What’s your story? God is the hero of my story

Butch and Joan Ikels

During the past 45 years, after the Lord called me to preach, I have pastored two churches and spent five years in full-time evangelism. My first pastorate saw about one person a week baptized over the course of 15 years. My current church, a church plant that began in my home with nine people, has grown to about 2,500 people. But before that happened, the Lord took me down to zero. 

My path to ministry was unusual. As a young man, I was in sales, a director of marketing for a large grocery company. I was also offered an opportunity that could have made me wealthy. That didn’t happen because I knew the Lord was calling me to preach. My pastor at the time was a former Folgers coffee salesman. He and another preacher gave me good advice, and they both came to the same conclusion. Reverend Neil, the former salesman, said, “You do anything you can to keep from preaching. If God won’t leave you alone, you’ll know that He’s in it.” The other man said, “Who has God not used that was willing?” The Lord used them to stir my heart toward letting go and letting God have His way.

The transition had its challenges, of course. Over the course of a week, our income was reduced by two-thirds as I moved into my first church as pastor. After 15 years in that church, I felt like I could reach more people if I was in full-time evangelism. I didn’t think I was going to be the next Billy Graham, but I thought the Lord was going to use me. Looking back, I see that all the money I had left was spent [trying] to stay in evangelism. That’s probably been the most important thing the Lord has done—teaching us to trust Him in every area of the ministry and finding out that He’s sufficient. So, The Country Church [in Marion, located about 30 miles northeast of San Antonio] is a result of failure on my part.

I grew up in Marion. I was lost—and I mean good and lost. This was the last place in the world I wanted to plant a church. But as my wife, Joan, and I prayed about it, we knew God wanted us to plant a church in Marion. So even though I’m still living down what took place before I was saved 60 years ago in some cases, the Lord is still blessing in spite of me.

"That’s probably been the most important thing the Lord has done—teaching us to trust Him in every area of the ministry and finding out that He’s sufficient."

The Country Church uses its 42,000-square-foot rodeo arena to host outreach events like its Harvest Festival. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Good, long tenures have taught me a couple of things. You have to establish a bond of trust. It takes a while for the people to trust you …. I think over the years, I’ve established trust that isn’t built overnight. It doesn’t matter how great the preacher is, it takes some time to build that up.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there’s not been a good time to leave my church. When things were difficult, I didn’t want to leave the church on that note, and so I weathered through it. When things were good, there’s no way in the world I wanted to leave. Either way, up or down, I have stayed.

And look what God has done here over the past 25 years! It’s really a small town, a little more than 1,000 people, but He’s provided for our church’s ministry: 80,000 square feet of buildings, 16 acres, a 42,000-square-foot covered arena, and no debt. [We spent] $250,000 to build a building to provide food and clothing to the poor … and our people support it. We buy groceries direct from a wholesaler and buy the bargains, and then we provide food and clothing to between 150 and 250 families in Guadalupe County. We reach a little over 100 people a year through the ministry. We also have counseling through The Attic, our benevolence ministry. It’s just a miracle. Maybe it sounds like a cliché, but everything here is a miracle. 

So, what’s my story? Well, every pastor ought to have a ministry verse or a ministry passage, and mine is 1 Corinthians 1:27: “That He’s taken the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” When people look at The Country Church, they can’t say it’s because of my superior education or this and that. They have to give the Lord the glory that He deserves.

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(as told to Gary Ledbetter)
Butch Ikels
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