Ministry on the Margins at Thompson Valley

In May of 1994, my wife and I went to Thompson Valley, along with our two teenage children. The church was without a pastor and needed someone to fill in for a few weeks. We were met by some very fine folks. After two weeks, one of the elders asked us to stay on as pastor. I had other things in mind. After saying no to several people, including the district overseer, I had a moment of fear. The Lord spoke to my spirit and said, “You didn’t say no to them, you said no to me.” The jolt made me reconsider. I agreed to allow my name to be included in the pastoral vote. I left it in the Lord’s hands. I had campaigned against myself for weeks to no avail. I got the vote and the overseer made the appointment. 

I had 10 years of previous pastoral experience, so I understood the responsibilities very well. I promised the church to give them my best. We prayed, humbled ourselves, preached the word, visited, and slowly built relationships. In time, I would bury 18 of the elders, many of which were founding members. I still miss them, but I was determined to preach the Word, win the lost, minister to those in need, and put the Church’s property in the best shape possible.  

We took on renovating the 53 year old church building one project at a time. In the first few years, the Lord blessed us to move the water source from a cave to a well on our own property. He then graciously allowed us to renovate the sanctuary, pad the pews, put up new lights, replace the windows, replace the failing roof, and add 600 square feet to the fellowship hall. Donations were generous, many from totally unexpected sources. The parsonage got a major makeover as well. We did all of the renovations debt free. The Lord laid it on one of our neighbor’s heart to give us more land so we could enlarge our parking lot. We accepted. I wasn’t fond of gravel and neither were the ladies, so we paved it, debt free.  

The list of renovations goes on and on, but we knew that renovated property without people experiencing God’s presence would be of no benefit. We focused on creating the best atmosphere possible for worship. I also felt a need to reach out. In April of 2011, I sponsored a community Bible Reading Initiative. I advertised it on the radio, put out flyers, and sent personal letters to dozens of pastors in the region. On April 9th of that year, 85 people gathered and joined me in reading the Bible. I used a computer program to generate a reading assignment for each person. Collectively, we read the entire Bible under one roof in about an hour with each person silently reading their own personal assignment. I ended the program with a 20 minute slide show detailing how we got the Bible as we know it. The comments were positive.  

A few years later, I challenged my Church to a 6 weeks discipleship program which included daily Bible readings, church attendance, tithing, fasting, visiting, listening to audio sermons and reading books by respected Christian authors. They logged their activities and received appropriate certificates. Although some were too busy to participate, others followed the program carefully and reported being edified in many ways. Several outside of our congregation heard about the program and requested the materials. I gladly obliged.  

Another program involved a weekly Bible Challenge on Wednesday nights. Many long term Christians, including myself, admitted to finding things in scripture they never knew was there. It was a great way  to study God’s Word. In time, we covered the entire Bible. After writing 1500 Bible Challenge Questions, I decided to move on. I hope to use the program again someday.  Additionally, during small group meetings, we have read the Bible cover to cover 3 times.  

Over the years we have had many visitors, some have stayed, and some haven’t. One lady in particular who is now a regular part of our congregation and a good worker, told us she was kicked out of another church because of her prison record. Others torn by alcoholism and drug addictions have found their way to an altar and found their answer in Jesus Christ. We don’t judge. We preach, we love, we pray, and we listen. We aren’t concerned with who gets the credit as long a God gets the glory.  

To this day, my wife and I both work. We visit in the evenings and on weekends. We haven’t seen the results some churches have but we hope we have had a positive impact on our small community. After 23 years of pastoral work in Thompson Valley, our congregation is still rather small, but we are blessed. We have good workers and loving people. There are over 30 young people in our church under the age of 23. We do our best to help train them in the ways of the Lord. Some who were teenagers when we came in 1994 now have their own families and are raising their children in church. A new generation is growing up before our eyes. We plan to do with them what we have done with others: tell them who Jesus is and why they should serve him.

J. Kelvin Seabolt
Senior Pastor