Passion and plodding in pastoral ministry
Early zeal for evangelism propelled Brad Evans into ministry, but 38 years of shepherding a congregation through disagreements taught him steadiness
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Fifth in a series on long ministry
Brad Evans grew up in western Pennsylvania in a family that attended church only at Christmas and Easter. At age 16, Evans professed faith in Christ after hearing John 6:37 at a summer youth retreat: “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
Back home, he shared the verse with his mother. A few days later, she told him she had given her life to Christ, too. Not all his efforts were as successful: When his friend Bob said Jesus must have been insane, Evans shouted to Bob that he would go to hell if he didn’t repent. “In my early days, I didn’t have thoughtful conversations,” Evans admits. “I had pretty loud arguments.”
After college, Evans got married, and his passion for ministry propelled him to serve in campus ministry, attend seminary, and serve for two years as an assistant pastor. When a church in Coventry, Conn., asked him to be its pastor, Evans accepted. He found the 80 members of Presbyterian Church of Coventry welcoming, genuine, and hospitable when he arrived in 1980. But in the ensuing years, disagreements and criticism would challenge his ability to lead graciously and trust the Lord with the outcome.
In 1982, for example, the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC)—the denomination of Evans’ new church—merged with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Evans worried: Some members of his congregation had threatened to leave over the merger. They preferred the smaller, more informal RPC over the larger PCA. When the dust settled, Evans says, the change opened up more resources for his small church, like a Christian education curriculum and topical seminars from the denomination. Evans enjoyed fellowship with a wider network of pastors. He doesn’t remember anyone actually leaving the church over the merger, though he knows some people were unhappy with the decision.
Another challenge: Congregants disagreed about how to educate their children. Some families wanted the elders to endorse homeschooling, and tensions grew between those families and others who used Christian or public schools. Evans focused on caring for the members and preaching the Bible. Though Evans and his wife, Patsy, educated their two children at both Christian and public schools, he avoided picking sides and simply told parents, “The Bible says you’re to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That’s the parent’s responsibility, and you really can’t delegate that.” He was encouraged when one mom told him, “I feel supported and loved by you as my pastor,” even though he was not endorsing homeschooling as she wanted.
Others criticized his style. “I’m not really a visionary,” Evans says. “I’m really a plodder.” Sometimes people urged him to lead the church to formally participate in certain outreach events or ministries like Operation Rescue. But Evans felt it was important to keep the church focused on its main Biblical priorities. “I preach and teach and take care of the people and shepherd the flock and do my duty,” he says. Patsy supported him through those years of ministry, patiently enduring nights of long meetings and putting up with the feeling their family was “in a fishbowl … always on display.”
The Evanses remained at the church for 38 years, by which time it had grown to 220 congregants. Brad, 69, retired in 2018, weary of administrative duties. But he still enjoys filling the pulpit regularly at other churches nearby, counseling, and doing work for the presbytery.
He’s staying busy, but he admits there’s one thing he misses about being a pastor: “Seeing those people every week.”
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