Viburnum pastor embraces mining town
MBC’s Knight a perfect fit for hard-working community
May 2, 2006
VIBURNUM – When a pastor plants himself in a community for 13 years and preaches what a Missouri Southern Baptist ought to preach, townsfolk start to trust the pulpit ministry as a source of true learning.
Such is the ongoing legacy of Michael Knight, pastor of First Baptist Church of Viburnum and second vice president of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). Knight and his wife, Kim, a kindergarten teacher in the town of some 700-800 citizens, are pillars of an extended community of 7,500 that touches four counties in the lead-mining district of Missouri.
“His preparation, his style and his demeanor in the pulpit, to me, is top-notch,” said Lance Mayfield, a “very active” church member and owner of a Farmers Insurance Group agency in town. “I’m surprised he’s still here, because I know that with his ability, he could go somewhere else, if you’re looking at just economics, and make a lot more money.”
Knight, 53, has been faithful to preach the Word in a small city that flourished for a season after lead ore was discovered in the Ozarks in 1955. He eagerly tells the area’s history by giving preeminence to Larry Casteel, the city father and planner who had one of the 10 mines in the Viburnum Trend area named after him. The pastor also confirms well-known facts concerning economic decisions made down through the years by Viburnum’s “sugar daddy,” the Doe Run Co., which owns and operates the largest lead mines in the world.
Missouri produces 60 percent of America’s lead, and while the mines yield more than 200,000 tons of refined lead ore annually that are said to be worth $500 million over that same period, the locals will tell you that those dollars have wings. Doe Run Owner Ira Rennert is a Long Island billionaire who lives in a $100 million mansion in The Hamptons. A lead baron like Rennert may be known around the world as “a good corporate citizen,” but when profits seem outlandish and relationships shatter, pastors like Knight, who has been there since January of 1993, are there to pick up the pieces.
“There have been some layoffs (and) people have been hurt badly,” Knight said. “When people get laid off here, they tend to move. The future might look good, but that future might be 8-10 years down the pike. It’s been a challenging period. I have been content to hang in there as kind of a leader in the community.”
Knight, who has master’s degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., has been an adjunct professor of religion at Southwest Baptist University’s Salem campus for the better part of the last seven years. He is known throughout Missouri as a teacher, and the people of the four-county region that encompasses Viburnum—Iron, Dent, Crawford and Washington—like what he has to say. It matters not that many of them are from other faiths.
“Out of a Sunday morning crowd of 100 to 125, a minimum of a third are not members, and they’re not going to be members,” Knight said.
Betty Ogle and Larry Ragsdale are two of those attendees who are “part of our church family,” according to Knight. They agreed to be photographed April 21 with the pastor at the historic Quad County Hardware and Plumbing, the oldest commercial building in Viburnum. At various times the building has been a weekend home, a church, a grocery store, a café, a post office, a beauty shop and a feed store. Ragsdale is the previous owner and Ogle, whom Knight spotted on the front porch next door, is known for owning one of the original homes in town.
“You don’t apologize for being conservative,” Knight said. “Don’t worry about being conservative. Go ahead and be pro-life, be pro-family and speak to the issues of the day. You’ve got to say that not every Sunday is John 3:16 or Romans 5:8. You’ve got to be committed to teaching and preaching the totality of Scripture. The people who come to our church don’t quibble with the church being a conservative Southern Baptist church or me being an inerrantist. I think people respect that.
“They (attendees like Ogle and Ragsdale) know that they’re not threatened by me, because I’m not going to go out and bug them about being members. If I was to bug them about it, I’d lose them. Some of these people are generous in giving, and so I love them and I accept them where they are.”
Thanks to the faithful giving of both members and non-members who believe in Knight’s pulpit ministry, First Viburnum is known for its vibrancy in missions. The pastor said his people are hard-working, responsible and dependable.
“We’ve had people go to Montana, Vermont, Wyoming, Hawaii and Mexico,” he said. “We also have World Changers. So this church is committed to doing missions both here and out of our area as well. We have a couple of people who make missions a high priority, and keep it in front of the people and give opportunities.”
His college teaching in Salem, which the church has always supported, often amounts to evangelism. On Tuesday night he drives 32 miles to a classroom setting where many of his students, he said, do not know Christ. First Viburnum participates in his outreach by purchasing Bibles for him to give to his students.
“I (recently) dealt with a theology of the Psalms—what do these Psalms tell us about God, about ourselves, and the solution,” he said. “From there, I went into a survey of the prophets, all of the culture issues they dealt with and how that relates to today. Then I had a session on how Amos talks about personal righteousness and corporate justice. It’s a joy to teach and share God’s Word, and students seem to be receptive to it.
“When you share God’s Word and trust God to do His work through His Word, that’s nothing for which to apologize. There are times when I will even turn around and do a Gospel presentation on the board—the old bridge thing. We talk about God’s grace and holiness and righteousness. I want these students to not have a works-based righteousness. I don’t want them to think that if they’ve been baptized, they’re OK, or if their name’s on the roll of a church somewhere, that that’s all there is. It’s just a joy. Fortunately, the administration at SBU gives me a free hand, as they should, to share the truth of God’s Word.”
His philosophy of ministry revolves around efficiency. He has 1½ staff members – himself and a half-time custodian. The church budget is lean as he continues to produce his own bulletins and correspondence.
“We do not need a church secretary,” Knight said. “In fact, I don’t even work here. I have an office in the parsonage. I don’t know why churches our size have a secretary to answer the phone. The parsonage phone number, the cell phone number and my email address are in the bulletin every Sunday. I have my cell phone on right now. It will be with me all the time. In the day of Internet, computers and answering machines, I’m one of the most accessible guys I know.
“To save the church thousands of dollars in personnel expense is not a big deal.”
Knight believes in the power of the laity through the gifting of the Holy Spirit when it comes to such ministerial departments as music, education and youth.
“We have talented people in our church,” he said. “There is nothing heretical or unorthodox about them. I can’t plan youth activities, and this particular lady can do that. I can’t plan the music program, so I have a very gifted man in the church who can do that, and the man before him was gifted as well. So I don’t have to micromanage a church even this size.”
One of his top achievements under the heading of efficiency has been the construction of a multi-purpose building for about $150,000.
“We do volleyball more than anything else,” he said. “Every Sunday night, we play volleyball (for about 1½ hours). Some people come in from the community, and it’s a lot of fun.
“The beauty of this multi-purpose building is in its modesty. You do not have to build a $2 million multi-purpose building. We did it slowly and managed it well. It’s a nice, modest, well-used building.”
Knight said the peaceful reputation of First Viburnum is a miracle.
“The church was coming out of conflict when I came here, and I was coming out of conflict when I came here, so we kind of healed up together,” he said. “We respect one another, and we accept one another. The fellowship here has always been good.
“We haven’t had any church conflict as that is normally thought of—no big blowups, no fellowship issues where people have left the church, anything like that.”
Kim Knight has helped the church reach out to the needy through a fledgling benevolence ministry. The Knights have been married 31 years.
“She is clearly the best church member I’ve ever had anywhere,” Michael said. “She is loyal and faithful to the church. She has insights and intuition related to people. She probably has the spiritual gift of intuition, if there is such a thing. She’s a wonderful kindergarten teacher and a wonderful adult Bible teacher. She teaches a mixed class in our church and has done it since we unloaded the moving van here. She is just an incredible asset to this church’s ministry.”