New district minister works to strengthen CDC churches
by Myra Holmes
When Rick Eshbaugh was growing up in Ulysses, Kan., his father ran an auto body shop where he was introduced to the process of smoothing dings, taking out dents and bringing beauty out of brokenness.
One car in particular stands out: a beaten up 1961 Austin Healey Sprite that was received as payment. The car sat untouched for years, until Eshbaugh took on the project and restored the car to its former beauty so that he could give his aging father a ride in it. Then he sold it. For Eshbaugh, the joy was in the restoration, not in the car.
Now Eshbaugh brings that passion for restoration to his role as district minister for the Central District Conference (CDC). He began Jan. 1, shouldering up to 70 percent of the district minister role while also pastoring the Harvey (ND) MB Church. Former district minister Roger Engbrecht serves part-time as minister to the district’s ethnic congregations.
Eshbaugh has experienced his fair share of personal dents, dings and renovation, and he has a deep desire to see churches restored to full effectiveness, whether that means polishing out minor scratches or overhauling major brokenness.
“What draws me is restoration,” he says. “That’s what drew me to the church and to Christ in the first place—restoration, helping heal those things that are broken. For me, that’s what’s most important.”
Eshbaugh came to Christ during a time of personal crisis in high school, influenced by a teacher who happened to be a Mennonite Brethren. As he grew in his faith, he pursued a call to youth ministry with an education at Sterling (Kan.) College, where he met his wife, Esther (couple pictured above).
Their first ministry assignment was with a Presbyterian congregation in Illinois.
“I went there to eat pizza and play with the kids and do ministry,” Eshbaugh says, “but I kind of walked into a buzz saw.”
The church was deeply troubled, and after only a year, the Eshbaughs fled back to Ulysses. The collision had been significant; Eshbaugh was broken.
“I was very disillusioned,” he says.
Remembering that his influential high school teacher, Max Hiebert, attended Ulysses MB Church, Eshbaughs gave the church a try. There, they found restoration. Pastor Jules Glanzer and his wife, Peg, were especially instrumental, Eshbaugh says. Glanzer now serves as president of Tabor College, the MB-owned school in Hillsboro, Kan.
With the full financial and spiritual support of Ulysses MB, Eshbaugh went to seminary at the MB Biblical Seminary in Fresno, Calif., and dared to re-enter ministry.
Over a couple of decades of ministry, Eshbaugh has served congregations in the Southern, Pacific and Central districts, including: Enid (Okla.) MB Church; Fairview MB Church, Topeka, Kan., (now Cornerstone Community Church); Birch Bay Bible Community Church, Blaine, Wash.; North Park Community Church, Eugene, Ore.; and now Harvey (ND) MB Church.
A growing interest in church health led him to work alongside then-SDC district minister Roland Reimer in resourcing pastors and revitalizing congregations using Church Resource Ministries, then to join the CRM staff. A specific interest in helping churches through transition and conflict then led to training in intentional interim ministry.
“I think I’ve seen ministry from about every angle,” Eshbaugh says.
He’s seen churches renewed, and he’s seen churches close. He has worked with a variety of church settings and situations. He has walked with congregations through building projects, relocations and pastoral transitions.
And he has worked to mend conflicts rather than just painting over the cracks.
“It seems like I’ve worked with lots of broken churches over the years,” he says—especially through his work with CRM.
But that’s OK with him. “I like things that are broken,” he says, referring again to that Austin Healey, pictured left. “I’d rather restore something than buy something new.”
Eshbaugh describes the district minister as “pastor to the pastors,” a liaison and a resource for district congregations and a CDC representative at the national level. The role necessarily includes a great deal of travel as he visits pastors and connects with some 26 congregations throughout Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska and the Dakotas.
Since Eshbaugh is also pastoring the Harvey church, he tries to limit Sunday absences. While the dual role will be a balancing act, Eshbaugh says the Harvey congregation “viewed this as a way to serve the district.” The church is looking for an associate pastor both to help shoulder the load and to be trained in a hands-on environment.
Eshbaugh says that, in general, the CDC churches have a passion for the lost and a “tenacious” commitment to expanding the kingdom of God through evangelism, church planting and missions. They have a strong heritage and a firm foundation and understand good stewardship.
And yet, many CDC congregations have taken hits. As demographics and economics shift, especially in rural areas, many are facing change or even fighting for survival.
Eshbaugh dreams that all CDC churches will roar to new life rather than limp down the road. Local congregations, he says, are on the front lines of ministry and have the opportunity to do great things for the kingdom. He dreams of every church emboldened with new vision and empowered to transform their community.
“I have a passion for existing churches,” he says. “How can we help them?”
Restoration could look different for each congregation, he points out. Some may need only a polish; some will need to overhaul how they think about ministry. But when congregations learn how to reach out in unique ways that fit their communities, those communities will know renewal as well.
“I would love to see Christ’s church expanded,” he says.