LOUP CITY, Neb. (BP) – They are two skills anyone can learn but many don’t – listening and trusting. Ryan Durham’s life has given him experience in both, and he uses them as pastor of Calvary Church, a replanted congregation barely seven months old.
Before becoming a pastor, Durham was a trucker. Most of that was over-the-road, where he would cover all 48 contiguous states and be gone from his family for up to seven weeks.
His introduction to that life started was he was 16 years old, and in a manner he says “wasn’t perfectly legal.”
“I grew up in Texas but would spend summers with my uncle in Colorado,” he said. “He hauled cattle and liked to take a short nap before he got home so he wouldn’t be tired when he got there. He taught me how to drive the rig.”
One day his uncle crawled in the back to nap while Durham waited in the passenger seat. A minute later his uncle’s head popped out from behind the curtain that separated the cab from the bed and asked what Durham was doing.
“I said I was waiting on him and he said this would be a good time to head to the house. Then he said, ‘It’s that way.’”
Durham hopped into the driver’s seat, but was aware he actually wasn’t alone.
“I knew he was back there sitting behind the curtain. About five miles from the house, he popped his head back out and said, “OK, stop the truck. If your aunt sees you driving, she’s going to kill me.”
Durham listened and learned. His uncle gave him the opportunity to put those lessons into action, albeit with 50,000 pounds of cattle in tow.
Those principles have factored in to his role at Calvary. Durham and his wife, Brandi, began attending Calvary Church in Englewood, Colo., in 2015. Calvary had been founded in 1952, but by 2009 was near extinction. A desire to return to its roots with a focus on church planting led to establishing other churches in the state and beyond.
Still a trucker, Durham felt a call to ministry. He began attending online classes through Gateway Seminary just as Calvary began a cohort training experience for those exploring a call to plant and replant churches.
“They took a chance on me,” said Durham, “a blue-collar truck driver working 90 hours a week.”
In 2019, living in the Denver area had become expensive and the Durhams were considering a move. An elder at their church suggested Kearney, Neb., where they could get some more experience with a Calvary church plant there.
COVID extended those plans, leading to a longer stay in Kearney. So did their daughter, who still had another year of high school to go, when she was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
“We were like, well, we thought we’d be here for two years and now we’re here for a minimum of four,” Durham said. “We didn’t know what the Lord was doing, honestly.”
One day at a yard sale he started talking to a young lady who mentioned a struggling church in Loup City, 45 minutes away, that needed a pastor. Durham connected her with Calvary leaders back in Colorado. Those conversations led to Durham’s meeting with the Loup City church in May 2022.
The initial plan was to preach once a month during the summer “and then kind of see where things went,” Durham said.
His and Brandi’s first visit to a midweek Bible study brought an instant connection.
“The first question I asked was why they loved that church and everyone who was there,” Durham said. “Instead of talking about the things the church had done in the past, what they loved about the building and things like that, they talked about the community and how much they loved it.
“They had kind of lost their way on really preaching the Gospel to the community and they knew that needed to happen. They were sheep without a shepherd.”
Before the meeting was over, the couple had promised to serve the entire month of June. They haven’t left.
The Durhams are a blended family and know about patience, working with others and how that can develop, or fracture, trust.
In a town like Loup City – population just over 1,000 – people know what’s going on with others. Grace Bible was relaunched last October as Calvary Church, Loup City, and attendance has grown from the dozen or so last summer to about twice that. Durham is talking to a young man who is considering baptism. Other measures of growth come from local police telling Durham who they don’t see as much because of Calvary’s impact on the community.
He’s still a trucker, but hauls fuel to a truck stop only 45 minutes away. Some days he’ll switch off from the fuel tanker and hook up a grain trailer to take grain to an ethanol plant. His new boss supports him as a pastor, giving Durham Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays off.
Currently, Durham is looking for a job in Loup City to be closer to the church. Meanwhile, he’ll keep counseling over the phone while driving and listening to recorded commentaries. He’s working through one about the Book of Ruth that he recorded himself reading so he could listen to it again while driving.
There are other aspects of being a pastor he says he’s learned from Mark Hallock, lead pastor at Calvary, Englewood, and Mark Clifton, director of Church Replanting and Rural Strategy for the North American Mission Board.
“There’s a term, tactical patience,” he said. “There may be a hundred reasons a church is dying, and we can’t fix them all in a week. I learned that a lot with my family as we grew together.
“That’s helped me a lot, moving into the replant world.”