The "Dock Talk" is a segment on DrydenWire where we sit down with a community member for a Q-&-A chat at our favorite coffeehouse, The Dock Coffee in Spooner, WI. Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Spooner Wesleyan Pastor, Ron Gormong. The following is are just a few things we talked about during our time together.
DrydenWire: What kind of coffee are you drinking today?
Pastor Ron: Actually, I went with cocoa rather than coffee.
Is coffee a big part of your day?
Not really, though I sometimes drink a little in the mornings (doctored up with plenty of milk and chocolate and whatever else!). On occasion, I will purchase a specialty drink at a coffee shop. But really, I’m more of a “Diet Coke” guy.
How many years have you been a Pastor?
Thirty-two years total; I have served in Spooner at The Wesleyan Church since 1988.
When did you know you wanted to be a Pastor?
I grew up on a hog and grain farm in Indiana. Like many farm kids, I, along with my three brothers, worked beside our dad a lot. But I also played a lot . . . baseball, basketball, ball sports. My parents were committed Christians, and, in time, I became a devoted follower of Christ, too. As a family, we were very involved in ministry at my home church and in the community, particularly through music. However, it wasn’t until I graduated from college (Math major / Computer Science minor) and was employed as a Computer Programmer in Eau Claire, Wi, that I sensed God’s call to ministry. So, after three years in the business world, I left National Presto Industries and enrolled in seminary to prepare for ministry.
Have you always been surrounded by music?
My family is very musical. My mother could play the piano, appreciated and understood music, and strongly supported the pursuit of music for her four sons. However, it was my father who was most actively involved. Dad sang in a local quartet and played trumpet in a brass ensemble for many, many years, providing Christian music weekly for a one-hour weekly radio broadcast aired on WBOW (rock ‘n rock station in Terre Haute, IN) and dedicated to shut-ins who could not get out and attend church. My dad’s sister (Aunt Inez) was the program director for this weekly broadcast ministry. She had a profound impact upon my life, giving me opportunities and a “thumb in my back” to put my organ lessons to practical use through my teen years. At age 18, I had the opportunity to direct a Vocal Youth Ensemble from my home church, doing full concerts in a number of churches. Then, while attending Indiana State University, I took as many music credits as my schedule would allow, focusing on Music Theory, private lessons in piano, organ, and voice, as well as taking choral conducting classes. Since then, music has continued to play a role in my ministry as a Pastor, including directing the annual Christmas choir at Spooner Wesleyan.
What role have your parents played in who you are today?
My parents play huge in who I am today, both personally, and professionally: personally, in making my faith in Christ the center of my life, with everything else flowing out of that; and professionally as a pastor, in placing a high priority on faithfully preparing and presenting God’s Word, which has the power to change lives. They also “released”—even encouraged my three brothers and me to do whatever and go wherever God called us to.
How has that experience translated into you being a Pastor?
My parents never pushed me into being a Pastor; they would have been pleased with any career I chose, provided I was following God’s leading in my life and was faithful in whatever that might be. So, as a Pastor, I have tried to be attentive to God’s guidance in decisions large and small. And then, once I know the way God is leading, I stay with that until He gives new direction. As I think about this, it occurs to me my parents’ influence may play a big role in the way my life and ministry has played out, serving at one church for almost thirty years.
How would you define the title of ‘Pastor’?
At a basic level, a “pastor” is a “shepherd” . . . one who loves, nurtures, leads “sheep.” This includes being there during the joyful times, but also at times of crisis and loss. Functionally, a pastor fulfils the role of “shepherd” via multiple venues—including preaching and teaching, leading and envisioning and administrating, and caring and counseling. The particular shape this takes depends on the unique gifts and personality bent of the pastor.
Is there such a thing as a ‘bad’ pastor?
Good question! To be sure, because pastors are people, there are no perfect pastors, and every pastor, in one way or another, will at times disappoint. I do think if a pastor is ever abusive or misuses power or violates trust, is generally insensitive or uncaring towards people, is careless in offering counsel or teaching not in line with God’s Word, or is just plain lazy . . . to me, these are serious shortcomings, and may qualify one as a “bad” pastor. Please don’t take a poll of my people!
In the Bible, Moses was a reluctant leader. Do you find parallels to Moses in this regard?
