The unsung heroes in ministry

By Matt Henslee

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at

When I think about Pastor Appreciation Month, I think of leaders many people don’t even know about. I think of the folks in the shadows.

These are the pastors who are faithfully preaching the gospel each week with little notice here on earth. The folks who devotedly serve the Lord in obscurity, love their families and churches well, and don’t feel the need to tell everyone, “Look at what I’ve built!”

I think of folks like Hayden Smith and Cal West. You likely haven’t heard of these two unless you’ve read Replanting Rural Churches, but they have a combined 50 years of service between two New Mexican churches.

Think about it. That’s …

50 years of funerals
50 years of weddings
50 years of baptisms
50 years of business meetings
50 years of counseling sessions
50 years of ups
50 years of downs
50 years of sermons, likely heard by only a few
50 years of faithfulness

All this time investment was spent about as far away from the spotlight as one can get. Smith is currently in his 30th year of pastoring at First Baptist Church in Carrizozo, New Mexico. West, meanwhile, is serving in his 20th year as pastor at First Baptist Church in Corona, New Mexico.

It’s been a long time in nowhere.

Here’s a little geography lesson. Carrizozo, New Mexico, is a town about 90 miles from where I live. It has a population of less than 1,000. I don’t go there unless I’m driving to Albuquerque, which is another 170 miles away from …absolutely nothing.

Likewise, Corona, New Mexico — a town of just over 150 people — is about 50 miles north of … absolutely nothing. Yet in these towns in the middle of nowhere, two faithful pastors serve the Lord in obscurity.

Sadly, these two pastors and others like them will likely never grace a stage on a conference circuit. They’ll likely never author a best-selling book. But in the shadows of the cool and hip, they’ve laid down their roots and are pouring their lives into the people the Lord has called them to shepherd.

You might be thinking, “Wow, what a waste!” Or maybe less offensively, “That just isn’t normal.”

But you’d be wrong.

It would’ve made sense for Jesus to have been born in Rome or even in Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus Christ — the Savior of the world, the long-awaited Messiah, the Holy Promised One — was raised in Nazareth.

Nazareth was a small, insignificant town, much like Carrizozo and Corona, but without a Family Dollar or QuikMart. However, God, in His infinite wisdom, made that tiny town the launching point of the Savior of the world.

Could it be because God wants us to understand something about places the world has forgotten? Could it be that some of the most important work in the kingdom of God happens in nowhere places?

I think so.

God loves churches in the middle of nowhere. He loves people in communities that will never see the “Hot Now” neon sign at Krispy Kreme or know the despair of wanting Chick-fil-A on a Sunday because they can’t even get it Monday through Saturday.

He loves those towns that, to most of us, are nothing more than a name on an interstate exit sign. Why does God love them? He loves them because there are millions of people around our nation who live in communities just like Hayden’s and Cal’s.

He loves them because every man, woman, and child represented on the population sign in your community are made in the image of God and deeply loved by Him.

If you take a drive through the small towns that dot the landscape along America’s backroads, you’ll almost always find a church. If you happen to pass such a church this month — or any month for that matter — would you do something for me?

Pray for them. Better yet, stop in for a visit and get to know these servants in the middle of nowhere. Who knows? You might just learn a thing or two you can take back to your church.

As we celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month, let’s remember the forgotten places. After all, God asks for faithfulness, even in nowhere places out of the spotlight.

There are countless pastors just like Hayden and Cal. We appreciate them all!,

Published October 23, 2019

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Matt Henslee

Matt Henslee (@mhenslee) is the pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico, D.Min student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of a few books, including Evangelize to Revitalize and Text-Driven Invitation.