Preacher re-discovers calling
Jeff Lee learned he had a heart for ministry when, at age 22, he became the youth leader in a small Wesleyan church in Lansing, Mich.
The church was in a rough neighborhood. Lee and his wife, Dawn, reached out and opened their home to area youth. In time, the youth group grew from four to 40. When the church meeting room filled, meetings spread to the church lawn.
Several youths were gang members. They experienced things they otherwise would not have, such as attending camp.
“You had to show respect to them and still show strength,” Lee said.
That was the beginning of a ministry that led to Lee’s ordination in the Wesleyan Church.
Lee, 51, became pastor of Florence and Aulne United Methodist churches July 8. He calls himself a country preacher who is a cowboy at heart. He shies from formality and focuses on personal relationships as the basis of his ministry.
A pivotal time in Lee’s life occurred when the couple took a group of young people to Marion College, now Indiana Wesleyan University, to spend time with college students. An associate professor of religion there was impressed with Lee’s desire and ability to minister to people and convinced him to return as a student and enter full-time ministry.
Lee received a bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry, graduating in 1990 at age 28. He went on to pursue graduate work.
For the next 16 years, Lee was involved in full-time ministry, serving churches in Indiana, Michigan, Kansas, Colorado, and Iowa. From 2003 to 2006, he was a pastor in a Friends church in Iowa.
Health problems forced Lee to leave the ministry for a time. He became a church consultant and earned a master’s degree in U.S. military history.
After his health problems were alleviated, Lee became restless to return to the ministry.
With the urging of his wife and four grown children, he sent out resumes and considered invitations.
His son, Ryan Lee, had become youth coordinator for the First United Methodist Church in Salina.
The minister at the time was the Rev. Troy Bowers, son of Vernon and Arlene Bowers of Marion. He told Ryan about a pastorate that was open at the Aulne and Florence churches.
Ryan encouraged his father to consider a ministry there.
Lee sent a resume to the district superintendent, met with him, and surreptitiously checked out the two churches. He decided he was interested, but he found himself having to make a difficult decision.
“Driving home to Iowa, I was choked up about it,” he said. “We had never had our own home. After all those years of ministry, we finally had a dream home that we built in 2006. And it would be hard to leave the two grandsons and granddaughter we had in Iowa.”
He and his wife prayed about it and felt led to answer the call.
“It’s been good,” he said. “The Aulne and Florence people are great people. Both churches have a real heart for their communities. We are still learning how to be Methodists.
“We’re Kansans at heart. My kids liked living at Lakin. Kansans are unique individuals. They are friendly. I don’t think there is a place we’ve been in Kansas where we didn’t like living or visiting.”
Lee said his ministry has seen growth. Five or six families have joined the Aulne church. However, he does not take the credit for it.
“I have to give credit to the Lord,” he said.
The response he has received from congregation members has been good.
“I get a sense from what I’m hearing that it’s a good match,” he said. “From my perspective, I think it’s going well.”
He wants people to feel as comfortable at church as they would be at home.
“If we want to experience grace, mercy, and love, we have to be willing to disperse it to others,” he said.