By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
OLIVER SPRINGS — Tennessee Baptist pastor and evangelist Bill Edmonds preached his first sermon at the age of 24 at Meadowview Baptist Church in Wartburg.
Sixty-one years later, on the same day and time (June 27 at 6 p.m.), Edmonds preached again, this time at First Baptist Church, Oliver Springs, where he was ordained into the ministry. He considers Oliver Springs home and is a member of the local high school’s athletic hall of fame.
Since that first sermon, the Korean War veteran has preached literally thousands of messages, both as a pastor for 36 years and a full-time evangelist for 25 years. In addition, he has preached on television and radio and in prisons.
At the age of 85, he doesn’t preach as much as he used to, but he fills pulpits on occasion and is active at First Baptist, Oliver Springs, where he serves as resident evangelist and teaches a Sunday School class. “To be alive and to be able to be physically active and still preach is wonderful,” observed Edmonds.
Don’t think for a second that Edmonds is “retired.” “I still have my ministry. I want to lead people to Jesus,” he affirmed.
Edmonds has been showing people the way to Jesus and heaven for six-plus decades. He won’t even venture a guess as to how many people have accepted Christ as Savior during his years of ministry.
Kenny Rains, pastor of First Baptist, Oliver Springs, doesn’t know either, but he knows Edmonds’ “passion for sharing the gospel with people he encounters” still runs deep. “His heart for winning the lost at any cost is contagious,” Rains observed. “Many decisions for the Lord have been made during his ministry.”
Rains is grateful that Edmonds and Imogene (Edmonds’ wife of 62 years) have decided to return to First Baptist and become a part of the fellowship once again. “God has richly blessed them both in their ministry. We are honored to have them as members of First Baptist,” Rains said.
While Edmonds is humbled by the number of people who came to know Christ under his ministry, he is equally humbled by the number of men (11), including his son, Billy Edmonds Jr., who were called into the ministry under his leadership at six Tennessee Baptist churches, including Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Coalfield, where he served for 13 years before entering full-time evangelism in 1993.
During his ministry, Edmonds was active in the denomination he loves, having served on the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now Tennessee Baptist Mission Board) and as a trustee of Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City (where he attended). Edmonds also has been active in the Fellowship of Tennessee Baptist Evangelists and is a past president of the organization.
Edmonds is convinced that God called him to preach and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“I never had any doubt about my calling to preach. It’s been a glorious, hard road,” he acknowledged.
And, as he told those who came to celebrate his ministry, he simply cannot “lay my cross down.”
He told the congregation that he has come full circle in his ministry at First Baptist, Oliver Springs. “This is where I surrendered to preach and this is where I was called. This is where I began and this is where I will end,” he promised.