Local pastor Craig Collins admits he ‘reluctantly’ joined the ministry
SCOTTSBLUFF — Craig Collins was active in his Methodist Church in Juanita, Nebraska, during high school, but it was a question from his pastor that followed him later into life.
The answer to that question led him into the ministry and his latest appointment as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Scottsbluff.
“I was in high school when Pastor Ralston asked me whether I’d ever thought of going into the ministry,” Collins said. “The answer was no because I’d never thought about it. But the pastor thought I’d be good at it.”
Collins said he’d never experienced loss, or addiction, or conflict, so he wondered how much he could offer as a minister. He asked “There’s so much in life I don’t know about so how can I help anyone? My reasoning was that God can’t use me, and that’s the wrong way to think.”
Collins was married just out of high school. Over the next 20 years, he worked in a rental store in Kearney, attended and dropped out of college, and managed a hardware store in Oxford, Nebraska.
After the hardware store was sold, he hauled fuel for the local co-op, and when they opened a service station, he was named manager.
He was also involved in a year-long Bible study at his church in Oxford. The call came up again when the pastor said it wasn’t too late for him to go into the ministry. For the pastor, it was age 50.
“I had a wife and three children then, but the pastor gave me a nice compliment,” he said. “I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree and we were living from paycheck to paycheck. I couldn’t imagine paying for college, then seminary.”
A year later at Christmas time in 1999, after a visit from the church’s district superintendent, Collins learned how he could be serving in a church by the next July as he continued his education.
“I asked my wife and kids whether they could see me as a pastor and they said yes,” Collins said. “I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t think of anything else. I was beginning to see myself as a pastor. The same thing happened again the next night.
“Pastor Ralston had told me it was an angel of the Lord that called him into ministry,” he said. “After the second night of being awake, I remembered what he had told me all those years ago.”
So he asked God for direction. With some prompting, Collins remembered why he kept waking up in the middle of the night – and why his pastor kept encouraging him to go into the ministry.
He also asked about a dozen of his Christian acquaintances whether they could see him as a pastor – and every one of them said yes.
“On Christmas Eve 1999, I told my pastor I was saying yes,” he said. “I gave my boss notice I’d be leaving the end of May. Then after two weeks of training, I was assigned to a church in Hemingford. I was working on a sermon on the way up.”
During his three years at Hemingford, Collins finished his bachelor’s degree at Chadron State College. Then it was off to Kentucky in 2003 to attend Asbury Theological Seminary while serving a small church in the northern part of the state.
Graduating in 2007, Collins was then appointed as associate pastor at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Papillion, where he served four years. Because of the thorough vetting process for seminary graduates, it wasn’t until 2010 when he was ordained – 10 years after Collins made his decision to join the ministry.
“Once you’re ordained, you promise to go where the bishop sends you, so we’re an itinerant church,” he said. “In 2011, we were off to O’Neill. My son was a high school junior and had been asking whether we could get back to a church in the country.”
Four years ago, a position opened in Scottsbluff. The bishop and the district supervisors met and determined that because of his family situation, Collins could be a good candidate to become the new pastor.
Although First Methodist in Scottsbluff is larger than most churches he’s pastored, Collins said he’s been blessed to serve in western Nebraska. And while he’s never served at one church for more than four years, he’d like to see that change.
’We have so many people actively involved in our church’s ministry,” he said. “We’re very outreach driven and do a lot of missions work. I’m also involved in several organizations in the community because I see a lot of need. I think our community can always do better in meeting the needs of the poor and homeless.”
Collins said he’s “nobody special,” but it’s the people that are the bright spot of the church as they step up to be change agents for a better community.