Called to Pastor During COVID


Pastor Cody Battefeld (MDIV 2020) leads multiple Sunday morning services: 8:45 AM, 10:00 AM and 11:15 AM, a typical schedule for a large urban or suburban church. But that’s not his dream nor calling. Cody pastors three rural churches in three unique coal mining communities…in the time of COVID. “For someone fresh out of seminary it’s been a lot,” he admits.

In July 2020, this recent Northern Seminary alum began as Lead Pastor for United Methodist congregations in the Southern Illinois towns of Coulterville, Tilden and Marissa (the latter being the largest with a population of 2,000). Some Northern seminarians would be knee-deep into culture shock right now but Cody feels right at home. In fact, he was born and raised in a town half the size of Marissa.

Moving to a large Chicago suburb to attend Northern Seminary pulled Cody out of his comfort zone. “I was the country boy thrown into the city. I had to adapt and rely heavily on God,” Cody remembers. Though challenging, he kept moving forward with his end goal in mind: ministering to neglected and struggling rural areas. According to him, seminary is “well worth the investment. You aren’t always investing in yourself but the Church.”

While attending Northern, he was surprised at how many of his peers really didn’t understand small-town America. He teamed up with Dr. James Kent, Affiliate Professor of Ministry, to develop an independent study focused on rural ministry.

One challenge he couldn’t prepare for? A pandemic. He now navigates difficult situations and dynamics made more difficult by COVID. In the first two weeks as pastor, he had the painful responsibility of telling one family they couldn’t hold a funeral at the church—their church—because of health restrictions.  Especially in these times, Cody says, “You need patience, open ears and letting things roll of your shoulders…you have to focus on God and listen to people.”

Northern seeks to develop each seminarian into a transformational leader. For Pastor Cody Battefeld, transformational leadership means “being willing to be transformed and teaching transformation. I’ve been talking to people about their willingness to walk on a transformational journey with Christ.” His primary goal now is to determine how we can minister to the community and still be safe. “I’m caretaking, getting people through the pandemic and providing hope.”



As Pastor David Rinck (MACM 2020) and his family drove out of northern Maine in 2016, he wasn’t just leaving their recently shuttered Pentecostal church. He was leaving full-time ministry.  David recalls, “I told God that I was done. I was going to work factory jobs and raise my kids.”

Yet, he also knew he had to make sense of what had happened in Maine. Even with an undergraduate degree in pastoral ministry and biblical studies, he encountered teachings completely unfamiliar to him. A friend told him, “You know what to think but you need to know how to think.” Several of David’s mentors encouraged him to consider seminary.

In an act of obedience to God, David chose Northern Seminary. He explains, “I needed to understand things differently. The faculty really drew me to Northern. They thought differently than what I was taught.” As he attended Seminary, the fire for ministry began to burn again.

One of David’s professors, Dr. Dennis Edwards, likened studying and teaching God’s Word to “digging the well and the deeper the well the fresher the water.”  While a seminarian, David was asked to preach at the church his family attended. “As I walked off the stage, I realized the well had been dug deeper than I had imagined. I was amazed at the depth of information that came out, the way it was packaged,” he remembers. The experience solidified his calling to pastor and preach the Word.

David graduated this year from Northern with a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (and is now pursuing an MDIV through Northern Live). In October, Pastor David Rinck began his ministry at an Assembly of God (AOG) church in the small southern Illinois town of Bridgeport. He chooses to see the timing of his call to the church during COVID as a blessing. “I thank God for the experience I had at Northern,” he acknowledges, “I wouldn’t be approaching COVID the way I am now without seminary. It’s rewired me to think differently.”

The pandemic’s halt to most ministries allows Bridgeport’s AOG to prayerfully dream God’s future for their church. A changed leader himself, David believes Christians would do well to abandon pre-COVID approaches to church and transform the way they minister. He defines transformational leadership, a hallmark of Northern Seminary training, as “prayerful, humble, honest and passionate dedication.”



Next month, current seminarian Amanda Clark (2022-MANT) becomes the lead pastor of Branches Vineyard Church in Warsaw, Indiana. This is surprising not only because she becomes the church’s first female pastor but Amanda herself would have disapproved of this appointment not long ago.

“I was raised very traditional, as far as women in the church, I was comfortably complementarian,” Amanda recalls. As she became more involved in leadership, the Holy Spirit began to make her less comfortable with this stance.

Amanda defines transformational leadership as “partnering with the Holy Spirit to help others discover, develop and flourish in their gifts.” This definition mirrors her own journey as a church leader.

In 2014, Amanda and her husband, Justin, answered a call to plant The Vine in Goshen, Indiana. She has held numerous roles and responsibilities, including preaching, as Director of Newcomers at The Vine.

Fellow leaders and mentors encouraged Amanda to develop the gifts she was so clearly given. They pressed her to attend a preaching class for women. Amanda warily agreed, “I was really suspicious. I had been trained to sniff out feminists. But I felt the Holy Spirit say to me you are safe here. That started me on the path to examine what God had called me to do.”

In 2018, Amanda began pursuing a Master of Arts in New Testament at Northern Seminary. This new seminarian immediately dove into a study of women as preachers.

Accessing a wealth of resources available through Northern, her study resulted in a 30-page research project and a confirmation that a woman can be called as a lead pastor; that she was called to be a lead pastor.

Amanda deeply values the environment that Northern creates to cultivate women leaders. She explains, “The professors and faculty would all expect you to do great things which was part of confirming my calling as a pastor.”

Both she and her church have taken a brave stance. Warsaw, the home base of the legendary preacher Billy Sunday, is a traditional and conservative town. A male pastor would have been an easy choice for them. During this tumultuous year, they also adopted a strong anti-racism stance, opened their church more slowly than others amidst the pandemic and continue to strongly encourage masks. Amanda says, “This church has been making brave leadership decisions and I know God has called me into brave leadership as well.”

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