As pastor of Somerset Baptist Church I was determined to build a great church for God. I was taught that there was no shame in pastoring a small church, for awhile. If a pastor would commit himself to preaching the Word of God and aggressive evangelism his church would grow.
I was a tireless worker, working long hours, often seven days a week. We had services Sunday morning and Sunday might. We had a prayer meeting on Thursday night. When we had a bus ministry, bus visitation was on Saturday. We also had a street preaching ministry that took up another couple days a week. On evenings where there was no scheduled church activity I busied myself calling on people who visited the church. I also regularly called on the people who were members of the church.
In addition to all of the above, we operated a Christian school for 5 years and we participated in a Youth Fellowship that I had started for like-minded Baptist churches.
I was a busy worker in God’s kingdom. (and keep in mind I worked during part of my time in Somerset, selling insurance, delivering newspapers, or pumping gas) I was 100% committed to the work God had called me to. I have little tolerance for lazy preachers who spent their time playing golf or taking numerous “family” days.
A bus promotion featuring a 100 foot long banana split. My wife Polly is in the forefront holding our third son, Jaime. Yes, that is a cemetery she is standing in. All dead Methodists. When we bought the church the cemetery came with it.
Only one life twill soon be past and only what’s done for Christ will last, drove me to work day and night to build up the visible expression of God, the church. I sincerely believed it was better to burn out for God rather than rust out.
My wife and children were very much part of the “work of the ministry.” Their lives revolved around their husband and father’s busy schedule. They knew God came first, that the church was the most important thing in my life. They knew that any choice between family and church, the church would ALWAYS win. (this was not the case in the latter years of my time in the ministry)
I went through times of depression, overworked, yet fearing I was not doing all I could do to build up the church. When I found myself discouraged I would attend Pastor’s Fellowships or Pastor’s Conferences to get my spiritual battery recharged. These meetings were preachers preaching to preachers. Successful pastors would tell “how” they did it and encourage other preachers to do it too.
I grew up, and was called to the ministry, in an era when Independent Baptist churches were some of the largest and fastest growing churches in America. (and, in some cases, the world) During this period of American history Independent Baptist churches dominated the list of the largest churches in America.
An early baptism. The man doing the baptizing is evangelist Dennis Corle. He is baptizing Greg Brown, one of the most loyal church members I have ever pastored. Greg’s wife and family are sitting on the front row, left side. The baptismal is a cattle tank which we heated with a cattle tank heater. This picture was taken in 1984.
Every Independent Baptist preacher worth his salt wanted to pastor a successful church. How was success determined? Four things:
- Church attendance
- People saved
- People Baptized
- Size of offerings
From 1979 to 1990 I was driven to be considered by my peers as a “successful” preacher. (my disaffection with Baptist fundamentalism and my adoption of Calvinism radically changed my view of success after 1990) What is more American than a success that is measured by numbers? (and this is still the case today in Evangelicalism) Every preacher either loved or hated the question, how many are you running? For most of my time at Somerset Baptist Church I was glad to answer the how many are you running question. From 1983-1988, church attendance grew every year. From 1989-1994, church attendance declined and in 1994 church attendance was 150 people less than our high attendance in 1987. (this due to stopping the bus ministry and adopting Calvinism)
The health problems I now face were set into motion during my time at Somerset Baptist Church. I ate poorly, often on the run, and I only doctored when I had to. My only physical salvation during this time period was that I still continued to play competitive sports like basketball and softball. I even played tackle football for awhile. It was not uncommon for me to drop over ten pounds playing basketball. Of course, drinking a couple of cold, 16 oz. , glass bottles of Pepsi afterwards helped negate the weight loss benefit. (when I stopped playing sports my weight went up dramatically)
I sacrificed my body for the good of the church. I thought, “surely, God will take care of me.” He didn’t, and I now see the utter foolishness of such devotion to ANYTHING, let alone a church.
I pastored Somerset Baptist Church for 11 years. I was so busy doing God’s work that I never paid attention to the fact that I lived in a beautiful part of Ohio. I had little time for nature and beauty. Souls were dying and hell was real. How dare I stop to smell the roses while people were perishing without Christ. (and I still think if you literally embrace the NT message this is how you should live)
I still have much to share about my time at Somerset Baptist Church.