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Staff Stories: Nat Pugh

By Isaac Harris
In IBC Stories
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“We are in.”

Three simple, yet powerful words Nat Pugh said across the table at a dinner in Rhode Island over 30 years ago. After nine years with the company he worked for, Nat was up for a promotion. He, along with his wife Dana, was visiting the home office of the company in Rhode Island when the offer came from the senior vice president. Without hesitation, Nat uttered those three simple, yet powerful words—we are in.

Nat Pugh

It was the next day that Nat and Dana were flying back to Dallas when Nat felt like God was telling him something. “God doesn’t talk to me that often,” Nat said as he reminisced over this story. “There was a strong ‘you can’t do this’. It was so clear and so strong. I looked at Dana and said, ‘we can’t go.’”

Nat called the next day to change his mind and decline the offer. The Pughs were staying in Texas.

A few years went by and Nat found himself asking the same question that many of us have asked ourselves at least one time in our life: Is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life? And for Nat, the answer was no. He knew something needed to change. Then, a conversation over coffee with his friend Steve Roese, the executive pastor of Irving Bible Church at the time, changed his life forever.

“What about coming on as our men’s pastor?” Roese said over coffee. Nat immediately wanted to do it, but deep down, he knew it wasn’t right. It just wasn’t the right time or moment. He politely declined and it was done. “I had to forget about it,” Nat said.

But Roese was persistent, this time coming back to Nat a short time after offering a different position around community life. For this one, Nat took more time as they prayed about it as a family and discussed the financial ramifications of leaving a corporate job for the ministry. Ultimately, Nat declined once again.

But why? Working in the church and in ministry was a dream of Nat’s from his earliest memories. Some would say it was almost his destiny when looking at his upbringing in the church.

Nat grew up in Port Arthur and moved to Odessa, Texas when he was 13 years old. His father was a pastor, and the sons were expected to follow in those footsteps. “All I wanted to do was be in ministry,” Nat said regarding his childhood. “It was a Pentecostal background, and it was very common to be a family business. Dad and sons. That was my dream.”

After graduating early from Permian High School (yes, the school Friday Night Lights is based off of), Nat went off to bible school where at the age of 18, he would create a youth seminar to offer to local churches. As it quickly grew in popularity, he found himself traveling the country. “One a week for three years,” Nat recounted as he looked back at all the churches he taught at during that span.

The years went on and life continued to change. A year into traveling the country, Nat and Dana got married (now 41 years and counting). They had long-term stops in St. Louis and Odessa before arriving back in the Irving area after a difficult season. Nat went out of full-time ministry and ended up going door-to-door cleaning carpets and eventually started climbing his way up in an insurance company. That climb would go so far until he found himself at a dinner in Rhode Island being offered a promotion that would change his family’s life forever.

After declining IBC’s (second) offer to come on staff, Dana went on a ministry retreat where God placed it on her heart that this was the path that Nat needed to take. She came back and told Nat that he should take the job despite the pay cut and lifestyle change that would be inevitable. “I don’t know,” Nat said. “You just came back from a retreat and you are all spiritual. I’ll tell you what, neither one of us say anything about it for six weeks and if you still want to talk about it, then we will talk about it.”

Six weeks later, he accepted. They sold the house, the cars, and made the downsize transition. It was his first year on staff at Irving Bible Church. He would hold that position for five years before he was asked to speak during the last five weeks of the semester at First Watch, a weekly gathering of men that grow together in community. Three weeks in, Nat was pulling out of the parking lot when he once again heard God telling him his next steps.

“[God] said that it is time,” Nat said. He met with leadership a short time after and told them that he was interested in the men’s pastor position—one that he turned down over five years ago.

For the past 16 years at Irving Bible Church, Nat has faithfully served the men of this community.

You can typically find Nat somewhere in Town Square planning out the next First Watch for Friday mornings or the next Men at IBC event on the horizon, but it’s not the stage or the big event planning that fuel Nat in ministry—it’s the conversations.

“The one-on-one conversations about life,” Nat said. “This is what keeps me going.”

When I asked Nat what his favorite part of leading the Men’s Ministry is, it wasn’t the curriculum of the gatherings themselves, but rather the conversations that happen before and after the events. As he recalled a big event that typically consisted of competition among many sports, it was the community that was being formed after the event that slowly became more popular than the event itself. What once started as eight guys who would hangout after the event quickly turned into 30 the next year and 50 the year after that.

“They were losing interest in the competition because they wanted the community. Guys are in competition all the time; what they really want is to have some space that they never get,” Nat said. “That started the after party and it is such a huge part of everything we do now.”

21 years in ministry and Nat is still as passionate as ever about serving the Lord. But his heart goes out to the guy who has fallen and can’t find a way to get back up. “My heart is for the guy that has fallen off the horse and is trying to get back up,” Nat said. “That is what I want to be, the guy that is saying that ‘you can do this. Get back up. Don’t stay down. You can do this’. That is what I love to do.”

And that is exactly what he is doing. Not just for the countless men over the past 21 years here at IBC, but even for us as a staff. In a recent All Staff meeting, Nat was being honored by a co-worker when he was referred to as “The Pastor’s Pastor” and you couldn’t describe him any better. His presence brings a calmness to every room that he walks into and his leadership as one of the longest tenured staff members brings experience that we all learn from.

He will be the first person to tell you about the arrogance and pride he struggled with in his early years. He will be the first person to tell you what he still struggles with on a daily basis. But he will also be the first person to tell you about the faithfulness of God and how, because of Jesus, we can stand perfect and righteous in front of the Father.

If you would like to connect with Nat, you can contact him at [email protected]. If you would like more information about First Watch, the upcoming Big Man Party or other Men at IBC events, visit irvingbible.org/men.

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