When it comes to characterizing his ministry Rev. Rod Tkach will tell you, “It is as much about the head as it is the heart. It’s not only important that people know what they believe about Jesus, but why they believe it.”
Rev. Rod Tkach is a deeply devoted pastor in Richlands, Virginia. He has a healthy sense of humor. When asked about what it was like to be coming to the end of his ministry journey, he responded, “Oh, you make it sound so terminal, like you’re putting me out to pasture.” Although he may be retiring, he definitely isn’t done with his ministry journey.
Rod grew up in McClusky, North Dakota, in a family known as sidewalk farmers. That is, they lived in town and drove out to the farm. Through his involvement in the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB), God began to expand his world beyond McClusky. He was heavily involved with the United Methodist Youth Fellowship and was instrumental in providing leadership for a community-wide youth rally. The speakers were from Briercrest Bible College in Canada.
His mom’s faith continues to inspire him. Now in her nineties, the days of working the fields and writing Christmas programs are in the past. But her vibrant faith and desire to grow in wisdom and knowledge remain. Rod’s love of reading, learning, and writing can be traced to her. The tenacity of faith, the commitment to stay close to Jesus, in spite of the circumstances, and Rod’s work ethic can be traced to his dad.
Pastor Rod went to Jamestown College (now Jamestown University) where he got a dose of reality when it came to pastoral ministry. He spent a January term shadowing the pastor of his home church. The concluding sentence of his paper read: “I never want to do this for a living.” Yet, God’s yes was louder than Rod’s no! It was through Rod’s involvement with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship that his resistance began to crumble. God certainly got Rod’s attention and there was a surrender to God’s call.
Pastor Rod said, “I just tired of trying to outrun God. Wherever I went to get away from him, he was already there!”
The second dose of reality concerning pastoral ministry came during the fall semester of his wife’s senior year at Jamestown College. What was supposed to be a two-week preaching stint at the Methodist church in Jud, North Dakota turned out to be a lot longer. It wasn’t until their farewell later the following spring that the Tkachs were told the rest of the story of why they were there. Through their love, grace, humor, and caring that little church had a big impact on setting Rod’s course in ministry.
Most people visit the campus of where they plan to go to school. The Tkach’s, however, set out for Asbury sight unseen. Fortunately, fellow Dakotans Roger and Joan Spahr were there to smooth the way into seminary life. Spahr’s kindness is long remembered.
Speaking truth to power can be unnerving, especially when one is young and naïve about possible consequences. Such was the case in serving the Elgin, North Dakota charge where a community issue found church members taking sides. For Rev. Tkach, it was one baby step of obedience at a time as the pieces began to come together. Through the grace of God, the issue was resolved. The churches and community began to heal. A lasting lesson learned: if you’re going to speak truth to power, make sure you have plenty of prayer coverage. That lesson would come to play repeatedly in Pastor Rod’s ministry.
The ministry of the laity came into focus at the United Methodist Church in Bowman, North Dakota, through Bible Studies, small groups, children and youth activities.
While serving at Bowman UMC, a revolution was brought about through the Lay Witness Mission. When asked about his role in the Lay Witness Mission, Rod replied, “Pray, get out of the way and let God work!”
Earning a doctoral degree in preaching led the Tkachs to return to Kentucky once again. One of the tougher parts of being back in school was having to compare report cards with his own children! Pastor Rod made no reference to who had the better grades! As a doctoral student he was not appointed to a church. That meant going church shopping. It was an eye opener. The first Methodist church the Tkachs visited they felt they were either invisible or Star War’s type aliens. Reluctantly, the next Sunday they visited a different Methodist church which was very welcoming. When the visitation team came with fresh baked bread and homemade strawberry jelly, their boys were sold!
A return to the Dakotas resulted in Rod eventually landing in Williston. The oil boom hit not long after their arrival. It was an exciting time to be in ministry but also very demanding. After nine years in Williston a sabbatical was in order.
Through the grace of God and the generosity of Kathy Hammond and her late husband Wiley, the Tkach’s ended up in Dandridge, Tennesee. The Hammonds needed someone to house sit in their new retirement home until Kathy was ready to retire. Wiley told Rod, “You could be the answer to our prayers.” Rod replied, “Been called a lot of things. But an answer to prayer is a first!”
It was during that time when a district superintendent from the Holston Conference contacted Rod about taking a church in southwest Virginia. As they say, the rest is history. Suffice it to say, the mountains of Appalachia have become as much a part of Rod as the prairies.
There are a number of people who have impacted Pastor Rod’s spiritual life and ministerial journey. That includes a Lutheran campus pastor at that Presbyterian college in Jamestown; Rev. Dwight Meier, who stood in the gap during a time when it wasn’t known if Rod would live to see another day; Dr. Robert Mulholland, who opened doors of possibilities while fostering spiritual depth; and Dr. Robert Smith, a good Southern Baptist professor, who took a Methodist under his wing.
One piece of advice that Rod has for people involved with ministry is, “Stay close to Jesus. With all the demands upon his time, we see Jesus retreating, frequently and often, to stay close to God the Father. If Jesus needed that, how much more do we? The disciples witnessed that. Out of all the things they could have asked Jesus, their request was, “teach us to pray like you do.”
Rod has a couple hopes and prayers for the church as it endures this time of tension and uncertainty. He shares, “I hope that the church can continue to be the church; that is, a beacon of hope, a light of love, and a steady beam of grace. Turbulent times require a steadiness of spirit and a stout heart that comes by staying close to Jesus.”
For the immediate future Rod plans to retire to Starkville, Mississippi. Time will tell how long he can resist the call of the mountains! In the meantime, Rod plans to continue to write hopefully adding to what’s been published. “No longer having a church doesn’t mean Jesus is done using me. It’s just that the next step remains to be seen!”