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Pastor Rister shares passion for community outreach

The call to ministry was strong for Pastor John Rister. Strong enough for him to end his 20-year career in the auto industry and move his Monroe, Michigan-based family more than 1,200 miles to pursue a degree in pastoral ministries.

Rister, of Backus Nazarene Church, went from working as a millwright for Ford Motor Company to attending Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs.

Rister said the call to ministry felt scary. He was two-thirds of the way to retirement and felt that God was leading him in a different direction.

“I just felt that there was more to life than what I was living at the time. That’s when I just felt a tug in my heart that I needed to be in ministry full time,” he said.

At first his wife, Julie, was hesitant, so they stayed put for several years. Then she, too, felt the call, so they moved with their daughters Abby and Emily to Colorado Springs.

Rister received his Pastoral Ministry Degree there and is now an ordained minister for Church of the Nazarene.

“Our family has become a stronger family; it’s just been a blessing for us,” Rister said of his journey into ministry. “God has taken care of us even through difficult times that we’ve faced in our own, personal lives. But we’ve trusted in Him and He’s gotten us through some pretty remarkable times.”

He thought he was going to be a youth pastor, but during the last year of college he felt the call to become a senior pastor with an emphasis on reaching young families and teenagers.

When he first got the call to come to Backus, Rister didn’t know where the town was. He initially searched near the metro area on the Minnesota map trying to find it.

He officially started as pastor in July 2010, with Backus Nazarene as his first congregation. It was a big change to move to Northern Minnesota, but the family adjusted. Julie is a paraprofessional at Pine River-Backus School. Daughter Abby is a 10th grader who is on the volleyball team. Daughter Emily is attending college at Bemidji State University.

Growing the church and reaching into the community to young people and families has been Rister’s passion and vision.

The church has really concentrated on outreach activities.

This fall they completed a Back to School Bash where they packed basic school-supply bags to give to kids headed back to school. They also had a party outside with games and refreshments for the community.

The church has also held Princess Retreats geared towards young ladies’ purity. “We’re trying to show them who they are in God’s eyes instead of how the world perceives young women,” Rister explained.

The church also held a Wild Game Feed this month featuring speakers Mark and Dan Witt who shared a touching story of their father who was killed in a hunting accident.

Thanksgiving Dinner and Easter breakfast are also big draws for community participation.

“My philosophy is: ‘if we’re going to do something; let’s do it right,’” Rister said.

That motto helped inspire Backus Nazarene’s Daniel and the Lions’ Den-themed Vacation Bible School float that received an award in the Backus Corn Fest Parade.

The church reaches people in a number of ways including 9 a.m. services on Sunday followed by 10:30 a.m. Sunday School. Wednesday nights they have a community meal followed by Bible Study for kids, teens and adults.

Rister is involved in the Working Together Coalition: A Coalition for Safe and Healthy Communities. If there are positive people in teens’ lives they are less likely to go down certain roads, he said.

“I came from a background of heavy alcohol and drug problems. I found the Lord. He helped me through,” Rister said. His personal experience with addiction has made him approachable for others that are struggling. “God uses our experiences in life to reach particular groups of people. I think that is one of the areas where he has helped me to reach people,” he said.

Rister, the sole pastor at Backus Nazarene, spends a lot of time at church preparing for services and counseling, consoling and visiting those in need.

And, people in need are always welcome in the church. “The focus is to continue to reach out into the community; to make a difference in this community. I want us to be a church of difference, of hope,” Rister said.

More information about Backus Nazarene Church is available online at: