By Bill Lee
I began my life in Christ back in 1968 when I first heard the gospel. Like most Christians, that opened for me an amazing life I never imagined possible.
I met my wife Jeanette while volunteering at the Christian Servicemen’s center in Memphis, TN. I picked up a four-year degree in Biblical Studies with a focus on missions at Mid-South Bible College. After graduation, I took a position as a bi-vocational pastor at a small country church.
From that beginning, the Lord granted Jeanette and me many different opportunities in ministry. We also slipped in a short corporate career the Lord used to teach us some valuable lessons in leadership. And each year we spent time visiting with our extended families. Jeanette’s family was from Northwest Wisconsin, and I came to really love that area. At some point early in our marriage, we dreamed of one day making our home there.
In time, that dream became a plan. And in May 2015, it became a reality.
We retired and moved into our new home in Spooner, WI.
The plan was to settle into the community and look for opportunities to serve as volunteers. Before arriving, we checked every church website in a five-county area and found no Free Grace churches.
It sounded like the perfect place to execute our plan. Of course, God had His own plans.
Without a Shepherd
The very first church we visited was without a pastor. He had resigned the same week we moved into our new house.
Six months later Trego Community Church (TCC) hired me as their pastor. I was once again a bi-vocational pastor, but this time my other vocation was “retired.”
If you’re going bi-vocational, that is the way to do it.
And that brings me to why I am writing.
The Need and the Opportunity
Rural America is populated with many small churches that lack the resources to attract fulltime pastors.
A weak local job market further complicates the possibility of hiring a bi-vocational pastor.
Moreover, I imagine the pool of grace-oriented candidates is also small.
Many of these churches have no experience with the exegetical teaching of God’s Word.
I believe there are many churches like TCC, full of people with a Berean mindset—people who are ready to receive the Word of God and who are excited to search the Scriptures to see if the grace message is true.
God worked the timing of our retirement move to bring us together with TCC. We came with a plan. The Lord had a better one. And today you can find TCC listed on the GES Church Tracker map.
I know there are other small churches out there hungry for the message of God’s grace. Has there been an organized appeal to Free Grace pastors to consider using their retirement years serving in a small town church somewhere in the American heartland? If not, then let this be the first.
If you are retired, would you consider serving the Lord in bi-vocational, rural ministry?
I asked the Elders at TCC to give their side of our story because it is the church’s story and not just my own.
Back to Life
“Having Bill and Jeanette in our church is a tremendous answer to our prayers for a pastor. The experience, training, and leadership that they bring to our church goes far beyond anything we could have afforded or expected.
“Best of all, the clear teaching of God’s Word is bringing our church back to life. We are very grateful that Bill decided to only partially retire and provide us with the leadership we desperately needed.
“On a personal note. What the grace message has done for me is to bring a life’s worth of work, worship, prayer, and Bible study out of my imagination and made it real.
“I had given up on assurance of salvation.
“I knew the Bible was true but competing denominational views and inconsistencies over the meanings of critical texts had left me with no solid ground.
“When I finally understood that belief apart from works was the only requirement for eternal salvation everything started falling into place. I could now understand the difference between eternal salvation and the rewards of discipleship. I could finally accept the simplicity of the gospel and begin building on that solid foundation.
“Jesus has always existed. He is reality. And now through the ‘rightly divided’ word of truth, He is real to me.”
~Phil Miller, Elder, TCC
“I grew up in a Christian home and came to know the Lord at the age of seven at Vacation Bible School. I grew up in a charismatic church and came to believe, among other things, that salvation came from works, with a clear understanding that salvation is precarious. In other words, salvation could be lost with any given sin and that separation from God would be permanent should one die before reconciling that sin with God.
“Needless to say, I became quite an expert at saying the ‘Sinner’s Prayer.’
“During my formative years, belief in Christ was very important to my parents. But all the baggage of salvation through works came with that.
“After meeting my future wife, I began to step away from the charismatic church and came to know the concept of eternal security through TCC. But even then, the assurance of salvation eluded me, not only because of my past, but also because of my lack of understanding of God’s grace.
“It wasn’t until I came to know Bill, that I developed a clearer understanding of the grace message. I came to know that my simple belief in Christ and everything the Bible says about Him, formed a binding contractual agreement between Christ and myself, that guaranteed my place in heaven for all of eternity.
“Sadly, that message was in front of me my whole life, in the Scriptures that I grew up memorizing. The good news is I now have that blessed assurance of eternal salvation which frees me up to develop an unfettered and clearer understanding of God’s word.”
~John Bronson, Elder, TCC
No Other Works Required
“I was an elder at TCC for several years prior to meeting Bill and Jeanette.
“We had been through a period where we had relied on pulpit supply for a few years before hiring a man, whom we thought at the time, would be our pastor for many years.
“At the time, this man was working full-time for a company in the Minneapolis, MN, area and was commuting about two hours to Trego for Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services.
“Shortly after the time this pastor informed us that he was resigning in order to move to Georgia, Bill and Jeanette started attending our church. We did not know he was himself a pastor.
“Bill eventually asked our Pastor Search Committee if he could ‘throw his hat in the ring’ for consideration to hire him, which they accepted.
“After having Bill preach a couple of times as a candidate, our search committee presented Bill to the congregation as the recommended choice for our church’s pastor. The congregation voted unanimously to hire Bill, which he accepted even knowing the limited financial package a small congregation like ours could offer. Many prayers were offered up during this search and most of us here at TCC truly believe that God absolutely had His hand in bringing Bill and Jeanette into our church family. It was certainly much more than coincidence.
“I personally have attended Sunday School and church services for almost sixty years now and as a youngster trusted in Jesus. The churches I grew up in, and gravitated towards, were mostly the strict fundamentalist type. Even though they preached Scriptures from the Bible, most of these churches taught that just believing in Jesus wasn’t enough. Some other form of works was always required in addition to belief.
“One church even taught that there wasn’t security in salvation. They taught salvation could be lost for living a life which they deemed not to be ‘righteous’ enough. They had a couple of Scripture verses that they used to supposedly prove their way of thinking.
“While attending this church, I always questioned what sin or even group of sins causes us to lose our salvation after belief in Jesus. Even though I didn’t buy into this way of thinking, I wanted to attend a ‘Bible teaching Church,’ so I put up with it.
“However, it didn’t take long being under Bill’s teaching and leadership to confirm what I knew in my heart all along to be correct. Jesus invites us to merely believe in Him for salvation, which Scripture over and over again validates. No other works of our own are required. His loving grace is sufficient.
“I thank God that He is in control and His timing brought Bill and Jeanette to our little congregation in Trego, WI. They have been a great blessing to us.”
~Rick Harder, Elder, TCC
Being retired doesn’t mean being expired. There is a great amount of work that needs to be done in rural communities. Instead of thinking of your retirement as the end of your ministry, why not prayerfully consider it a new beginning?
Bill Lee is Pastor of Trego Community Church in Trego, WI.