GRACE CHURCH OF BULL SHOALS
Pastor Ryan Butler
Assc. Pastor Rich Thomis
Describe the circumstances through which the church was born.
God used conflict and the great need for a Sovereign Grace church in north central Arkansas to bring us into existence. My father, David, began pastoring at Summit Baptist Church in the late 80’s when the pastor there wickedly and wrongfully declared that God had told him to divorce his kind and faithful wife and run off with another woman. It was only a few months into my dad’s pastorate that it became clear that the teaching of Scripture regarding God’s sovereign grace was not palatable to those holding to the traditional decisionalism and easy believism common among nearly all in the area.
It is not that my father was hammering home Calvinism. In fact, at that time, he had little knowledge of the history of the Reformation or the distinctives of the Doctrines of Grace. He was simply preaching the Word of God rather than the will of man. A deacon who had been a pastor took offense and ramrodded the removal of my father, bolstering his case with false accusations of fraud (impossible since my father had no control over church finances). A dear family, the Terrys (Phil and Grace, and their children, Lewis and Kim), left Summit with my family and have been with us ever since. Phil has since gone home to be with the Lord.
Thus began the transient years. The Butlers and Terrys joined another church in the area. The pastor of that church left. At the church meeting to discuss finding a pastor, my Dad, who had been teaching a Bible class and who had been ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention, offered to preach while the church decided on a new pastor. One of the deacon’s wives then stood and began railing and shouting against and at my father. The men of the church sat and did nothing. It was time to leave. The Gregg family (my future inlaws) then joined with the Butlers and Terrys, and Grace Fellowship Church was founded. For two years or more we met in homes, a trailer on the Gregg’s farm, and an auction building. Then, to our great surprise, the elderly deacon at Summit who had treated us so poorly, called my father and said God had told him to invite David Butler back to Summit. This man then turned the facilities over to us, and we became Summit Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in 1992.
What were the circumstances under which you were called to the ministry where you serve?
I began leading the singing at age 16. My father was my pastor, and people would ask me if I planned to follow in his footsteps. My response: “No. I don’t believe I am called to that.” But the Lord had other plans and gave me the desire to teach and preach the Word. With the desire came opportunity. I began making comments as song leader, and then was given opportunity to teach an adult Bible class in 2003 when I was 25. Along with my desire to minister, and the opportunities in my congregation, I was invited to teach a group session at the Sovereign Grace Youth Camp under the oversight of Steve Long and Tom Henry.
More opportunities followed, including preaching at Sovereign Grace Baptist in Springfield, MO; Grace Baptist in Ozark, MO; Grace Bible Church in Olive Branch, MS; and then traveling monthly for about two years to preach to a small congregation meeting in a home in West Plains, MO. My gifting and qualifications were being witnessed and confirmed by SGBF pastors and congregations. I was then licensed to preach by my church (Summit Sovereign Grace Baptist Church).
I was appointed an elder at Summit in June of 2009 just weeks before my father finished his race and entered into glory. The congregation then called me to pastor, and it was a natural, although circumstantially difficult, transition. The Lord was gracious to me and my family and our church to prepare and equip me for this task and to help preserve us as a congregation through a difficult season.
What is your greatest joy as a pastor?
Witnessing and even being able to help people walk with the Lord! It thrills me when I see people growing in the grace and knowledge of God and when I get reports or witness them making godly decisions and living righteously, even when it hurts. Much rejoicing occurs in the Butler household when I hear of people reaching out to reconcile with others, giving the Gospel and godly counsel at work or in the community, seeing their prayers answered, grieving over and repenting of sin, moving from heresy to orthodoxy, etc. Our associate pastor, Rick Thomis, and I have had times of praising the Lord together as we see His marvelous grace working mightily in the lives of His dear people. When talking about my congregation to others, I regularly mention how thankful I am for our people. It is generally easy to pastor the members at Grace Church. They are a joy!
What do you find most challenging about pastoring a church?
The rare times of conflict between members and the times people leave the church for wrong reasons, as well as the times when people make very unwise decisions which will lead to pain and suffering for them and others. I so want people to follow the Lord and abide by His Word in every decision of life! Jesus died to secure our zeal for Him, and God has given us His Word to keep our zeal on track.
Secondly, I do not enjoy administrative duties. I love to counsel from the Word. I enjoy preaching and teaching. But not so much the “business” matters of the church. Thankfully, at Grace Church we have three very competent and godly deacons, Dan Henley, Jeff Pokorny, and Terry Williams! These three men and their wives, Pat, Janet, and Denvi, bless the church regularly with their wisdom and care for our property and people!
