Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pastor Ron VanderHart Hands Off Runnells Congregation To His Son

The turn of the  year was also a turnover of leadership at my home church. The following is an article from a local paper about the change.

Pastor Ron VanderHart began seminary without a GED or high school diploma. But he knew how to fly airplanes — and build them — and that’s what brought him back home to Iowa.

Pastor Ron VanderHart began seminary without a GED or high school diploma. But he knew how to fly airplanes — and build them — and that’s what brought him back home to Iowa.

The congregation at Adelphi Calvary Baptist Church in Runnells parted with its pastor of 33 years on Dec. 30. The church accepted VanderHart’s retirement as head pastor, and appointed another VanderHart in his stead: Ron’s son Scott.

“I just felt it was time to relinquish the daily responsibilities of carrying on the church,” Ron, 71, said last week, adding that retirement does not mean departure from the ministry for a lifelong pastor. “I’m not interested in playing golf or any of that. I have to keep active in the Lord’s work.”

Ron, originally from Pella, said he will continue hosting his weekly radio program “Key to Life” on 940 AM and plans to frequently travel around the state and country to fill pulpits as needed on Sunday mornings. When he is not on the road, he will attend Adelphi Baptist and continue living in a home on the church property, 7925 S.E. Vandalia Drive, Runnells, with his wife, Donna.

After 33 years, Runnells has become his home both relationally and geographically.

“I’m so close to these people,” Ron said, recalling countless births, deaths, battles with sickness and moments of joy that defined his time as pastor. “I’ll never lose their friendship.”

The church — now drawing between 150 and 180 people each Sunday morning — has come a long way since the Vander­Harts arrived in October 1979. Adelphi had gone through three pastors in two years. It was an intimidating congregation for any pastor, let alone one with only a few years of experience, Ron said.

“It was totally and completely different than anything I had been a part of … and after about 15 months, I really couldn’t take it anymore,” Ron said, remembering a defining conversation with a pastoral mentor that sealed his commitment to Adelphi, for better or for worse. “He said, ‘What’s wrong with just staying there and teaching these people the Bible?’ ”

Prior to arriving at Adelphi, Ron spent four years leading a rural church in eastern Iowa, fresh out of seminary at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. As a student — and pilot with his own aircraft — Ron visited the small Round Prairie Baptist Church as a guest preacher one Sunday to help fill a pastoral vacancy.

He viewed the trip as a chance to gain some much-needed flying time on his path to becoming a missionary pilot. But that long-term plan deteriorated the moment he arrived at the church, just as his pursuit of farming and a career in tool and die making drastically changed when he encountered Jesus at a “gospel preaching church” in Pella years prior.

“I immediately knew my missions days were over,” Ron said of the visit to Round Prairie Baptist Church. “Our hearts knit so close together on that one Sunday. I just knew that that was my church.”

After working through the trials and challenges of the first few years at Adelphi, those familiar relational ties began to form in Runnells.

“(Ron) has been a good friend for one thing, and he’s been such a blessing to our community,” said Raymond Battles, who has attended Adelphi for about 70 years. “He’s done a wonderful job. He knows his Bible, and he has compassion for his congregation.”

Church members said they share the same affection for Ron’s entire family, including his wife and five children. Ron and Donna’s son Shawn runs a home-school academy based out of the church, and Scott, who was unanimously approved to replace his father, has been the church’s youth pastor for 23 years.

Those in the congregation said they expect a seamless transition into Scott’s new leadership position.

“I’m thrilled with the prospect of Pastor Scott taking over,” said Scott Strait, who began attending the church several decades ago as a Southeast Polk High School student. “I was able to almost grow up with him as a young fellow … He can talk to the youth and he can talk to the adults, so it’s a great blend that he has.”

Scott VanderHart, 44, said he offers a different teaching style than his father, but plans to carry on the guiding principles and ministries that define Adelphi.

The church designates more than 40 percent of its budget to foreign missionary work. With 77 families receiving aid from the church, Scott said the church has more missionaries around the world than those in the Runnells congregation.

“The church is a very missions-minded church,” Scott said.

The father and husband said he has no intention to entirely fill his father’s shoes, because that would be impossible. But he said he will obediently carry on the work of the Lord in a congregation that his father passed onto him in a healthy state.

“I’m not following my dad, I’m following the Lord,” Scott said. “And I have no doubt that this is what the Lord has for me.”

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