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Long career as a pastor was an enjoyable one

• Apr 22, 2019 at 3:00 PM

The Rev. Doug Bytwerk is in select company. He is among the 10 percent who began their careers as a pastor and retired as a pastor.

According to a report in expastors.com, being a pastor comes with a lot of pressure whether it be long hours, being unappreciated or poorly paid, resulting in 90 percent of those involved in ministry work leave for other employment opportunities.

“I feel blessed to be part of the 10 percent,” said Doug, 66, who retired as pastor of First Baptist Church of Spring Lake.

While the correct usage in a newspaper article is to refer to someone by their last name on second reference, Doug and I used to be neighbors. Our families would sometimes get together, and I still consider him a friend.

He retired in November 2018 from a pastoral career that spanned 41 years, including the last 21 as lead pastor of the Spring Lake church. He was also the lead pastor at Ravenna for 12 years, and eight years as youth pastor at Sparta.

He grew up in Lansing and graduated from Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

There are plenty of reasons why Doug continued to work as a pastor, but most importantly he loves working with and reaching out to people. This has been especially true during his tenure in Spring Lake.

“What I like best is that all of the churches in our communities get along,” he said. Doug was proud that all the pastors in the area would get together for lunch and share ideas in a cooperative spirit. He said a lot of churches get hung up on their own ministries, but that isn’t the case in Northwest Ottawa County.

“We came to each other’s aid,” he said.

Even today, when Doug drives by an area church, he’ll say a prayer for that church.

Doug and I got to know each other well after he bought a home across the street from us. As well as being a dedicated pastor, Doug enjoyed renovation work. He did some major remodeling of his Spring Lake Village home.

He even helped me build a new deck. He did most of the work, as Doug is as handy with tools as he is in delivering sermons.

We sometimes even dabbled in politics. Even though we had different beliefs, our conversations were always cordial.

Now that Doug is retired, he is devoting more time to a special project dear to his heart — becoming involved with churches in Mexico. He is now executive director of a missionary effort involving 42 churches throughout much of Mexico. Most of his time, though, is spent in the Mexican states of Coahuila and Durango.

Doug became involved with churches in Mexico after his father died. He wanted to carry on the tradition set by his father in 1949 to convert Mexican migrant workers. He now travels to Mexico every three months.

“It has been a rewarding experience,” he said. “When I retired, I knew what I was going to do.”

Doug said his mission is to help people understand Jesus Christ, whether it is in Mexico or the United States. “It’s not about religion, it is about a relationship with God,” he said.

One of Doug’s projects has been helping to build a soccer complex in Mexico. The complex is almost complete. The final step is to lay a synthetic surface. That final piece of the project has been delayed because 29,000 pounds of material is still at the Mexico-U.S. border. Getting material into Mexico from the U.S. has become more difficult because of tension over migrants attempting to enter the U.S., but Doug is confident that the field will soon be completed.

Doug enjoys his trips to Mexico. “I feel as safe in Mexico as I do here,” he said.

Doug and his wife, Kay, have been married for 44 years. They have four children: Josh, who is executive director of Love in Action of the Tri-Cities; David, who is a detective with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office; Rachel, who is a nurse in Providence, Rhode Island; and Bethany, who works with her pastor husband in the inner city of Chicago. Kay is also involved with Bible studies and other religious activities.

“Overall, I’ve been a blessed man,” Doug said. “I’ve never had a bad experience (with his career as a pastor).”

He is also a good friend.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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