Moses is a big biblical hero of mine. I love his heart, his integrity, his leadership. And I relate with Moses, at least at times, in his reluctance to lead. Some leaders are restless unless they are out-front leading. I am not one of them; neither was Moses. One time Moses went so far as to suggest God call someone else, but the Almighty insisted Moses was His man. Apparently, there is room for more than one kind of leader. I find great comfort and security in that.
What do you think the spirituality of America is today?
I have in my library a book called The Rise of the Nones. The title is based on a recent statistical study, showing the sharp rise of Americans who claim no religious affiliation; these self-identify as “nones.” Now I realize religious affiliation and church attendance (which is definitely declining these days) do not tell the whole story when it comes to spirituality; however, I can’t escape the biblical mandate of “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” (Hebrews 10:25). Apparently, showing up at church matters. It’s hard to overlook the current levels of chaos in American culture at every level—locally, nationally, globally. And the “freefall” from places of prominence and power by so many in the past few weeks—celebrities, politicians, news anchors. I can’t help asking, “Why?” Somehow, the fundamental problem is not “out there”; it is “in here.” And “in here” is a spiritual issue.
How is God using you and the Spooner Wesleyan Church in the community?
Before I came to Spooner, the Wesleyan Church had a reputation for reaching out to Children and Youth in our community with opportunities which connected with kids. We continue to make that a priority, especially through the programming we offer on Wednesday nights, as well as other times. We have also tried to expand, offering ways for adults to grow, such as through a Small Group experience. Recently, our church has been praying for and looking for greater ways to invest in and partner with the Spooner and Shell Lake communities . . . to bring health and life to kids, families, and individuals. We have just launched a couple new initiatives, and are exploring others. The thing which excites me most right now is the potential of what could happen—what could be, as we work together with / alongside other churches and organizations for the good of people right here.
I think some people still view the “church” as a private group – one that stays within their own walls – is being involved more in the community one of the ways to break down those walls?
I sure hope so. The more the “church” rubs shoulders with others in the community, the more we invest in and work together wherever we can for the common good, the more the walls of distrust and separation break down. With the growing challenges and problems our local communities face, along with the diminishing of available resources (willing people and otherwise), it is becoming increasingly apparent we all need each other, and there is a place for multiple respectful voices at the table.
What is the most challenging part that you have found of being in ministry?
It’s painful to watch when people make poor choices, and lives and families fall apart. At the personal level, it is tough to figure out the whole “boundaries” thing. There is always one more sermon to be preached, one more need to be met. Pastors struggle here, just as do many others in the helping professions.
What do people not see about what has to happen in order to run a church?
A church is a little like a nuclear family, only bigger and more complicated! So, if anything gets done for the good of the family, somebody has to take initiative in planning, get buy-in with some family members who will make those plans reality, and make sure adequate financial arrangements have been made to support those plans. Hardly anything at church “just happens.” Someone(s) make it happen. Even a weekly Sunday morning Worship service demands much more behind-the-scenes effort than the average “person in the pew” sees.
If I asked you to compare Pastor Gormong circa 2010 to today’s Pastor Gormong, what would be the differences?
I am less sure of what I know for sure, yet overall more confident. I trust me less and trust Him more. There are fewer things that matter, fewer hills worth dying for. I don’t know for sure what is going to happen, or how “successful” I will be, but I am okay “going for it anyway” for as long as the Lord calls me.
I can't remember the last time I have seen your family. How are they doing?
My wife Karen and I are “empty-nesters” for the first time this Fall. Which means our kids are all off, doing their thing. Brittany, who trained as an elementary and special education teacher, is volunteering this year in Haiti, teaching missionary kids and doing other things. Ethan recently completed his undergraduate degree in Chemistry, and has begun his Ph.D in Chemistry at the University of Minnesota. Gracia just graduated from Spooner High School this past Spring, and is in her first semester as a Freshman at Indiana Wesleyan University. You never know for sure how your kids are really doing until they turn 30! But Karen and I are grateful all three are navigating life through the lens of their Christian faith.
Thanks for the chat, Pastor Ron. Last Question: What are 3 things about you that most people don’t know?
- That I loved sports growing up, especially baseball, and could play it for hours. Sandy Koufax, a left-handed curve-ball pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was my hero!
- That I went to school with Larry Bird at Indiana State University, and we played on the same basketball team which lost in the NCAA final to Magic Johnson’s Michigan team (well, I made up that one part).
- That I accepted the position of pastor here in Spooner as a single man. Karen and I were married the last weekend of Deer Hunting season my first year here (November 26, 1988), and several guests from Spooner could not attend because of an ice storm.