Pastor Paul Richardson: Part 1
Do the little things right, and do them consistently, day in and day out.
What were the conditions/circumstances when you arrived?
On our first Sunday, we walked into a building that smelled like it was 100 years old. It was hot. There were 20 people. Grass in the parking lot. The building was run down. Windows were knocked out. It was rough. There wasn’t much hope there. There was a little money in the bank, but not much else was going on when we got there.
What were you thinking as you came there as the new pastor?
The initial thought was, “Well, apparently we can’t go downhill from here, so we have to go up, right?” I remember thinking, “Can we make it? Can we do this? We’ve never been full-time staff anywhere. Never been pastors anywhere. Are we the right people for this job?”
I still don’t know if I’m the right person for the job or not.
What did you do first?
In trying to clarify what to do, I believe the Lord spoke to me and said, “Preach the Word and love the people.” So, that’s what I did. I kept it simple.
What was people’s first reaction to this new guy?
Many people couldn’t believe I was their pastor. I was 24 and looked like I was 12 they told me. And so, I carried my credentials card around to prove to people that I am old enough to be an A/G Minister.
But then they really stepped behind me and said, “Pastor, you’re my pastor. Lead us!”
They gave me permission to lead, and they gave me permission to fail.
What did you envision happening in your first year?
I was just trying to get my feet on the ground…to get into the rhythms of pastoring a church and working an additional job. It was important for me to find out, “Who am I called to be, and what am I called to do in this place.”
What was your most significant challenge in that first year of pastoring?
Trying to convince people to do quality ministry where they were. I had inherited a church that owned property and had dreams of building a brand new building on the edge of town. Because of that mentality, they didn’t want to do any upkeep on the existing building, and that ended up causing more problems.
We couldn’t attract people in order to grow and need another building. It was a death loop of people who would come and then leave because the building was terrible.
Getting people to change their mentality from “If you build it, then all of our problems would be fixed” to (a mentality) of “Do quality ministry where we are, and that will carry over to a new building someday.”
Did you ever feel like quitting?
Yes! (There was no pause in his answer)
Why didn’t you?
A retired minister in our section called me and asked me these questions: “Paul, were you called there?” (yes) “Do you KNOW you were called there?” (I do) “Do you know that you are called to leave?” (no) He said, “If you were called there, then you better know when you are called out of there.”
I stepped back, and started investing in leadership, and becoming the best leader I could be. Preparing for the next season of life and ministry and whatever that might look like. And lo and behold, the Lord had a new building for us right around the corner.
What have you learned about yourself in this process?
I have learned that I am far needier that I want to be. You look at other pastors who are good at everything. These guys that can build buildings, and they can hang drywall, and they can do plumbing, and they can exegete a passage in Greek, and they can do all of these things. And you want to be that guy, and you get to pastoring and you realize that there are a few things I am good at, and a lot of things I am bad at.
I have found that it is in those areas of weaknesses, the Lord sends people who can come along side and do those things even better. I do not have any full-time staff, but the Lord had given me the people that I have needed to show God’s power in the midst of my weakness.
I have also found that I am a dreamer when it comes to other people, and I am a pessimist when it comes to myself. I have to make sure that I stay grounded and rooted and make solid decisions based on what the Holy Spirit is saying, and not what my mind and will and emotions are saying.
What have you learned about your church through this process?
I have learned that rural people are dedicated, they can be extremely faithful. They’re good people. Trust your people. Love them. Communicate clearly. Take smaller steps than what you would normally do as a leader.
Things move slowly in small churches. Instead of hating it all the time, embrace it. It is part of the culture. It’s part of who they are. I’ve learned that my church is able to do a lot of things.
What did you learn about ministry?
Ministry is messy. It is SO messy. Anytime you involve people, there are going to be messes involved. There will be situations you never saw coming. Relationships can be strained.
If you’re doing it right, it’s probably going to be messy. Embrace the mess and allow the love of Jesus Christ to really shine through.
In small churches, ministry involves more than just preaching. It might involve swinging a hammer or pushing a broom, or cleaning toilets. It might involve mowing a yard in the morning and doing a funeral that afternoon.
What do you wish you would have known (or someone would have told you) when you started?
I wish someone would have told me how stressful Pastoring could be. How you are always “on.” And how in a small town, you are always Pastor So-and-so. I wished someone would have told me so I could have put up better guard rails in my life. I wish someone would have told me how lonely ministry could be, even when you’re surrounded by hundreds of people.
What do you see as being the key to seeing things turn around here?
The key was being involved in outreach. We went from being inward focused…just trying to survive and pay the bill, to starting to put faith into action by reaching out to our community. When we started doing that well and also started giving to missions and paying the pastor a little better, it changed the trajectory of our church.
So, what was the turning point?
One of those turning points was when we decided that we could not afford NOT to support missions. It doesn’t make sense when you don’t have enough money to go ahead and give to missionaries anyway, but as we did things started to change. One of the things we did was starting to tithe off our general fund. It makes no business sense, believe me, but we started tithing off our general fund into other churches, into missionaries, into projects, and into our community, and since then, God has really stretched our dollars.
Do the little things right, and do them consistently, day in and day out.
When was the time you started to feel, “Hey, this is going to work?”
When we finally got over the 50 mark (in attendance) on Sunday mornings. I thought, “This might work now.”
It wasn’t as much to do with the people, but me as a leader, that I could believe this could happen here. I didn’t have to go to Springfield or a larger city to see it happen. Once I realized that God could do it here, just as well as he could anywhere, to me…THAT was the turning point. It changed the way I led this church.
Paul and Julie Richardson have been ministering to the community of Licking, Missouri as the Pastors of Licking Assembly of God since 2010. If you like to learn more about Licking Assembly of God, check out their Facebook page.