the shape of leadership

Loving People Where They Are

A conversation with Tami Parsley

Chris Colvin on April 29, 2019

Preschool Academy, a ministry of James River Charities, is a free two-year preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds in Springfield, Missouri. Its mission is to strengthen and uplift low-income families by developing a Christ-centered and family-focused partnership. But the heart of the Preschool Academy is love and compassion.

“Compassion, for me, is loving people where they are,” says Tami Parsley, who has served as director since the doors opened in 2016.

After six years of teaching special education in the public schools, Parsley left work to homeschool her children. Although she and her husband, Kert, were active volunteers in the church, they had never considered full-time ministry. Then God used a sermon from Dick Foth to open their hearts to His calling on their lives.

“He preached about meeting people where they’re at and loving them,” Parsley says. “Both Kert and I saw something and heard something in that message. We were changed.”

The Parsleys began praying about their next step. They thought it would include uprooting the family and moving to Washington, D.C., where Foth was ministering. However, God had other plans.

“When you get to know people where they are, hear their stories and learn their histories, you can love them better.”
— Tami Parsley

“The hardest part was thinking we would have to leave our home church, James River,” Parsley says. “Pastor John and Debbie Lindell are amazing leaders who have laid that foundation of loving people. We had been attending and serving for so long, we hated to leave them. But we also knew we needed to follow God.”

Within six months of sensing God calling them to full-time ministry, the couple accepted an offer to join the staff at James River Church (Assemblies of God).

Through Preschool Academy, Tami is living out that vision of loving people where they are. There are a limited number of spaces available, and the expectations for participants are high. Although there is no out-of-pocket expense for the parents, the preschool asks for a time investment.

Each parent should attend church, whether James River or another Bible-believing congregation in the community. The preschool also encourages parents to attend a small group, read with their children daily, and even eat dinner as a family. Parents receive points for completing each of these steps. Along the way, they also get plenty of support and care.

“When you get to know people where they are, hear their stories and learn their histories, you can love them better,” Parsley says.

That kind of compassion leads to simple acts of kindness, like taking groceries to a single mother. Little acts can create larger moments, too. In one case, a mother received new furniture for her apartment. Touched by the church’s kindness, the mom agreed to attend church. She ultimately accepted Christ and was baptized.

Such stories play out again and again. Parsley loves to tell them. More importantly, she loves the people they represent. When churches show compassion to people where they are, it transforms lives, families and communities. Preschool Academy is evidence of that.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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