In his New York Times best-selling memoir Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. Vance makes this penetrating observation: “Despite its reputation, Appalachia … has far lower church attendance than the Midwest, parts of the Mountain West, and much of the space between Michigan and Montana. Oddly enough, we think we attend church more than we actually do.”
For many in the mountains, this is a reality that elicits deep sadness and pity. But for Pike County native Jason Lowe, it sparks a vision and passion that is bringing the hope of the gospel to eastern Kentucky.
Jason serves as the Associational Missions Strategist (formerly titled Director of Missions) for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists. He is also the Executive Pastor at First Baptist Church of Pikeville, Kentucky. Both of these are part-time roles, yet in both roles he produces more than full-time ministers could accomplish. He has served on various committees throughout the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention and was just named the Associational Missions Strategist of 2018 by his peers in the KBC. He was instrumental in planning the Hope for the Mountains crusade preceding this year’s annual meeting.
But these accomplishments don’t paint the full story of Jason’s labor. He came to the Pike Association knowing that it was in a financial crisis. He implemented a fresh vision and strategy that has revitalized our association. He launched a yearly missions event called “Love Loud” that has opened the door for smaller churches that have never had the opportunity or means to now be part of a local mission project.
In the midst of a financial shortfall, instead of cutting budgets or letting go of support personnel, Jason made the sacrificial decision to move to part-time status and take a drastic pay cut to ensure the Pike Association’s stability and future. I know few men who would step out in such faith, and Jason did so without a single complaint. He knows that God’s hand is on the mountains, and the vast lostness must be penetrated with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And he’s embodied the kind of leadership we need.
Jason and I were born 16 days apart. We both grew up in Pike county less than 20 miles from each other. We were both members of and called into the gospel ministry out of First Baptist Church of Pikeville. Yet we did not meet or develop a friendship until we were both in our early 30s. For the past seven years we have worked together in various capacities, and he has become both a partner in ministry and a one of my best friends.
There is no one I admire more than Jason, and I am so grateful that his heart is determined to continue bringing hope to the mountains for years to come.
John A. Lucas is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Pikeville.