That statement was made to me by a long-time pastor at my first pastor meeting in our Baptist Association in New Orleans. I didn’t go back.
I didn’t go back until I met Dr. Fred Dyess. About a year later, Fred became the Director of Missions (the old name for Associational Missions Strategist) at the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. This was back about 1990. I was a doctoral student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and about 18 months into planting a church.
Fred left his church in Houma, Louisiana to become the Director of Missions for our association. It must have been a call from God. Our association was so dead that the last director was found dead in his office. Yes, really. Probably with an ACP report in front of him.
Fred had led First Baptist Houma for over 10 years and averaged baptizing 100 people a year during that time. He was what the old guys called a “soul-winner.” I think his real appeal was his love for Jesus, which translated into love for God’s people and love for those who are not yet followers of Christ. It goes without saying, Fred loved me, and I loved him. He put “associate” in association for me. Here’s what Fred did.
First, he treated me like a real pastor. You see, I was just a lowly church planter. I was a church planter before church planting was cool. Our church met in a strip mall that previously had been a dance studio. Oh, the irony! Baptists who don’t dance meeting in a dance studio. No church, not steeple and when you opened the doors, very few people. I was also young, in my 20’s. Karen and I were married for just a few years and with our first baby.
Second, Fred encouraged me. I started going to the pastor fellowships. I just made sure I didn’t sit near pastor Eeyore (a Winnie the Pooh reference). We had interesting topics, speakers, and prayer times. Sometimes Fred would take me to lunch. He would ask about me, my family and later would get to the church. He gave me courage. He gave me a chance.
Third, he opened me to new experiences. Fred wanted our churches to be involved in the larger state and national convention. I remember a time when he gathered six of us young pastors and took us in a borrowed van to the Louisiana State Evangelism Conference. I’d never been. It was wonderful! It was inspiring! We stayed for the whole thing. Over dinner each night we would talk about what we learned and what we were going to do in our churches to share Jesus with more people. It was so helpful to me.
Fourth, he showed how we needed one another and that together we could do more. Most of the time in the New Testament, when it refers to “church” it is to a local church. The local church is so very important. But along with that, cooperation among local churches is important as well. No matter how big and great any one local church may be, it still cannot do what a group of churches committed together can do. The Lord used Fred in uniting our churches to hold an evangelistic crusade in the city, to plant new churches, to equip leaders, and to support community ministries of all kinds.
Fifth, Fred made sure I was equipped. I never had any church planter training. I found a book on church planting at the Baptist Bookstore (Before it was LifeWay) on Seven Steps for Church Planting. By then it didn’t offer much help to me. When our congregation was ready to try and find a permanent place to meet, Fred helped connect me to resources at the state convention. They helped us with funds to buy land and supplying a contractor. They also helped to coordinate volunteer builders for the construction of the first building. When I needed help in organizing our church, the association made sure I had the help I needed.
Fred sent me to coach training clinics, retreats, and planter assessment seminars. It was after one of those seminars that he invited me to work on contract with the association as a church planter catalyst. This led to even more equipping.
Six, he fanned the flames of ministry enthusiasm. He helped me when I was struggling. He encouraged me when I was not sure of my next thing to do, or not to do. One thing he always did was to help me see the larger picture of ministry. I was called to minister by Jesus. It was Jesus’ church not mine. The church was his bride. He died for her. My role was to be faithful. His role was to determine the outcomes. That helped me so much to keep my ministry perspective in line.
I am so thankful for the ministry of Fred Dyess. To my knowledge He’s still around. He tried to retire a couple of times and just couldn’t do it. He loves the ministry. It’s just who he is.
I’ve written this because I wanted you to know how important it is for pastors to have another person like them, who has walked the same path, who can encourage, engage and equip. I don’t pretend to have it all together. But I can use what God has given me and what I have experienced. Whether you are a pastor, staff member or an active member of your church, my heart is that you will never lose your enthusiasm for ministry.
I’m reminded of the old illustration of a piece of coal separated from the rest of the burning coals. In separation, it soon grows cold. I pray that our Fairburn Baptist Association will keep the ministry fires going. I pray that you will burn along with us too. Next time you receive a notice of something going on with the association, remember, this association is you. If we stay together, following the Lord Jesus Christ, we won’t ever have to fear losing the enthusiasm for the ministry.