Real Church for Real People

Pastor Ashley Barker shares in her own words about life as the pastor of Real Life Community of Faith in Morristown Ohio and spiritual leadership in the context of everyday life and community.

Share a little about your congregation, some of the initiatives your ministry is pursuing, and what it was like for you getting started:

Real Life Community of Faith is a United Methodist new church start that began over six years ago in a rural community in south eastern Ohio.  The idea for this new church came from a United Methodist woman pastor who saw a need for "a church for people who didn't like church."  After much prayer, it was decided to begin the church in the elementary school in the community.  This decision was also made due to the fact that a school could be seen as a neutral location for the unchurched.

The church started with 15 members and has grown to 150 - 175.  This is a decent number considering we live in a rural area where the population is decreasing by 10% each year. The church is very outreach focused.  Our mission is to make fully devoted followers of Christ of unchurched and de-churched people of Belmont County and surrounding areas through authentic relationships, culturally relevant worship, and service to others.  In addition to our Sunday morning services (we have a full band, use technology) we do a lot of community projects, including our new initiative - a community garden on the school grounds.  This is a partnership with the school, with community members, and surrounding churches.  We look forward to what this garden will bring the area.

We are holding a Family Fun Night this Friday for all the kids in the community.  In times past, we have had over 250 families attend. Other events include:
- "Taking Him To the Streets" (a day we don't meet at the school but volunteer in the community)
- Series inspired events: we went skydiving after a series titled "Fearless"
- Small groups focused on financial matters



What are some of the biggest challenges you have had to face in this role?
As the pastor of a new church start that meets at a school, it took some time to get used to not having an office, a secretary, and a typical work week schedule.  Three years later - I find I love the flexibility this provides me.  My "office" is Panera, I can spend more time in the community, and I empower others in the congregation to do parts of the secretarial work which they enjoy.
In terms of challenges in ministry, because our church is named "Real Life," we deal with a lot of real life issues that I might not expect in a typical traditional church in rural Ohio.  I have had a lot of hands on experience working with drug users, alcoholics, sexual predators, and the like.  We are the church for people other churches may 'reject' in a sense.



What are some of the most significant changes you’ve witnessed in the lives of the people you serve? Since our target audience is the unchurched, the changes we get to witness are internal changes people make when they give their lives to Christ.  This is always exciting, especially at our baptism services (we baptized 20 last time!). I have also observed an upsurge in volunteerism.  I believe this is due to the fact that people have pride in the ministries taking place and want to be a part of something like Real Life.

What are some of the personal challenges you’ve had to overcome to arrive at this place in ministry?
I am young in age compared to most pastors in my area.  I am also the youngest new church start pastor in the Conference.  After graduating from seminary, I asked for an associate pastor position. As it turned out, I was given a full time, head pastor appointment.  Quite a shock to my system! In addition to adjusting to a first time ministry position, another challenge I have had to deal with is learning to develop tough skin while still keeping a soft heart.  Ministry can be difficult, especially when you're making strides for Christ in a community.

What is your vision for the future of your ministry? I envision our church having much more community involvement than we have now. I would love to partner with local organizations to open a community center as our area is in desperate need of one.  I also envision us growing out of our current location or getting creative in how we worship at our current space. I want to also provide more interactive worship services - using experiential messages, and hands on learning.

Personally, I am exploring possibilities of combining my Master of Divinity with my Master of Non-Profit Management I received at American University while studying at Wesley.  I would love to develop a non profit focused on service to the community - especially to our community's children. In addition, I have an interest in doing relief and development work at some point in my career.  My fiance is an engineer so we are excited of the possibilities God may be preparing.



For more information about Real Life Community of Faith, visit www.ForRealLife.com.