A Long Journey of Faithfulness
Andy Raynor chuckles when he says Wilson Presbyterian Church, where he pastors, is “conveniently located off of I-95.” He knows it sounds like a line from a commercial, but Andy loves his church and hometown and would sell anyone on them.
Andy and his wife, Ashley, both grew up near Wilson, a North Carolina city about forty-five minutes east of Raleigh. After Andy completed seminary in 2004, they returned home to launch a Reformed church. God directed them to a young plant that met at a local dance studio and had a weekly attendance of about twenty.
Today, the congregation is known as Wilson Presbyterian Church (PCA), and each week about 150 believers fill the pews. The city’s convenient location means interstate travelers pass by, often on their way to bigger cities. But in the Raynors’ case, God called them to stay.
Generations of Joy
Though some aspects of ministry life are common to all pastors, every ministry context presents distinctive challenges and joys. In Andy’s case, those challenges and joys are often two sides of the same coin.
For example, in a small community, people stay for “the long haul,” according to Andy. At Wilson Presbyterian, two families have four generations in attendance, and several more have three. For Andy, this embodies true community. “Community is when you have people with gray hair and people with diapers, and they’re all worshiping together and you do life together.”
Being a multi-generational church does present some challenges, though, when it comes to raising up new leaders. This isn’t usually a problem for churches in large cities. Andy says of leaders in those churches, “There’s a different dynamic to being a ruling elder when you don’t have to look down the barrel of your [family].”
Another aspect of small community, multi-generational living that influences ministry is everyone’s familiarity with each other. When Andy returned to Wilson to lead the church, he got acquainted with people who knew him when he was growing up. When they expressed surprise that Andy had become a pastor, he realized his history with them meant they could witness how God had worked in his life. He knew they must be thinking, “If the gospel can take a dude like you and you end up being a pastor, it must work, it must have some power to it.”
At times, though, this familiarity can lead to difficulty. For his wife and children, it can feel like living in a fishbowl: they are tethered to Andy’s identity as a pastor and most people in their community recognize them as a local minister’s child. Andy notes that, even though his children are good kids, that is still a lot of pressure.
A final dynamic of multi-generational ministry that is both a challenge and a joy is the widespread acceptance of Christianity. “This is your typical Southern town. Everybody’s saved—according to them.” Andy meets this challenge by reminding them of grace. He remembers a man who came to Wilson Presbyterian and already knew the right doctrinal answers but still thought he had to contribute something to his salvation. After a few months hearing Andy speaking about grace, the man said he had a breakthrough. He told Andy, “It doesn’t change the answers I give, but it changes the way I give the answers.”
It’s these stories—when the challenges turn into joys—that give Andy fuel to keep going.
As Andy sees those challenges turn to joys, he wants pastors of other multi-generational churches to also be encouraged in their work. Recently, that faithfulness blossomed into joy in a special moment for Andy. An engaged couple—who had known each other since they were just babies in the nursery—asked him to officiate their wedding.
“I’ve got friends that do conferences, and I’ve got friends that write books…but I don’t know if they get as much joy out of writing a book as I did doing that wedding.” Reflecting on the time spent in their lives, Andy says, “This was worth the eighteen years I put into these people. This is what pastors do.”
It isn’t easy to lead a church with multi-generational families in attendance, but the Administrative Committee encourages pastors of all churches to learn from one another. Once, he visited the PCA offices in Atlanta and saw the wealth of resources PCA churches have developed over the years. He asked himself, “Why are we over here reinventing the wheel when we’ve got thousands of churches that have tried it?”
One way to do this is by checking out the Gifts and Graces Podcast. There, you’ll find guidance for pastoring congregants of all ages: grandparents, parents, and youth. Our denomination has a wealth of resources so you can be encouraged!