LONG LANE – Pisgah Baptist Church is in a community that could be described as “a wide spot in the road.” But that doesn’t stop them from being a vibrant and active Baptist church.
The community is in rural Dallas County, in southwest Missouri, and there are no longer any grocery stores or gas stations in Long Lane. The school closed up five years ago. Some would say it is a declining community.
But Pastor Bill Autry is optimistic. He says there are people moving into the area, many of them transplants from other states. “They want a simple life. Some of them have ‘hobby farms,’ they just want a simple lifestyle.”
Autry and his wife, Linda, have been serving there for about six years. The small church of that had an attendance of about 40 has grown to as many as 130 just prior to last year’s pandemic. They now have about 90 most Sundays. Autry says last spring they moved to an online worship service with their praise team. They were able to reopen the church after a couple of months. The online service continues.
“We hung together real well. We made sure we were safe. The Sunday school closed down for a while.” He estimates they are down about 10 percent from pre-COVID numbers.
Pisgah Baptist is know in their community for having a ministry to reach out to those struggling with addictions. It is called Embrace 2911, named after Jeremiah 29:11 “‘For I know the plans I have for you’ – this is the Lord’s declaration – ‘plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (CSB).
The ministry meets on Tuesday evenings with a meal, some worship and small groups. About 70 people attend most weeks. They work on conquering their addictions to drugs. Pastor Autry said they have seen some people come to the ministry “in a desperate place,” and they have found hope. He said he knows of three people who have attempted suicide but have survived and recovered through Embrace 2911.
The director of missions in the Dallas County Baptist Association, Russell Adams, said that Pastor Autry “has innovative ideas to reach young families. He believes in prayer and has a unique prayer time in the morning worship service. He baptizes in the river; often a very, very cold river.” Adams added the church is faithful to the association and the state convention.
Autry is a retired teacher, having taught history for 8th graders in Buffalo school system for 27 years. He likes young people. They always strive to have a tremendous VBS, with as many as 150 kids attending most years. Last year they had a drive-in VBS with the kids staying in their family’s cars parked at the church, and activities were brought out to them.
Like a lot of rural churches, they find there is something special about having baptisms in the local river. “We just enjoy baptizing in the Niangua river,” Pastor Autry says. “We have the whole service down there. We sing, have testimonies, preach and then have the baptisms,” he added.
Pastor Autry is a 1985 graduate of Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar. His wife, Linda, is a native of California.
He reflected on what a person would experience if they visited that church. “When people come into a church, they are not necessarily looking for a friendly church, but they are looking for friends. Each of us has a journey. As a church we don’t want to walk that journey for you, but we want to walk with you.”
Autry concluded, “My job as pastor is to release people into ministry, to let them find out what their ministry is, to walk with them. Sometimes that is messy. … It was for Jesus and His disciples. Mistakes will be made.”
But there are three rules here: 1) You are loved in whatever condition you are in, 2) We have a place for you to serve and 3) When you are gone you are missed.
In a recent sermon Pastor Autry said of serving: “There is a giddy-up in you that you can’t control when you find out you’ve been sent.”