By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
A church family can make the difference in someone’s life. If you don’t believe it, just read the story of Paul Chitwood, new president of the International Mission Board, Southern Baptists’ largest missions-sending institution.
Chitwood grew up in a single-parent home for much of his childhood. He readily admits that members of First Baptist Church in Jellico “helped raise” him.
He flat out says that he would not be the president of the International Mission Board had it not been for deacons from First Baptist Church in Jellico, near the Kentucky-Tennessee line, who knocked on his door and invited his father to church.
I can identify with that. I grew up in a small country church (Lima Baptist) in rural, northern Greenville County in South Carolina. There was a primary family in that church who “helped raise” me. Most of that family had migrated from Tennessee, so I had some “Tennessee raising” mixed in with my South Carolina upbringing.
Members of that large family (which encompassed several names due to marriages) played a major role in my life. They gave me jobs, they treated me as one of their own, but most importantly, several of them played a major role in helping to shape my faith.
We had couples in our church who would take the children and youth to a local state park to swim or to theme parks. Keep in mind that was long before the days of signed permission forms and medical releases and so forth. All we had to have was permission to go. Times have changed in that regard, but even today, adults are investing in the lives of other people’s children and youth.
My family played a major role in my development, from my mother and grandparents to my aunts and uncles, but church leaders were there as well, helping to fill in the gaps.
I imagine that every Tennessee Baptist who grew up in church can share similar stories of that special man or woman who taught you in Sunday Schools, RAs or GAs, Vacation Bible School and the list goes on and on.
That’s why we need to be involved in our local churches. We don’t know who the next Paul Chitwood is. I’m sure those ladies who cared for him in Sunday School or youth group never dreamed that they were having an influence on the future president of the International Mission Board. They taught him about Southern Baptist missions with no thought that he would actually be leading the entire Southern Baptist international missions force one day.
Countless men and women have been influenced in our churches who have gone on to be pastors, missionaries, denominational workers and other church leaders. Consider the countless number of lay leaders in our churches today who were nurtured by loving teachers and ministers during their childhood and teenage years.
None of us will truly know the impact we may have made on someone’s life until God calls us home to heaven.
If you currently teach preschoolers, children and youth, take your role seriously. Teach them the Bible stories we all know and love. If you’re active in missions education, teach the importance of cooperative missions, especially the Cooperative Program and our Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions here in Tennessee.
More importantly, model the love of Jesus Christ to your charges. They will remember you the rest of their lives. I can still call out the names of people at Lima Baptist Church who invested in my life. I’m sure you can as well.
You may not have the next president of one of our SBC institutions in your classes now or in the near future, but you could have a future pastor or missionary who will one day lead hundreds and possibly thousands of people to Jesus Christ. What a legacy you would have.
Don’t take your role as a teacher or church leader lightly. You can and will make a difference in someone’s life. Just ask Paul Chitwood.