Forty-Two Years of Grace: Finishing the Pastorate Well in Rural America

This article was written by Rob Nash, a Pastor at Sawyer Highlands Church.

In 1852

● There were thirty-one states in the Union

● Peter Roget’s first thesaurus came in print

● Uncle Sam debuted as a cartoon

● Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin

● Calamity Jane was born

● And Centreville Baptist church opened its doors


One hundred seventy years later, Pastor Dave Peterson will be retiring as the longest-serving pastor at the Centreville Baptist Church. He holds the record tenure with forty-two years of service.

When the Apostle Paul was facing the end of his ministry, he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 2:7). From all accounts, by God’s grace, Dave has done that.


In 1979, Dave graduated with a Masters of Divinity from Bethel College and Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. While studying, he served as a youth pastor and then as an associate pastor. Not too long after graduation, he applied to be the pastor of Centreville Baptist Church. At the time, Centreville had a booming population of 1200. The job came with a parsonage and a modest salary.

Dave interviewed, they offered him the position, and he accepted. He thought he would stick around for a couple of years and move on like the thirty-nine other pastors who preceded him. God had different plans. Dave and his growing family fell in love with the church and town. His wife began working for the library. Outside of his church engagement, he taught at Glen Oaks Community College, volunteered on the school board, and served on the Nottawa Township library board. Later, he became the president of each. After decades of service, he retired from those positions only to be asked to run for the Nottawa township supervisor. He did and won and continues to serve his town faithfully. He is a community leader, pointing people to Jesus wherever he goes. Dave is a shepherd through and through.


Vickie and Carl Davis have attended Centreville Baptist for thirty-two years. Vickie said, “He is a great speaker, teacher, and caring friend.” She recalled, “One time, a bat came down from the belfry and flew around during the service. It was flying right at Dave as he preached. We have a pulpit that sits up higher than everyone. So, Dave was the bat’s prime target. Dave would sway one way and then another as the bat flew at him. But, he just kept on preaching,” That is the kind of pastor Dave has been. He keeps on keeping on, no matter what comes at him.

Mike Eley has known Dave for thirty-eight years. In his mortuary business, he has relied on Dave to help families in crisis and heartache. “He was very good at getting to know someone [who has passed away] through their family and providing [them] a meaningful funeral service… Most pastors are willing to fill the role [of doing a service for a non-church person]. But they all don’t have the knack to make the funeral about the person.” Dave did. He did because he knew his Bible, related to people, and took the time.

Rodney Chupp, who worked with Dave on the School board for about eight years, said, “James 1:19 tells us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. That verse embodied Dave’s service to the school… Everything is pressure-packed these days. You want to get someone riled up, tell them something about their kids.” With Dave on the school board, “People felt heard. He had a real calming effect.”

It has been said that behind every great pastor is a greater spouse. Dave’s wife is no exception. Karen “is a jewel. She has a passion for the needy and underprivileged and the unborn. Her love for the unloved goes so deep,” says Dan Peterson, Executive Minister Emeritus for Converge MidAtlantic and the older brother of Dave.


Gary Rohrmayer, President of Converge MidAmerica, once said, “You celebrate what you care about.” We want to recognize what God has done through Dave. It is extraordinary. We need to hear more stories like Dave’s.

A majority of pastors don’t stick around for forty-two years. LifeWay research published the statistic that, “The average pastoral tenure in a church is 3.6 years.” In addition, Barna’s research recently revealed that thirty-eight percent of pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year.

Dave’s longevity and success have not been because ministry came easy. He has taken his lumps along with the joys of conversions, baptisms, weddings, and church growth. People have left, passed away, and hurt others and him. Finances have been tight. He had to approach his board about needing to work outside of the church to supplement his income early on. Yet, God has been faithful and blessed him, his church, and his community, all the while. Ultimately, God deserves the credit.


Join us in thanking God for Dave, his family, and his church. Let us pray that God will help us persevere and remain faithful for the long haul. Pray also that God would bring a pastor to bless this rural community so that another couple of generations would come to know the love of Christ.


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