West Robbins Baptist Church Pastor Brian Strunk is pictured with his wife, Penny, and their sons, Jon Hayden and Brady.

As a high school student at Scott High School in the late 1990s, Brian Strunk was popularly known by his nickname: Brother Love. It was a nickname he earned by, as he puts it, making fun of preachers. Today, Strunk is himself a preacher. “I’ve always said, don’t tell me the Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor,” he says. The Focus On: Religion page’s “Conversations With Pastors” series continues with Strunk, who is pastor at West Robbins Baptist Church. He was ordained to preach in 2006 at Burgess Creek Baptist Church and has been pastor at West Robbins since 2014. He and his wife, Penny, have two sons, Jon Hayden (senior) and Brady (freshman).

Independent Herald: You’ve been at West Robbins Baptist Church for five years and you were at Riverview Baptist Church for three years before that, but how long have you actually been preaching?

Brian Strunk: I’ve been preaching since 2004. I announced my call to preach about 2001.

IH: There were a few years in between there.

BS: Yeah. I just got scared, I guess. I was like a Jonah. I was going to Tunnel Hill Baptist Church at the time. Billy Lowe was the pastor. I would open up and do small things like that, and one night I got home and I thought, “I’m gonna study for next week.” It was just like the devil said, “What are you doing, trying to take Billy’s job?” That was my first real battle when I started preaching. It kinda hindered me. I finally got to the place where I had to preach. The Lord was telling me, “You are going to do this.” I just had to surrender to it, and give over and do it.

IH: Describe the feeling of being called to preach.

BS: It was like He wouldn’t leave me alone, honestly. Me and Penny, we went to Gatlinburg for our one-year anniversary, on Good Friday weekend. And I couldn’t get away from the Lord. I tried. Everywhere I looked, even if I turned on the television, it was something about Jesus, something about Easter. I finally went and took a shower. In my mind I was thinking that I could get away from it in the shower. But I couldn’t get away. I finally just had to give over.

IH: Where were you ordained, and when?

BS: I was ordained in 2006, at Burgess Creek Baptist Church.

IH: Your parents’ church. Was that where you had attended growing up?

BS: I wasn’t raised in church. I would go to homecomings and things like that. I would go with my grandparents. To be honest, I didn’t like it. I hated it. But I was dating Penny and I was just kinda heading down that road, like you tend to do. I was 18 and I was making bad choices and bad decisions. One night the Lord finally just dealt with me and I got down in my bedroom. I didn’t know how to pray, what to do, what to say, but I said, “Lord help me.” And He saved me.

IH: So, not being raised in church, you probably didn’t know when you were in high school that you would someday be a preacher.

BS: It’s interesting, that’s kinda how I got my name (Brother Love): I was making fun of preachers. We would be in class meetings in the gym, and I would get up and say stuff and basically just mock preachers. That’s how that nickname got started. I always said don’t tell me the Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor.

IH: What was it like to step behind the pulpit for the first time, and to take on that awesome responsibility?

BS: It was nervewracking. It was scary. It was exciting. It was humbling. It was a mixed bag of everything. 

IH: Fast-forwarding a few years, you wound up at West Robbins, and you’ve been there five years now. What took you to West Robbins?

BS: They didn’t have a pastor at the time. And I wasn’t pastoring anywhere; I had stepped down at Riverview. I started going to West Robbins and the Lord laid it on my heart to pastor there.

IH: Describe being a pastor.

BS: It’s humbling. It’s an honor. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I don’t feel worthy, but I know He has made me worthy. I’ve learned over the years that it’s not about me. It’s not about the pastor. It’s about telling the community and the people about Jesus.

IH: Like so many pastors in Scott County, you’re a bivocational pastor. You work a full-time job, yet still have your responsibilities as a pastor — evangelizing, ministering to the sick, preaching funerals, all the things that go with being a pastor. Is that tough, and how do you balance everything?

BS: It is. It’s very tough. When I first started pastoring, I always thought I had to be there every minute, and that I had to do everything. The older I’ve gotten, I’ve learned that I have to put things in perspective. When I’m needed, I’m there. But there are also times I have to be a dad, times I have to be a husband, and times I just have to be a regular guy. 

IH: You haven’t been pastoring a tremendously long time, about eight years altogether, but in that eight-year span, have you seen church attendance decline? And what do you think is the reason for it?

BS: Absolutely. It’s a big decline. I think it’s life. I think people haven’t got their priorities straight. So the question is how do you get people in? A lot of people think church is for people who are perfect. It’s not. I tell people this: I’m a mess. If I let you in my private life, it’s a gaum. It’s a mess. I need church. I need that instruction. I need that fellowship with my brothers and sisters. Simply put, I need help. The Bible talks about looking to the hills from which cometh my help. I think church attendance is important. It’s important to get your family in there, especially our kids. There is so much in the world that can deter them. We need to get them in church and get them saved.

IH: You’ve almost answered this question already, but what is the importance of church — to this community or to any community?

BS: It’s a place to go to learn about the Lord. How can we hear without a preacher? Whether it be me or whether it be another pastor, people need to hear the word of God. I’m not saying the church is the only place you can get saved, but it’s a good place to go to hear the word of God.

IH: We talked about the challenges of being a bivocational pastor. How about the flip side of that. Does it give you a chance to minister more outside the church?

BS: I’m ashamed to say that I don’t minister as much as I should outside the church, but I work with a lot of young people and I hope I minister to them. I try to. That’s something I get beat up with every day because I feel like I come short of that. 

Growing up, I always thought a Christian couldn’t be human. But now I know there’s a difference between being human and being worldly, if that makes sense. So I want people to look at me and see my human side. That’s something that helped me, because I’ve been around pastors who you couldn’t talk to. You couldn’t approach them. I want people to be able to approach me with whatever it might be in their life, and know that there’s a pastor they can talk to.

IH: If you’re talking to someone who does not have a church home, what do you tell them about West Robbins to invite them to your church?

BS: I tell them that these are a people who love the Lord. No matter what you look like, no matter where you’ve been, no matter your situation, they love the Lord and they’ll love you also. 

When I stepped down from Riverview, I thought the Lord was just going to open up doors. That was probably one of the biggest struggles of my Christian life. We would go places and it just didn’t feel right. Things didn’t work out. My boys were young, and they were mad at me when I left Riverview. They had friends there. We all had friends there, we had relationships there. Then we got to West Robbins, and this church helped me grow. I always say this: I came to West Robbins to try to help them, but they helped me. Everybody is welcome to come be with us and join us.

West Robbins Baptist Church services begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning and 6 p.m. on Sunday evening. Bible study is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday evenings.

This article is the November 2019 installment of Focus On: Religion, presented by Huntsville Health & Rehabilitation on the fourth week of each month as part of the Independent Herald’s Focus On series. A print version of this article can be found on Page A3 of the November 28, 2019 edition of the Independent Herald.