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His flock includes mom, dad, grandfather, sisters & more

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Brandon Brasel is a brave man; some would say fearless.

He is pastor of the church where he grew up. About one-third of the members are his extended family -– four generations of them.

“I’m proud to be pastor of First Baptist [in Parthenon, Ark.],” Brasel said. “It is a little weird to be pastor of the church where I grew up, but at the same time, I love all these people and I know they love me and my wife and daughters.”

The Brasels joined about 80 others at a unique conference titled “Toolbox for the Smaller Church Pastor and his Wife” earlier this year at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.

Brasel, 28, said he was “a pretty good kid” growing up, so there aren’t a lot of horror stories about his youth or teenage years he has to live down.

“The former pastor told one story on me about when I was a little boy, about 3, when he looked out the window during his sermon and saw me jumping up and down in a mud puddle. I don’t remember how I escaped from the service, but I guess I sneaked out somehow. The preacher said he couldn’t help himself and started laughing. He said the next thing he remembered was my dad going out to get me!”

Then there was the time as a teenager that he was making a lot of noise riding his four-wheeler around the home of an elderly woman from the church.

“She didn’t think much of that,” Brasel said, a little embarrassed at the memory. But that same woman is now 90 years old and dealing with cancer. “We have developed such a great relationship,” he said. “I go and sit with her and visit with her and pray with her. She is happy with me as her pastor.”

Brasel is a bivocational pastor, working on the family farm with his father and grandfather. They raise beef cattle and operate a saw mill and logging business. The Brasel family has been in the area for generations.

Brandon and his wife, Candra, met in elementary school, but then her family moved to a neighboring town and she transferred to a different school. They reconnected when she was a freshman in college and was his cousin’s roommate. Except for a six-month period soon after their marriage in 1996, the Brasels have lived in the area their entire lives. “This is home,” she said.

Family connections abound in the church -– mom, dad, grandfather, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews. Brasel’s father and a cousin are deacons.

“I have three older sisters, and two of them and their kids are members,” Brasel said. One sister is widowed and one divorced, so Brasel has taken on multiple roles as uncle, father figure and pastor to his nieces and nephews. “It’s cool having that kind of relationship with them,” he said. “I think they feel some accountability with me being the pastor of their church. Maybe it makes them think a little bit.”

About 40-50 people attend First Baptist on Sunday mornings. About 15 are youth. “When I came, there were only about three youth, but now we have about 30 in our Wednesday night group,” he said. “Most of the youth who come do it on their own. Most of them don’t have a mom or dad who comes with them. They get themselves up and to church. My hat goes off to them. I don’t know that I would have done that when I was their age.”

Candra, a mental health specialist who coordinates the school-based mental health services for the Harrison (Ark.) public school system, knows youth can benefit from being in church. “We encourage the youth to be involved in a church youth group, whether it’s ours or another one.”

Both of the Brasels hope to see more children reached by the church. “We do a big Vacation Bible School every summer,” she said. “Lots of children come to that, but we haven’t developed a big children’s program at the church yet.”

Brasel said he looks forward to using the tools he learned during the conference at his church. “The best thing I have learned is how to match people’s skills with the jobs at the church. It’s important to involve everyone in the work, no matter what they can do.”

First Baptist is in the tiny north Arkansas hamlet of Parthenon, about six miles from Jasper, a town of about 500 on the Buffalo River in Newton County. The entire county only has about 8,500 people, based on figures from a 2002 survey.

“We are never going to be a huge church,” Brasel said. “There just aren’t that many people living around here. But there are still people to reach and people who need to know the Lord. So we’ll keep serving where we are.”

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  • Polly House