No one does all that might be done to see a ministry fulfill God’s purpose. Our challenge is to allow the Lord to lead us every day to do his will. I want to describe today a process that God blessed to bring a church back from a place of ruin and loss to the place of being the flagship church of the Coastal Bend. I cannot tell the whole story. More than anyone else, I am aware of the inevitable failures along the way. The amazing thing is that God overruled the failures to do miraculous things in a part of Texas where dramatic growth is often considered impossible.
When we placed our son, Chase, in the nursery at FBC Kingsville, he was the only baby there. Our children’s building was almost empty on Sundays. Our evening services consisted of around two rows of people in a small chapel. We struggled to have 100 in morning worship in a facility that could easily accommodate 700. The church was in debt by hundreds of thousands of dollars which would not be so daunting had it been more healthy, but was enslaving to programming in it’s condition in 1985. Some leaders met with me privately and suggested that the first time another Baptist church in town was pastorless that we should try to talk them into a merger. There were four other predominantly white congregations in Kingsville and none of them were very strong. The strongest at that time was a church in Ricardo just south of Kingsville. In fact a large number of those who left FBC in the interim time before our arrival went to Ricardo. One of the leaders at FBC said to me, “Our only hope is if some other church will merge with us.” I responded that God had already revealed to me that he was able to restore the church to great days.
The first year brought only modest gains in growth and attendance, but great gains in financial support. The most important development in that first year was a growing excitement and expectancy that God was not done with FBC. You could sense the anticipation of the people for a new day for the church. I systematically worked to visit in the homes of members. I visited inactive members as well as active ones. These visits were highly productive and inactive members were drawn back to being involved in the life of the church. We called another staff member who had a passion for personal evangelism and together we begin to develop an ongoing program of outreach much like Monday Night Live at Crestview. The men and women of the church began to discover the joy of outreach visitation and see the fruit of their ministry on a regular basis. The baptismal waters were stirred. During this time many adults came to Christ. Navy pilots and their wives were among the many. Even senior adults made professions of faith as well as youth and children. One long time member commented that they had never seen so many adults baptized in all their years at the church. We made reaching adults our primary focus. If you can reach adults, the youth and children will come as well. God richly blessed this focus.
With the encouragement of a family in the church, I began a home bible study for football players at Texas A & I. This ministry opened up the campus to our church in ways that were fruitful for the entire ten years that we served there. Later when Ross Ellis came to be our music minister, he picked up on this beginning and led out in reestablishing a Fellowship of Christian Athletes on campus. The organization had been dormant and for a long time prior to this and God blessed this ministry greatly.
I became a frequent guest at the Naval Air Station. The Commander of the base became a personal friend and actually sang in our choir and in a gospel quartet with me and two other members. He was Captain Lonnie McClung. He is now retired, but I still hear from him from time to time.
God opened up the leadership of the city to me through a group of community leaders who met on Tuesdays and Thursdays to play full court basketball for an hour and a half. This was rough and tumble basketball and I played a Charles Barkley style of basketball in those days. (Minus the shooting skills) I made many friends and God brought several into our church. For a time, one of the players who met with us was a college football player. He ran over me many times in the lane as he drove to the basket. I was not used to anyone running over me that way and seriously thought about quitting before I got injured. His name was John Randles. Perhaps you have heard of him. He was later an all pro with the Minnesota Vikings for many years. No wonder he ran over me. How was I to know who he was to become?
Another development in Kingsville was that I became a platform guest for many city and area wide events. I was involved when George Herbert Walker Bush came to town to speak graduation. I was involved when Lloyd Benson came in his run for Vice President of the United States. I was a guest at numerous changes of commands at the Naval Air Station. I was a frequent participant and program guest at Chamber events. I was asked to speak at a Vespers service for the graduating class of the high school. All of these opportunities expanded our ministry. In time I was asked to do many funerals for high profile citizens and families. These services were filled to capacity and gave an opportunity to share Christ with thousands of citizens in Kingsville.
I cannot begin to list all the ways God opened doors for us in those ten years. The verse that was on my mind often in those days was “Behold! I have set before you and open door that no man can shut.” (Rev. 1:8)