Chris Waddle has been in Nevada long enough to develop some opinions about the town.
Waddle, 44, who became the pastor of Nevada United Methodist Church in early July, finds the community to be a friendly place. “I’ve been pleased by the fact that people who don’t know me say ‘hi’ to me on the sidewalk,” he said. And, he likes Nevada’s proximity to Ames – a community he says reminds him a lot of the town where he grew up.
Ames, he shared, is a lot like Hattiesburg, Miss., was in the 1970s. “I like that,” Waddle said, commenting that this comparison has mainly to do with the size of the town and the university community.
Hattiesburg is home to William Carey University, the place where Waddle first attended college, and where his father teaches health and physical education. His mother was also an educator in Hattiesburg, but worked at the other end of the spectrum, having taught both kindergarten and Head Start teachers.
After attending William Carey University, Waddle earned a counseling degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and eventually a Master’s of Divinity from Duke University Divinity School in Durham, N.C.
Waddle pastored at several churches in Mississippi before coming to Iowa in 2001, taking a job as chaplain and director of church relations at Simpson College in Indianola. He was at Simpson until 2009, when he was appointed to serve three churches in the Milo area, where he stayed until coming to Nevada.
Waddle, a man who enjoys intellectual discussion and likes to think of himself as a “myth buster,” said there’s a short answer to why he became a minister. “I feel that God has called me and has given me gifts to help others live into their calling to follow Jesus,” he said.
Being called to be a pastor, he added, “just makes me different; it doesn’t make me better. All of us who say ‘yes’ to following Jesus have a calling. It may or may not relate to how we make our money, but I believe my calling is to help other people discover their calling.”
It was this notion of “discovery” that attracted Waddle to the campus ministry position at Simpson, because at that time of life when one is attending college, “that’s a time when we’re asking those calling questions,” he said. Waddle enjoyed campus ministry, but said he also enjoys the ministry in a congregation. “I don’t see the role as being fundamentally different, it’s just a different environment.”
Whether working with people who are college age or any age, Waddle said the reward he gets as a pastor is when he can be part of someone discovering why the Gospel of Jesus matters to their lives at any particular moment in their lives. “I like it when people are able to be part of God’s love in healing the world around them,” he said.
He believes that Jesus calls people to become truly human. “I believe that’s what the Gospel is about, not about signing your name on the dotted line of a church’s membership role.”
There are challenges in the church today and challenges right here at Nevada’s Methodist Church. Waddle thinks the biggest challenge for the local congregation is to learn to think about what it means to be part of what God is doing in the community and in the lives of those outside of the church. He talks about it as mission work, and said the key to it is “organizing our energy, time and money around meeting the needs” of those who may not be members. “God is already working to meet those needs – for healing and wholeness – before we get there. The challenge is learning to do that and make that our priority, rather than making our priority maintaining the organization we call the church.”
Waddle said another challenge for his congregation and others is to create cultures that are not completely unfamiliar or frightening to people who have never been in a church, without completely embracing all the ways and trappings of the culture around us. Those trappings, he explained, are things that might misrepresent or compromise the Gospel.
Along with all of this, Waddle enjoys a good debate, especially when it comes to science and religion. This is where his “myth buster” role comes into play. He uses as an example the belief that there’s a war between science and religion. “Just not true,” he said. “Faith and science are not these separate spheres that never touch; they overlap and I’m interested in that overlap. I’m interested in challenging this popular idea that you have to choose whether to be a critically thinking person or a person who takes religion seriously.” Where Waddle is concerned, you can be both.
And he loves to open doors on this idea. “What gets me excited is when a critically thinking, skeptical (about religion) person says, ‘I never thought about it like that before’ … and finds that there might be a bigger understanding (between science and religion) than what they ever realized.”
Waddle said he often finds himself saying, “I think we have experiences of God and then we spend our life trying to understand them.”
Waddle said he’s found the Nevada ministerial group – known as COMMON – to be a good group of people, and he likes that there’s an ecumenical spirit in the community. “Any way that we’re better together is a good thing,” he said, “but we do need places to be who we are.” So it’s good there are a variety of churches in the community, that can help people find who they are. “I’m happy when someone finds life and can truly be committed to Jesus, wherever that is,” he said.
Waddle has come to Nevada with his wife, Sarah, and their 6-year-old son. Favorite pastimes for Waddle include fishing, kayaking, traveling and enjoying good food and weird food. “I like trying different things,” he said, especially food from other cultures. And, like most pastors, he always enjoys a good potluck dinner.
The initial goals for Waddle in his new congregation are to listen to the church’s story, learn the gifts of his membership, learn the needs of the community and help find a vision for the church to work with what God is already doing in the community.