had given us as pastors. This was my gauge in how well I thought we were doing as leaders. I would hear of all the niceties from other friends and family in ministry on how different parishioners in their congregation would bless them in special ways, not to mention showing up for special services or acknowledge them on their birthdays or anniversaries. I began allowing the enemy to reside at my table of thinking and started feeling inferior. He would say things like: “You’re not good enough!” “Why did you think you could make a difference?” or “What made you think you could be a good pastor’s wife?”
One day while venting to the Lord, I was reminded of Matthew 25:40 NIV “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” God was reminding me that he saw what we were doing and regardless of outward appreciation from others, he was pleased at our obedience and servant’s heart to love on these people.
I truly wanted to please the Lord and have the right attitude. I loved these families and wanted to make a difference. We wanted to be light in the darkness.
Like many small rural congregations, we navigated through Covid. We began broadcasting on FB Live and God has grown our congregation in a different way. Tim and I team preach on Sunday’s and Wednesdays. Rarely do the people come in person but watch on-line. Being a pastor’s wife looks different for me, and yet I’m finding it exciting to still be cultivating relationships with our people and seeing how God is helping us navigate this aged ministry into a new chapter of revitalization. In the spring, we had a business meeting where we all agreed to sell the building. The plan was to relocate the ministry to be more effective, and presently, we are working with the SOMO District to do that. I look forward to one day growing the church physically again, and with the help from the Lord, he’s allowed me to see his acknowledgement of our efforts and his approval are what really matter.
Tamie and her husband own a gourmet seasonings company called Crawdad’s Classics which was purchased from Tamie’s father in 2009. Having owned multiple businesses, their entrepreneurial endeavors brought them back to Tamie’s roots of Southwest Missouri in 2016 where her husband became a licensed minister and they took their first pastorate with Mt. Sinai A/G, a small, rural church in Rogersville, Mo. Tamie is not only a business owner, but an inspirational speaker and author. Her most recent book, This Life We Live, is a 31-day devotional with inspiring stories of challenges and triumphs that we all can face. Her six grandchildren are very close to her heart and she can be found many times during the week entertaining them and finding new adventures.
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