What are some of the milestones in the development or maturing of the church?
We have always had sound teaching of the Word, but adopting a statement of faith and church constitution were key factors to promote order and to deter kooks and heretics who desired control. A small congregation in the Ozark mountains with a reputation for being different is a magnet for all types of fiercely independent, controlling, heretical persons. Over the years, we have dealt with white supremacists, polygamists, hyper-preterists and others. Having a clearly defined statement of faith and constitution communicates to such people that we are established and ordered. It is also helpful to hand these documents to people who have heard their pastors slanderously say we are a cult.
Our church has been a member of the SGBF for 17 years. We were at the first annual meeting in Saint Louis on September 11, 2001. After many years of unwanted isolation and very little fellowship with other churches, we had found a group of like-minded churches with whom we could link hands. We have also been blessed to be able to support the Lord’s work in missions by regularly sending funds to the Johnsons, Sniders, Wagmares, and Tiegreens. Finding these missionaries through the SGBF and being able to support them is a blessing indeed. And we desire to add to this list.
A great milestone during my ministry is adding another elder, Rick Thomis. Brother Rick was a friend of my father’s and had been a pastor before. He is a very godly man, sound in faith and doctrine. The Scriptures teach that two are better than one, and we at Grace Church can echo that! Brother Rick teaches our adult Bible class, fills the pulpit monthly and is a joy to our people. He and his wife Robin have blessed us abundantly over the past five years.
It is also a major blessing to have a plurality of godly deacons. When I started pastoring at Summit, we had no deacons or other elders. At one point in time, I was doing all the preaching and teaching and even leading the singing. Having godly men in leadership is a blessing that should never be taken for granted! We at Grace Church are so very thankful for Dan Henley, Jeff Pokorny, and Terry Williams and their wives Pat, Janet, and Denvi. And whereas we do not appoint women as elders or deacons … these ladies serve our congregation with such skill and devotion that we would be hard-pressed without them.
In 2016 God gave us another building. After two years without contact, a pastor called me and immediately asked me if we wanted a building. This was God’s kind providence, for that very week at Summit we had developed a mold problem and were scurrying around trying to resolve the issue. The facilities in Bull Shoals are newer, larger, and better suited to us than at Summit (the main building at Summit being built in 1906). After our move, we changed our name to Grace Church of Bull Shoals. And the Lord has blessed us there with more visitors than at Summit.
What is your greatest desire/burden for your church going forward?
That God would continue to keep us faithful to Him, knit us together in love, preserve us from the evil one, and enable us to be a light in the darkness. We have been given much (sound doctrine, material necessities, kind and godly members etc.), and so much is required of us. I am thankful for all the ways that I see our people walking in truth and serving with joy and reaching out with love. My desire is that we increase always in the everyday disciplines to which God has called us. So much of the life of a local church is the daily worship of God, faithfulness to Him, caring for one another and reaching out to the lost and needy. I am burdened that we so love Jesus Christ who died to secure a people for Himself, that we are willing to die daily to sin and self to let others see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
Rick Thomis, Assoicate Pastor.
“While serving a church in north central Arkansas over a decade ago, I felt like I was the Lone Ranger in a desolate land. To my knowledge, there was no other pastor or church in the area that held to the Doctrines of Grace. Then "by chance," I was given a church bulletin from a friend that listed a pastor named David Butler who was going to be teaching on the five points of Calvinism. At the time, Dave was the pastor of Summit Sovereign Grace Baptist Church and had been invited by a pastor friend of a large congregation in Mountain Home, Arkansas to teach on the five points, even though this pastor didn't preach them publicly himself. The rest was history. I contacted brother Dave, and for years we enjoyed sweet fellowship. From time to time, I filled the pulpit for him until the Lord called him home. Dave's son, Ryan, became the pastor, and we stayed in contact. Soon we began to realize that we held almost all things in common. Ryan asked me to join him in the work at Summit, and now, for the past five years, we have enjoyed serving God together. Ryan is a dear, humble servant of the Lord, and I count it a privilege to labor with him.”
The Williams family.
“Grace Church of Bull Shoals provides a great place to love on other Christians and delve deeply into God's Word. My family and I have slowly rotated to reformed theology as it lines up with scripture and makes sense to us. When we moved from the Houston, TX area to Arkansas we wanted to continue the sweet fellowship and learning we had found. We found it at Grace Church. We drive 2 hours one way to church to enjoy the fellowship and to worship with like minded Christians. - We now have an extended family that is so very dear to our hearts. It gives one a feel of how heaven will be when we get to worship God with a multitude of fellow believers. Praise God for His grace and provision.”