Sherry L. Welch likes to have a full plate. In addition to being director of women’s ministries since 2001 for the Assemblies of God Southern Missouri District — plus a mom, grandmother, and minister’s wife — she is an ordained AG minister serving as lead pastor of Seymour Life Church since 2014.
After eight years as sectional representative, Welch hit the ground running at the district office, supervising the first women’s retreat under her leadership right after the tragic events of 9/11. The pace hasn’t let up. The district offers women a yearly spring conference, “Empowered to Serve,” and a fall retreat at the district campground, where this year’s theme is “Abiding in Him,” along with other events to encourage women in leadership. Welch has spoken at women’s conferences in several African countries, the Middle East, Central America, and Mexico.
“Our primary goal is to encourage women,” says Welch, who travels regularly throughout the district assisting churches in establishing or expanding women’s ministry. “We try to help them find their giftings so they can use them to encourage others and further the kingdom of God.” The district also offers specific support for ministry to single moms, younger women, and widows.
Another big priority is missions. Under the motto, “Compelled by Compassion,” women’s ministries in the district support Southern Missouri missionaries through multiple projects, often focusing on worldwide needs of women and children. There is also a shopping room for missionary needs, kept stocked by annual “Compassionate Heart” rallies across the district. Welch says needs have been high in 2020 and 2021, as multiple missionaries unexpectedly had to leave the field due to COVID-19, even as no in-person rallies could be held to gather supplies. God nevertheless has provided abundantly.
Welch lives 45 miles east of Springfield in Mansfield, where for 25 years she served alongside her husband, Stan, as he pastored Mansfield Assembly of God. Stan L. Welch accepted the district position of secretary/treasurer in 2006. Commuting into Springfield, the Welches regularly passed the church in Seymour. As district staff, they knew the church faced impending closure with dwindling attendance. Stan felt Sherry could pastor there.
Although she has held ministerial credentials since 2010, Sherry hadn’t considered pastoral ministry in addition to her district work.
“I do like to stay busy, but being a pastor was not on my spiritual radar,” she says. My life was full and blessed.” Son Steven and daughter Summer both live in the area with their families. With Stan’s encouragement, though, Sherry gave the idea some thought.
Further confirmation came through Ted L. Cederblom, pastor of Springfield’s Life360 Church. As district executive presbyter, he had been tasked with oversight of the struggling church, including appointing a pastor if the district felt closure could be avoided.
“Sherry is anointed of God, a talented leader and project director,” he says. “It seemed clear God was calling her.” She accepted the position.
One immediate challenge involved the reality that some in the rural church didn’t embrace the notion of a woman pastor. The congregation had dwindled to about a dozen regular attendees, and more left with the announcement of Welch’s appointment. The situation didn’t surprise Cederblom, who is familiar with rural communities comprising the Life360 network. He believes a woman’s tendency toward a nurturing heart is frequently exactly what rural communities need.
Perseverance has paid off, as the congregation now averages 105 on Sundays. The church has a part-time associate pastor, youth and children’s ministry, girls ministries, and Royal Rangers. Seymour Life Church reaches out to area single moms and also partners with local schools in a food program to help children who would not otherwise have a decent meal after coming home for the day.
The turnaround has not been without personal sacrifice of family time, finances, and the ability to travel with her husband. Others have come alongside, including Stan, who leads Wednesday evening Bible study. The church holds an annual kids crusade, and a friend day outreach.