“Remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears…. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel…. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’….” (Acts 20:31-35)
I wonder how it would be to stand before a group of elders and tell them of the 13+ years I served the Lord at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, or the 3+ years before that at the Church in Charlotte. Or the 12+ years prior to that at the Church in Columbus, Mississippi.
Could I get it right? Would I be prone to brag or exaggerate? Or to omit and gloss over?
This Spring, I returned to Greenville, Mississippi, where we pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church as our first congregation after seminary. We had never spent any time in Mississippi prior to this and knew absolutely nothing about life in the Delta, particularly in the late 1960s when racial unrest was at its height. Greenville lies only a few miles west of the birthplace of the (white) Citizens Council.
We served in Greenville from November 1967 through December of 1970. Three years and two months. Not long by most standards. But looking back and reminiscing, I am amazed at all the things that took place in that brief time. Consider….
–I gathered some pastors together and we decided to begin a monthly “Youth Rally,” for the teens of Washington County Baptist churches. We selected great young people and put them in charge of it and nurtured them along. Some of them went on to log entire careers in the ministry. Charles Treadway has served churches around Austin Texas and Bruce Morgan is on staff of the great St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston (where George and Barbara Bush are parishioners).
Who else was affected by that youth rally? The Lord knows.
–Police detective Toby Wood and I had a burden for the youth. So, God led us to initiate and then lead the “Greater Delta Crusade for Christ with Bill Glass,” held at the local high school stadium June 22-29, 1969. The pastors of some 60 churches got involved with us, and we crossed racial lines. On the two Sunday afternoons, we packed 5,000 people into the stadium and averaged 2500 each weeknight. In addition to the hundreds who came to the Lord that week, Bill Glass said the crusade had the highest percentage of minorities of any of his meetings. Bear in mind, this was the Mississippi Delta only one year after the assassination of Martin Luther King.
What was the long-range effect? God knows.
–We had a daily radio program on the country station called “The Magic Five: 5 minutes that could change your life.” Most days, I drove downtown or phoned in, and the program was live, a rarity for religious programming then or now. I rarely mentioned the name of the church I pastored. But people found out. Soon, my church was welcoming a number of visitors as a result of the program. Once, we did an impromptu fundraiser–sort of a mini-telethon–to raise thousands of dollars for a man turned away from dialysis because he could not afford to pay. Kidney disease treatment was in its infancy in the late 60s, extremely expensive, and no government programs existed yet to assist with costs. The community literally rallied to save that man’s life.
What else happened as a result of that radio program? The Lord knows.
–God sent a revival to our little church, but it began with great pain. In the spring of 1968, during my first year, we scheduled an evangelist from Memphis whose flyer I had received in the mail. I knew nothing about the man, but just did it. (I’d like to say I “felt led,” but at this distance, I’m unsure about that.) Anyway, the church was divided, people were gossiping, distrust was rampant, and racial animosity ruled the day. So, the evangelist came in, and absolutely nothing happened. That’s why….
That Sunday morning, after the guest preacher had done his best and the congregation had been completely unresponsive, I said what I did.
I stood in front of the pulpit and told the church, “I’m more frustrated than I have ever been in my life. This brother and I have worked hard all week to bring the Lord’s message. Most of you have not bothered to attend even. This morning, we gathered all the children in the auditorium for him to present the Gospel. And not a single child responded. At this moment, I’m looking out at a number of you who have told me you plan to join this church. And several others need to be saved. But you have not responded to the message and come forward.”
“And I don’t blame you.”
“I wouldn’t join this church either.”
(I was telling them this.)
“There is a bad attitude in this church. And God is not going to let us reap a harvest of souls for Him until His people get their hearts right with God. I Peter 4:17 says, ‘The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God.'”
Various ones came up to me later saying, “Oh, pastor, if I’m the roadblock in this church, I want God to forgive me. I’m willing to do any thing.” I calmly said, “It’s not you.” “No, it’s not you.”
I knew who it was. And to my knowledge, those few people never got their hearts right. But something else happened.
The rest of God’s people did.
That very evening, at the conclusion of my sermon, people started coming to the altar to pray and repent. Then, they would take the microphone and tell the church the commitments they were making, or in some cases, the sins they had been convicted of, as they asked everyone to forgive them.
The invitation went on an hour and ten minutes that night. About a dozen people came to the Lord for salvation, and practically everyone else in the church spent time at the altar.
That began what was a revival in the church for the next two to three years. God did some amazing things in that church in that period, and built a fellowship among the people that still stands as the gold standard for so many who belonged to Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, Mississippi in the late 1960s.
What all was accomplished during that period? I do not know. God knows. And that’s how it should be.