Who were the circuit riders?
In the 1700s scattered settlers made their homes along a very long American frontier. Church leaders, wanting to reach these people with the gospel and provide ministry to isolated Christians, began to appoint pastors to minister to whole regions instead of to established congregations. These men were called “circuit riders” or “saddlebag preachers” because they would travel in a continuous circuit, on horseback, their Bible and personal belongings stowed in a saddlebag. Sometimes it could take five to six weeks to cover their territory. Wherever they stopped, they gathered those who would listen and led services of worship and preaching. Often this included weddings and funerals, as the reappearance of their journeying minister was the settlers’ only hope of a religious service.
Their message: The kingdom of God has come, repent, be baptized, and follow Jesus. Their payment: A mere 60 dollars a year—if anything at all. The cost: Their comfort, and sometimes their very lives: 50 percent died before reaching the age of 33, often far from their families, in the homes of strangers. Their reward: Nothing in terms of worldly success, yet everything in terms of the glory of God! These leaders lived for a cause greater than themselves. They were dangerous to the enemy and powerful in the hand of the Almighty God!
The circuit riders of old were forerunners in their day. We need forerunners of their caliber today. Travel by horseback may be outdated and methods of ministry may have changed, but the need for men and women in the mold of these courageous preachers is still real. People in isolated and dangerous places are crying out in spiritual darkness throughout the earth. Who will go and gather the lost? Who will awaken the Church to the joy of living fully alive in Jesus?
The School of the Circuit Riders is inspired by the stories of these early American Christians. We believe that knowing the Living God in deep friendship and trust in His Word makes us confident in who Christ has called us to be and what He has entrusted to us, so that they can go forth into today’s mission frontiers to proclaim freedom to the captives, gladly laying down our lives.