By Darrell Todd Maurina
During most weekdays, Randy Billingsley wears the uniform of an Air Force master sergeant, working with the 27th Medical Group at Cannon Air Force Base. However, on Wednesday nights and Sundays, Billingsley commutes about an hour northwest of Clovis where he serves as the part-time pastor of Forrest Community Church, a small congregation with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Billingsley said he’s been attending church all his life, but even though his father became a Southern Baptist pastor when he was 15, he never considered entering the ministry himself as a young man.
“When I graduated from high school I worked for a year before joining the military,” Billingsley said. “I felt the call to go into the ministry in 1994. I knew what my dad went through and I ran, but in June of 1997 I was ordained.”
Rather than leaving enlisted life in the Air Force, Billingsley began to serve in a variety of assistant pastor roles in various churches where he was stationed with the Air Force. When he was reassigned to Cannon, Billingsley was asked to serve a church he normally wouldn’t have considered.
“We got here and starting visiting the different SBC churches and worshiping various places,” Billingsley said. “About a month and a half later, I got a phone call from the director of missions in Tucumcari who formerly had ties with Forrest Community Church. (The pastor) had fallen and injured himself and they asked if I could fill in at Forrest during the month of December 2002. He had told the church, ‘If you want to go ahead and call someone else, do so.’”
Forrest Community Church has often had retired pastors or student pastors, but a pastor serving on active duty in the military was something new for the small congregation, which numbered about two dozen when they called him.
“With me being in the military and not being available all the time, … the church has learned to do things by themselves,” Billingsley said. “The church understands I could be called away at the drop of a hat, and they have appreciated me being up-front and honest with them.”
Far from being a problem, Billingsley said the church has nearly doubled in attendance, added a Wednesday night Bible study, hosted a summer vacation Bible school for the first time in at least two decades, and done some rebuilding of the church’s interior that added a balcony for additional seating space.
The military has also been supportive, Billingsley said.
“The military encourages community involvement; this is a little different from how most people do community involvement, but it’s been cool,” Billingsley said. “The military has allowed me to be their pastor and it’s been a good fit.”
Apart from some Wednesday night Bible studies for which he’s had to train laymen to assume leadership roles, Billingsley said his military duties haven’t generally caused complications for his pastoral work.
The church doesn’t have a formally elected board of deacons, but as the descendant of families that moved to the area in 1898, local farmer David Rush considers himself a longtime committed member of the church.
“Over the years, we’ve had a ‘we’ll take what we can get’ attitude toward pastors — we’ve had a lot of student pastors who have gone on to larger churches, and we’ve had retired pastors who wanted to remain in the ministry but have less work as they got older,” Rush said. “God always has just the right pastor for us.”
For now, that means Billingsley — and Rush said the church loves to have a younger man with years of prior experience in pastoral roles.
“We’ll keep him as long as the Lord calls him here,” Rush said. “He’s a really dynamic, forward-looking person; he’s what we needed. He makes people do things, he makes us get out of the church and work in the community.”
Rush’s wife Jerri concurred.
“Randy sees our church has a direction to go; he inspires cohesiveness and doesn’t want our church to do anything without praying about it and seeking God’s will,” she said. “He’s got a nice family and we’re glad to have him here.”
Billingsley is close to retiring from the military and said he’s torn about whether to seek a call to a full-time pastoral position or remain at Forrest Community Church.
“I don’t want to stop the momentum at Forrest,” Billingsley said. “People are growing, but the things that are going on are not about me, they are about God.
“God has not yet shown me where we will go, and I just want to seek his leading,” he said.