Pastor answers the call

Russell Steel is the new pastor of Iola's First Baptist Church. He plans to focus on community outreach.

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Local News

June 14, 2024 - 2:57 PM

Russell Steel is settling into his new role as pastor of Iola’s First Baptist Church. The Kansas City native is glad to be closer to family and looks forward to getting involved in the community. Photo by Sarah Haney / Iola Register

“The church is not for the righteous — it’s for the sick,” Russell Steel remarked. “We’re all sick because we’re all sinners.”

Steel, the new pastor of Iola’s First Baptist Church, hopes to bring a compassionate outlook to the role. Beginning his tenure on June 3, Steel said his initial focus will be community outreach.

Steel’s journey into the ministry began at the age of 13. “I thought I was going to be the next Billy Graham,” he chuckled. He attended Baptist Bible College in Springfield where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in missions and theology. He received his master’s of divinity degree six years ago from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. In December 2023, he earned his doctorate in biblical counseling.

During his time in Springfield, he met his future wife, Karla. They married in 1989. His most memorable experience as a pastor came in 1996 when he was able to baptize her. “That’s a moment I’ll never forget. Just like when I saw her walk down the aisle when I married her,” he said. 

STEEL’S FIRST pastoring experience began in 1998 in Fairhope, Alabama. “I made every mistake in the book there,” he said. “It’s kind of like getting through your first year of marriage — you live and you learn.”

Most recently, Steel pastored for three years at Eastlake Fellowship Church in Burnet, Texas. He has pastored at seven churches throughout his life, and hopes Iola will be his last. “This better be it,” he said. “I’m 55 and too old to be moving around.” More than that, though, Steel said he and Karla felt a calling to come here. “I believe God brought us through several different churches to prepare us for Iola.” 

Steel interviewed for several churches before Iola, but he says something was always missing.

“When we walked in here in May, my wife looked at me and said ‘yes.’ Every other place we had been to before didn’t feel right. It was hard to turn them down, but the Lord says to be patient,” he said. “He opened up the right door and it’s just been amazing.”

Kara will move to Iola after the sale of their home in Springfield closes, Steel said. She plans to work as a paraprofessional at Iola Elementary School in the fall.

Outreach to the community’s youth has been Steel’s primary goal in the first couple weeks. “I’ve already reached out to Allen Community College to work with those students,” he said. “We’re getting ready to offer a college and career class at the church for them.” 

Steel likes getting involved in the school districts and hosting community events. He plans on leading the church to help ACC students on move-in day at the college this fall as a “welcome back” for them.

Steel hopes to bring more than just the standard pastoral duties to First Baptist. He intends to utilize his experience in biblical counseling to help people who are hurting spiritually. “If I can’t help my own people, what am I doing here?”

Steel’s first impression of the First Baptist congregation is positive.

“They want to reach out into the community, but they just don’t know how.” 

He hopes to bridge this gap. Being without a pastor since December, the church is more than ready to have Steel at the helm. “It’s a slow process, but they’re excited about the change and the opportunities in Iola and the surrounding communities.”

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