Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” has always been a favorite of mine. I had three roads at my crossroads in the Spring of 1985. At FBC Baird we began to see pulpit committees from other churches almost weekly. First Baptist Church Haskell came and carefully interviewed us. After a few weeks they ask us to come and lead their church. In those days FBC Haskell was the strongest church in that part of Texas. They had a beautiful building and strong finances. To get me to be more interested, they told me all about the numerous resources that they had. The same day that they invited me to come in view of being called as their pastor, the First Baptist Church of Kingsville invited us to come there. Before I could answer either of them, Coggin Avenue Baptist in Brownwood sent a committee and seemed very interested. In fact the chairman of the committee told me that I would likely be invited. Coggin was the largest baptist church in Brownwood and was the church to which my grandmother had belonged for many years. My father also had once been a member there.
First Baptist Kingsville asked if they could fly me down on a weekday and have me meet the committee and tour the facilities and community. I had an amazing day looking at financial documnets and records and discussing the condition of the church. It was in very bad shape. The buildings were beautiful, but the church had a sizable debt. Most of the members had either left to join other churches or just stopped coming. Only around eighty or so attended on Sunday. I flew home that evening and told Shannon that there was no way we were going there. Then they called and invited us to come and preach for them. Something happened in my heart that day. I remembered the famous quote by Bonhoeffer, “The call to follow Jesus is the call to come and die.” I realized that God had the authority to ask me to die to ambition, leave familiar territory, and venture out on faith. Before I knew it I consented to visit the church and preach. I carefully explained that this would not mean that we would come if the vote was positive. We needed to be able to vote no. I called Haskell and told them that I would not be coming and thanked them for their interest and invitation. I could not bear to be in a situation with three choices. I was willing to wait to hear more from Coggin. The day we were at FBC Kingsville, it seemed like half of the people in the service wept through my message. Grown men walked up and hugged me and my family with tears in their eyes. Some sobbed openly. One said to me that even if we did not come, my message that day had helped them greatly. I had never seen such brokenness. The vote was unanimous. That afternoon I stood before many members in a question and answer session. I explained to them that I believed that any church could grow through personal evangelism. One man who was wealthy and powerful in the church asked me how much money it would take to get me there. I answered him that if it was God’s will, money wouldn’t matter and if it was not, there would not be enough money to get us there. I also shared with them that I would seek to diversify the racial makeup of the church, and that if they called me, I never wanted them to complain as we reached other races. They assured me that they were ready to follow. Shannon and I talked, and even though we would be moving far from home, she consented to go. She has always been so supportive of my sense of what we should do. We called in a few days and told them we would come on July 1st, 1985.
When I had made the call to Kingsville, it was time to call the folks at Coggin. I called the workplace of the chairman of the committee. His secretary was a member of Coggin and knew about the interest that the pulpit committee had expressed in us. I told her to have him call me. She blurted out, “Surely you are not going to Kingsville! That is so far from home for you and your family!” I had no idea that the committee at Coggin knew I had preached in Kingsville. When the chairman called me I said, “I don’t even want you to tell me how interested you were in me because I so greatly admire Coggin that this is the hardest decision I have made as a pastor. God has clearly spoken to me that I am to go to Kingsville and so please thank your committee for their interest.” He had known me for years and thanked me for letting him know. He expressed his regret and yet affirmed my sense of God’s leading. Now only one road lay ahead, the long, long road to Kingsville.