I was raised in church. My dad was a railroad engineer so he was gone a lot, but my mother always made sure we were in church on Sundays. Even though I attended church regularly and knew quite a bit about the Bible as a child, I did not give my heart to Jesus until I was a junior in high school. That changed everything!
Several months after being saved, I went to a church camp in Colorado, and it was there, on a Thursday night, that I felt the Lord calling me into full-time ministry. I really wasn’t sure how that would look; I just knew I wanted to surrender to that calling.
The Sunday I returned, I let my pastor and the church know I had surrendered my life to full-time ministry, and they were, of course, very supportive. In fact, my pastor wanted me to begin preaching, so I, along with two other guys my age, rotated Wednesday nights preaching at Central Baptist Church in Lufkin, Texas. I’ll never forget my first sermon. I wrote down, word-for-word, what I was going to say, hoping I wouldn’t be too long-winded. Scared to death, I got up that first Wednesday night and preached for a whopping two minutes! I’m sure there are people in my church now who wish I could keep my sermons that short!
After graduating from high school, I met a girl who took me to her brother’s graduation service at a little college in Jacksonville, Texas. I was raised Independent Baptist, so I had never heard of this college; but for whatever reason, there at that graduation service, I knew this was the college God wanted me to attend. I had three of the best years of my life at that two-year school. One of the neatest things at Jacksonville College was the opportunity to meet many other young preachers and travel to fill pulpits on Sunday mornings. I’ll never forget driving those country roads headed to little country churches way out in the middle of nowhere to preach. I met some of the best people I’ve ever known at those churches, and I ate a lot of good food.
After that first year at Jacksonville College, I served in a summer youth ministry internship with Gary Willis at Keltys First Baptist Church in Lufkin, Texas. We hopped on a bus and did a youth choir tour all the way up to Nashville, Tenn., where I attended my very first SOAR conference. That was 30 years ago.
I’ll forever be grateful to my pastor who gave a young high school boy the opportunity to get up and preach, even though it was probably the worst preaching the church had heard. And I’m also grateful to a college that encouraged young preachers and opened doors of opportunity to spread our wings and attempt to fly a bit — sometimes flying right into a tree, but flying nonetheless.
SOAR 2022 will be focused on God’s call on our lives. God’s call to salvation, God’s call to serve, God’s call to missions and God’s call to ministry. This year’s SOAR could have a huge impact on this generation of students and our churches for years to come.
For more information about 2022 SOAR, go to soarconference.com.