By Rick Kern
As it looks toward the celebration of its 30th anniversary next September, Elim Gospel Church (EGC) is celebrating the installation of its new pastor at this writing. Jared Ruddy was formally welcomed aboard and took the helm of the 700-member fellowship on October 1, 2017. A “PK” (Preacher’s Kid”), Ruddy is joined by his wife, Erin, their 15-month old son, Landon, and a baby girl, Quinn, who is due January 10, 2018.
He assumes the stewardship of a unique, spiritual legacy helping to guide a movement characterized by a deeply faith-driven, biblical heritage. EGC was established in 1988 by Pastor Mike Cavanaugh as a community church with a vision to reach Livingston, Monroe, and Ontario counties with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 2008, Pastor Joshua Finley became the Lead Pastor and recently handed the reins over to Pastor Jared.
While EGC has much in common with other Bible-believing churches, it is also set apart by a number of distinctives, among them two separate locations and its affiliation with Elim Bible Institute and College. “We’re one church that has two locations,” Ruddy Explains. “One in Lima and one in Henrietta at this point with our Lima church right on the campus.” He continues, “You know, the Elim Bible College has a worldwide missionary organization that sends missionaries and also provides covering for churches and ministries in the U.S. as well. I believe and the church originally started to really serve as a base for the families that were connected to the college and to the fellowship.”
While Ruddy oversees both locations as EGC’s lead pastor, the day-to-day ministry at the Henrietta location is handled by another pastor. “I’m the lead pastor,” he explains. “We view our church as one church in two locations, so the lead pastor would have primary responsibilities in leading both campuses.” He goes on, “But we do have a campus pastor at the Henrietta location. He does the pastoral work, if you will, on the ground of what it really requires.”
Like the author of Luke’s Gospel, the man on the ground at the Henrietta fellowship, Tim Chapman, is a physician who points uncompromisingly to the Great Healer. A medical doctor who was a professor and taught at the University of Rochester, Chapman left his research position and actually came on full time with EGC. “He’s just amazing,” declares Ruddy, “though my hope is really that he’s just able to lead that campus forward because, as you know, you can’t be in two places at the same time effectively.”
Though the two colleagues could not have more divergent backgrounds, neither saw themselves as pastors! Even though Jared Ruddy was raised in a pastor’s home, he had no intention of following in his father’s footsteps and his life map did not include a path to the pastorate. “I anticipated being a basketball coach that was really what I had my eyes set on,” he recalls. With respect to his relationship with the Lord, the reality was never far from him but there was a conversion point in his mid-teens. “I grew up in church and always had an affinity, a love towards Jesus in some way” he explains. “When I was really young, I felt a call towards ministry — I actually wanted to be a missionary like in first and second grade, like very young. As I got older, I didn’t necessarily turn that off; I wanted to be a basketball coach.” Continuing he observes, “Then at the age of 16, that kind of childhood sense of calling kind of re-emerged. But at 16, it really became personal for me at that point and that’s where I look at the Genesis of my spiritual life.”
Jared walked in an unconventional, intrepid kind of faith that saw promises and possibilities instead of problems and predicaments. He racked up a couple of years at a ministry school then did an online tour that included course work in business and a number of different disciplines as he sifted through his destiny. And then it hit — an enduring moment of clarity that resounded from eternity through time! “I felt like I was called to plant a church!” he proclaimed. He teamed up with eight other people who all caught the vision. They were drawn from North Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania and all uprooted, moving to Scranton, Pennsylvania to start a fellowship. “I was 20-years old at the time,” Ruddy recalls, “so it was kind of a wild thing.”
Whether it was the perfect zeal of God or the not-so-perfect zeal of youth, he did not feel like they were being led to partner with his church’s denomination even though it meant declining a matching funds offer that would have made the church plant much easier. “So we actually ended up turning down the matching funds and everything, and planted with no money, no people, rented out a storefront. It was just kind of a wild thing.” He lived there for some five-and-a-half years as God blessed the church and its ranks swelled. “We ended up buying a house along with the church which we turned that into a men’s discipleship home,” said Ruddy “then ultimately, we were able to go full time with the church.”
“After that, it felt like the Holy Spirit was leading us to transition that over,” he said. “It was contrary to human wisdom for sure… We felt like we were supposed to pass it on and felt like it was time for me to go back to what I was into prior to planting the church.”
He continues, “I definitely have an unconventional story. Traveling and speaking and I do writing and worked with other churches and ministries. So we moved to Buffalo, that’s where my wife’s family is from.” Ruddy’s ministry took an itinerant turn that led him both across the country and across the globe. As far as the Scranton church plant, Jared’s best friend is pastoring it providing a treasured, long-term connection.
For the Ruddys, their hearts became eager to drop anchor in pastoral waters. However, as doors opened, Erin, whose gift of discernment provided a calming voice of heavenly reason, just didn’t feel right about the opportunities that presented themselves. Ruddy noted, “My wife would be like, ‘Jared, that’s not what God has for us.’ You know, every time we would pray about something, it wouldn’t take off at all.” That all changed when EGC contacted them. “When Elim Gospel approached us saying that their elders wanted to consider us along with a handful of other candidates as a possibility, I brought home the job description to my wife” explained Jared. “I read it out to her and she was like, ‘Jared, that’s you. That fits. That’s us.’” The family went through months of interviews with the search committee then interviewed with the executive team until ultimately they extended the call to the Ruddys.
Though their ministry has just begun and relationships can only deepen and grow more meaningful, Jared’s first impressions are inspiring. “I would say that people are deeply committed to prayer and missions,” he observes. “I think that’s just really the two, people that love Jesus but how that is worked out is just a commitment to prayer.” Continuing he says, “I have not actually been connected to Elim long term. I’ve had friends, but actually that’s with people in the church, I’ve only been here six weeks but there’s a clear evident love for Jesus that’s displayed through prayer and just a passion for global missions.”
To be sure, having two locations presents its share of challenges, but his vision for EGC is to stay with what works. “Our philosophy is to keep things pretty simple and pretty focused so we really try to channel a lot through our small group ministry,” says Ruddy. “So while we do have a women’s ministry and a men’s breakfast and other types of things that go, we really try to focus primarily through our small groups. We do the Sunday morning small groups and then we have various outreaches.”
Their service times are a little bit different because the Lima location currently meets at 10 AM however; November 5th they are planning to tone things down a bit with a service called the EGC Chapel which is going to be a little bit more subdued. “Our present Sunday morning service is very lively, celebratory worship — very engaging,” Ruddy explains. Thus, EGC hopes to minister to those who are more comfortable worshiping in a somewhat mellower context.
Other than that EGC’s future looks promising and is characterized by forward motion, loving outreach, and servant leadership. “Our hope is that… I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel, but make sure the wheel is going forward,” says Ruddy thoughtfully. “And I see that through both loving our congregation, serving the faithful, and teaching the Scripture — and being able to start new churches and new campuses throughout the region.”
You can find out more about Elim Gospel Church by calling (585) 624-5560 or visiting www.elimgospel.org. And as you do, you can discover the reality behind Pastor Jared’s words, “I guess my philosophy of my ministry in short, is helping people discover the power of Christ inside of them.”