The Sun News

New pastor of The Refuge Church seeks to encourage and challenge

Craig Ruesch is enjoying the move from Wisconsin to Perry, where he serves as pastor of The Refuge Church.
Craig Ruesch is enjoying the move from Wisconsin to Perry, where he serves as pastor of The Refuge Church. Special to The Sun News

“I like to say this is the church you’ve always been looking for,” said Craig Ruesch, lead pastor at The Refuge Church.

Ruesch has been at The Refuge Church since December, moving to Middle Georgia from Beloit, Wisconsin, where he said he served a church for 15 years and saw it grow from 30 to 300 members.

Speaking of differences between here and Beloit, Ruesch said he’s enjoying being in a place that is prospering and growing with people moving in rather than moving out.

And of course there’s the heat.

“My wife, Brooke, likes the heat,” he said. “I’m OK with it; I can’t say I always enjoy it. But I’ve never pastored in an area like this with such growth and new people moving in all the time. A big part of what we want to do at The Refuge Church is be a welcoming place for people new to the area. Of course we’re delighted to be that for everyone.”

Ruesch said the congregation desires to be a refuge in Jesus for the hurting, for those who’ve given up on church and those looking to be strengthened in their walk with God.

He said through remaining faithful to the Bible’s timeless Gospel message while presenting it in a relevant way in a contemporary setting, he anticipates seeing spiritual and numerical growth.

That and following the church’s new catchphrase of being a church that’s “Life-giving, hope-restoring and faith-growing.”

“It’s 2016 and we have to be the church for now and not something stuck in days gone by,” he said. “Our founding pastor, Billy Thomas, started the church in 2004 and laid a good foundation. We’re here now for our season and want to reach and serve a lot of people who are unchurched and don’t know Jesus. You hear of people who’ve given up on church. It was my experience in Beloit to have people visit for some reason then hear them say we were the church they’d always been looking for. That’s where that phrase comes from. It’s important to share God’s word faithfully and then to be a safe, friendly place where people feel welcome and can grow. A place people don’t have to pretend to be perfect.”

However, there’s one thing Ruesch said he has no tolerance for.

“I have zero tolerance for disunity,” he said. “A church can be unified if leaders set a vision of being peaceful, respectful, loving and unified. No one wants to be in a place where there’s gossip or fighting or disunity. That definitely doesn’t lead to being a safe place and doesn’t reflect the character of Christ at all.”

Ruesch said his leadership and preaching style is to be both encouraging and challenging.

“If you’re only encouraging, you may make people feel good but you may not being getting them anywhere,” he said. “On the other hand, if you’re only challenging people, you may leave them feeling overburdened. You need both in the right balance.”

Ruesch said he enjoys being a pastor.

“I enjoy the office of pastor,” he said. “I love people, the administrative work, casting vision — it’s all something I enjoy. Even though I want to be sure we’re contemporary, modern and welcoming in our facilities and atmosphere, I most of all want us to be a place where people can encounter Jesus and where the Holy Spirit can move as he wants. Ultimately, being the church is not about how to please ourselves but how to please God and love and serve our neighbors.”

Ruesch said among The Refuge Church’s many ministries, one new ministry typifies the church’s heart.

“It’s called Feed the Sheep and a couple of times a month — every other Tuesday — we pick up people from different areas of the community, you might say inner-city type areas, and bring them to the church just to serve them a nice meal and share a Bible study,” he said. “There are 20 volunteers that make it happen. I’m there to support but I don’t interfere. I attend but I’m not the speaker. It’s an opportunity for others to serve and prepare for greater leadership and service. That’s important to me because in addition to serving the community, I believe the church isn’t just about the pastor or that he’s the only minister. Everybody should be involved in ministry, large or small, and in reaching out to the lost and hurting. And anyway, one thing that will keep a church small is to have the pastor doing everything.”

The Refuge Church is an Assemblies of God church and Ruesch has a pastoral ministry degree from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. Brooke Ruesch serves as The Refuge Church’s worship pastor. The couple have two children.

Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at

The Refuge Church

Address: 100 Todd Road

Leadership: Craig Ruesch, lead pastor; 608-365-6759

Worship: Sunday worship 10:30 a.m., Wednesday services 6:30 p.m.

Phone: 478- 987-5800