WARSAW – Though he’d only been filling in at the pulpit for less than a month, First Baptist Church, Warsaw (FBCW) unanimously voted to call Pastor Tom Renfro to be their interim while they continued their pastor search.
“It’s amazing how fast my wife, Cindy, and I built a rapport and were able to connect to them,” said Renfro, who has served bi-vocationally for years and recently retired early from his position as a college professor. “They offered me the interim position and I said I was more interested in being their pastor. I told them I would do (the interim) if we could move forward (with) a revitalization effort.”
After just a few conversations with church leadership, Renfro saw some of the church’s mistakes in the past and, while they may have blamed some of their problems on former pastors, he believed that the root of it all lied within the very DNA of the church. Renfro felt it was time someone stepped in and addressed those things, working through them and toward a place of healing and health.
“They need to get past this mentality of just maintaining and keeping the church doors open long enough for the majority of its members to have their funerals here,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of patience to get people to look toward the future when they honestly don’t see much future left. But I can see how these senior adults can be part of rebuilding something and leaving something in the community that is more significant than any of us can imagine.”
Renfro said the first thing God has called him to do at FBC is to nurture the congregation that has served faithfully here for decades.
“God laid it on our hearts that the first thing my wife and I should do is build deep and meaningful relationships with all of the people of the church,” Renfro said. “They need to know how much we care about them and how much we want to minister to them. I believe that when we have differences and when we make mistakes, it’s the strength of our relationships that will carry us through. We can be 100 percent right about this or that, but as pastors we can’t let being right destroy our relationships in the church. Being right isn’t more important than people.”
Renfro knows that undernourished and neglected sheep do not produce. And while they can certainly find many ways to encourage them, it’s not the shepherds that produce the sheep. Healthy sheep produce sheep.
“We will feed our sheep and keep our eyes open for other areas that we can join God in what he is doing,” he said.
And even though this revitalization effort just started in December, God has already revealed ways FBC can bring Him glory. For example, Renfro was recently asked to participate in the Benton County Leadership Counsel on Aging.
“We are going to figure out what needs are not being met in the community and plug in,” he said. “We are a retirement community with a lot of senior adults who are isolated, spending 90 percent of their time home alone with very little contact with anyone else. Those are the people who need our hope. We are going to stop trying to reach teenagers and start being the best Senior Adult Ministry we can be.”
While the mission of revitalization is clear and Renfro believes God will do a powerful work to make FBC even stronger than it once was, it is currently operating on very limited resources. Thankfully, God has blessed Renfro with the ability to supplement his income from his personal savings this year.
“We need a boost. We need a jump start,” he said. “We are looking for some churches that will partner with us for the next three years to help us become the Kingdom-oriented church that we want to be.”
He said the church already voted that when they become financially self-supporting, the first line item they will add to their budget will be to assist another church replant or revitalization project.
“We are not looking for churches that will just send money,” Renfro said. “We want partners who will participate and we, in turn, will help the next church. However, we are not going to wait for money before we participate in kingdom work. We are not going to wait to do what we know God is calling us to do. We will do what we can today and be faithful with the increase.”
For more information on FBCW’s revitalization or to partner with them please e-mail Pastor Tom Renfro at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the church office at (660) 438-6161.