Even as I write it, it seems impossible . . . thirty-five years ago, on Halloween, Donna and I moved from Mount Eden, Kentucky, to Eminence. On November 1, 1979, I officially became the pastor of Eminence Baptist Church.
Conversation with the church had begun in the summer of 1979. In the prior months, I had talked with and had contact with several pulpit committees. None had been a good experience. Issues of heresy within the Southern Baptist Convention were once again being raised. Pulpit committees had key questions they used to sort out the “liberals.” Smart “liberals” were using double-speak—say what the committee wants to hear while remaining true to your own beliefs. I had played the game, thus skirting issues about biblical inerrancy, salvation, Communion, and women in ministry. Double-speak was not my way. So I quit, deciding that a church would either take me for who I was or I would find another way to minister and live. It was the best decision I ever made.
When the pulpit committee from Eminence Baptist Church contacted me, I was honest. That committee was chaired by Bob Moore. He was joined by four other men: Ben Coomes, Andrew Johnson, Edward Mitchell, and Doug Payton. As conversations continued, it became obvious to the committee that their view of Communion and women in ministry differed significantly from mine. They also suspected that they were a bit more conservative regarding biblical inerrancy than I was. In our last meeting, Bob Moore raised those issues noting our differences. Having done so, he said, “We think we want to recommend you to our church; but given our differences on these issues, we want to know how you will handle that should you become our pastor.” I told them that whenever it was appropriate to speak to those issues, I would be honest about what I believed to be the teaching of Scripture and the leading of God; but that any decision about change would be the church’s decision.
This long journey of a people and their pastor began with honesty. The journey has not always been smooth; and, in the early years, both the people and the pastor occasionally had doubts about their future. Today, the doubts are long gone. We still find ourselves on opposite sides of some issues. Actually, we now have a congregation composed of members who hold a wide variety of beliefs and interpretations. The result is that we often disagree among ourselves. What binds us together is our openness to each other, a commitment that each member has a right to be heard, and our common commitment to Jesus.
I never expected the journey to last this long. It has and it continues. Today, I am not so much celebrating thirty-five years as I am celebrating the beginning of my thirty-sixth year as this congregation’s pastor.
I have been and am blessed to be pastor to the people of Eminence Baptist Church and our community. Donna and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
How much longer will the journey last? The Lord knows . . . and that is enough.