CAUGHT IN BRO. RAY’S CROSSHAIRS

Editor’s Note: Ray Newcomb was a leader in the Tennessee Baptist Convention for decades. Over the years we developed a mutual respect for and friendship with each other. The highest compliment I could give Bro. Ray is this. If I lived anywhere near a church where he was serving, I would join in a minute and be honored and proud to call him “my pastor.” — Lonnie Wilkey

By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBMB

Chris Turner, director of communications for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, visited with his former pastor Ray Newcomb at the Summit. Newcomb baptized Turner more than 30 years ago while serving as pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington.
— Photo by Corinne Williams

You did not want to get caught in Ray Newcomb’s crosshairs if you were goofing around while he was preaching.

I did. One time.

“You two boys down there. You need to quit talking and pay attention.”

I’m not sure if I was more mortified by Bro. Ray calling me out in church or by contemplating the impending consequences that would crash upon my teenaged shore when we got home. The irony is that I was actually helping my friend find the correct Scripture passage, that time. But I’ve always sort of just considered this one justice for the times I was goofing around and didn’t get hammered.

As a youth, I sat behind a particular post near the back of the sanctuary at the old First Baptist Church, Millington, and got away with quite a bit; or so I thought. Years later, after I’d graduated from seminary, Bro. Ray told me I wasn’t fooling anybody. He could see everything. Looking back I guess I received mercy as well as the “Wrath of Ray.”

Bro. Ray was an intimidating figure to a seventh grader whose family had recently transferred to Millington from California. I’d been mostly around military chaplains to that point in my life, and the chaplains I remember ranged from subdued to unbelievably boring. By comparison, Bro. Ray was like a 55-gallon drum of ice water inundating sleeping senses. He was a firebrand. He exuded authority.

He’d pop through the doors at the front of the sanctuary like a football team running out of the locker room. He marched purposefully up the platform steps — Bible cradled in his left arm like a running back storming the goal line — and it was game on. Everything from that moment forward communicated seriousness. He never stepped behind the pulpit that I remember without a tie on and without his coat buttoned. I didn’t have to be told to respect God, or the church, or the preacher, or anything else related to First Baptist. It was just so obvious respect was on display and it was expected in response.

He charged the pulpit with long, quick steps when it was time to preach. He couldn’t wait to dive into his sermon, but the first thing out of his mouth more times than not was Hebrews 4:12. I can hear him now, ripping it off like firing it from a Gatling gun with unapologetic matter-of-factness. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” King James version, mind you. Always the King James.

Bro. Ray was a captivating speaker whose passion for preaching manifested itself in an unrehearsed but theatrical presentation. I can’t begin to guess the number of times he hung out over the edge of that platform hinting at the possibility he might step a foot out onto the table below. I had visions of the top not being screwed down, him stepping on it, and the top shooting off into the first row, him crashing down with it. It never happened, but in all my years, I believed it could happen.

Bro. Ray was extremely competitive. My first few years at FBC, he was still young enough to mix it up with us boys on the basketball court or on the softball field. He wanted the ball when it mattered and he hated losing. That competitive streak carried over to evangelism. I can’t imagine anyone thinking of Ray Newcomb without immediately saying something like, “That Bro. Ray, he was a determined soul winner.” Bro. Ray hated the idea of the devil getting a single soul, and I believe he resolved to share the gospel with everyone he encountered. He wanted to see everyone “get saved.”

Bro. Ray baptized me on June 20, 1982, prayed over me when I was called into ministry, stood with me at my wedding, encouraged me as I left for seminary, prayed for my wife and me as we left for the missions field, and told me as recently as last year’s Summit how proud he was of me and what the Lord has done in my life. His influence runs deep, but not just with me. I can rattle off the names of dozens of other men – many of whom are in ministry – whose lives were profoundly impacted by Bro. Ray’s ministry.

Bro. Ray wasn’t into telling our church what we wanted to hear; he was into telling us what we needed to hear. He wasn’t into the latest church growth strategies because he felt if you grew the Kingdom you’d grow the church. He wasn’t a very clever preacher and his sermons were never sprinkled with contemporary relevance.

He just preached Jesus, all the time; and that made him relevant all the time.

Ray Newcomb, of Corinth, Miss., graduate of Blue Mountain College, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Luther Rice Seminary, long-time pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington, faithful minister of the gospel, determined soul-winner, and lover of Jesus Christ, was personally welcomed into glory April 27, 2017 by the Savior he so enthusiastically proclaimed.

And by God’s grace, I’m thankful I got caught in Bro. Ray’s crosshairs during the most formative years of my life.

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