". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


‘Hungry to Equip their Flocks’: Reflections on FRC’s Pastor Conferences in Alaska

March 7, 2024

As a native Floridian, temperatures south of 40 degrees Fahrenheit still make me a bit nervous. Thus, when Alaska Family Council invited my colleague Joseph Backholm and me to hold one-day pastors conferences in Anchorage and Fairbanks, I immediately looked up the weather forecast for late February. With an anticipated high of -25 degrees in Fairbanks, I legitimately wondered how I would manage the cold. But the experience was incredible, and I feel a special sense of gratitude for the opportunity to have spent time in Alaska and see how God is working in the 49th state.

A decade ago, a Pew Research Center study on America’s religious landscape revealed that 22% of Alaskans identified as “evangelical Protestant,” a figure that was slightly lower than the national average. In 2024, that number is almost certainly lower, as recent national surveys show that few Americans hold a worldview consistent with the Bible. But even though surveys and polling may indicate a drop in church attendance, the enthusiasm displayed by the 40 pastors and ministry leaders who attended FRC’s one-day worldview conferences is an indication of a thriving gospel witness in Alaska, a witness that appears to be growing. 

Like any ministry context, Alaska presents a variety of challenges for gospel work. In both Fairbanks and Anchorage, pastors explained to me that addiction, substance abuse, and poverty, combined with lengthy seasons of extreme weather and isolation, provide unique discipleship and counseling situations. These problems are particularly acute in the many sparsely populated villages. However, amidst the brokenness, many pastors have experienced spiritual breakthroughs in their congregations and testify to God’s work in their people. Additionally, pastors told me that many people are deeply interested in how the Bible speaks to their everyday concerns, giving these pastors many opportunities to apply Scripture to their congregants’ specific questions.

Significantly, several pastors shared with me how their congregants have recently expressed a desire to learn about the Bible’s teaching on controversial issues, including abortion, sexuality, gender identity, and critical theory. Although Bible-believing, gospel-preaching churches in Fairbanks and Anchorage hold orthodox views on these topics, some local churches, for fear of being perceived as divisive or controversial, downplay issues that are widely perceived as “political.” But pastors who attended the conference shared with me how people in their communities, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, want to know God’s perspective on divisive issues.

One pastor shared with me that God called him to preach when he was nine. Since then, he has preached faithfully for decades, including several years in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. In the upcoming weeks, this pastor plans on teaching a series on gender and sexuality, using FRC’s Biblical Principles for Human Sexuality as a resource. He explained to me that young people in his community are desperate for biblical instruction on marriage, sexuality, and relationships.

Another pastor, Matt Oberlander of Anchorage Cross and Anchor Church, explained that his congregation deeply desires to apply God’s word to politics. Two days after attending the worldview conference, Pastor Matt discussed the seven cornerstones of a biblical worldview in his church’s morning worship service. “My recent experience with FRC was so much more than educational; the impact it had on our pastoral team ended up shifting our Sunday service experience,” explained Oberlander. “We knew that we immediately had to address the issues covered in the conference with our local congregation,” he added.

Reflecting on our time together, Alaska Family Council President Jim Minnery, who hosted our pastor seminars, explained, “It is clear that in today’s climate of ‘deconstructing Christianity’ and a world so hostile toward foundational and objective truth, pastors are hungry to equip their flocks to be change agents. We are eager to expand these opportunities for even greater impact in the Great Land.”

I am greatly encouraged by God’s work in Alaska. The day after the final conference, my wife and I had the opportunity to attend the ceremonial start of the Iditarod, the famous sled race from Anchorage to Nome. Tens of thousands of spectators braved the frigid temperatures to cheer for their favorite mushers and enjoy the festivities surrounding the “Last Great Race.” Afterward, we visited a nearby nature reserve situated in a breathtaking valley between snow-covered mountains, home to bears, bison, moose, elk, and coyotes.

These experiences showcased the area’s distinctive features, including awe-inspiring scenery, a celebration of competition, and an embrace of winter’s wonders. But as I took in the sights and sounds of Alaska — a culture that is in so many ways different from what I’m accustomed to — I was reminded that the spiritual needs of the people here are the same as they are everywhere. Unbelievers in Alaska need the gospel and the saints need discipleship. Thankfully, by God’s grace, dozens of pastors — many of whom attended Family Research Council’s worldview conferences — are doing this hard yet rewarding work. I’m grateful for them and will pray for God’s continued blessing on their churches and ministries in the weeks, months, and years to come.

David Closson is Director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.