78-year-old Jerry Milam enjoying fruits of new church start in Lyles
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
LYLES — Statistics indicate that the average church planter is somewhere in his late 20s to his mid-30s, according to Lewis McMullen, church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
If that’s the case, Jerry Milam acknowledges (with a grin), “I’m well above average.”
Milam, 78, is pastor of New Life Baptist Church in the Hickman County town of Lyles. The church celebrated its first anniversary on March 13.
He began the church with about 25 people after serving as pastor of smaller, traditional churches for more than 50 years. Milam had envisioned retiring last May from Wrigley Baptist Church in Lyles, a congregation he had served three different times for a total of 33 years. “I was going to sit on the back pew and rest, but it didn’t work out that way,” he recalled.
Circumstances led him to leave the church a few months before his planned retirement to begin New Life, a mission church of Edgewood Baptist Church, Centerville.
“I’m having more fun in the ministry than ever before,” Milam said, noting that his traditional coat and tie are gone (except for funerals).
The casual look fits well with his new congregation, Milam said. “People don’t have to dress up here. They come as they are,” he said. “I have learned people’s souls are more important than how they dress.”
The congregation meets in the “party room” of Pizza Junction in Lyles. After an inquiry by Milam, Larry Riley, owner of the business, made his facility available to New Life twice on Sundays and on Wednesday evenings — at no cost to the church.
He wouldn’t even take any money for utilities or additional cleaning costs, Milam said. “God has blessed our church,” the pastor said, noting that a large number of his congregation lives on a fixed income.
Milam is also appreciative of the Tennessee Baptist Convention for providing funds from the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions for the new church start. “The convention has been a blessing to us.”
The TBC’s McMullen, who worked closely with Milam in helping to get New Life off the ground, observed that Milam and his wife Nancy are known throughout the county. “They spend time weekly visiting and doing evangelistic visits. He is the pastor of the Lyles community,” McMullen said.
New Life now has 30 members and is reaching people of all ages, Milam said. The church baptized eight people in its first year and has two more waiting to be baptized, he added. The mission church holds baptism services at its mother church, Edgewood Baptist.
Not having a building is the biggest adjustment Milam has made, he said. “We appreciate what people are doing but at the same time we’d like to have a place to call our own,” he noted. The church has to bring in its Sunday School material each week though they do have a small storage section at the restaurant.
The experience of not having a church building has caused Milam to lean more on God. “You have to believe this is what God wanted,” he said.
He noted that he is encouraging New Life members “to really pray and seek God’s leadership as to where He wants us to be. We know, in faith, that He will bless us in His way and His time with a permanent place.”
In the meantime, the church is serving where it’s planted for now. At the suggestion of a 13-year-old in the congregation, church members held a prayerwalk last November around East Hickman Middle School. In addition, the church held a Vacation Bible School last summer and recently sponsored a birthday party for residents of a local nursing home. The church also has worked with Calvary Bible Church, another Tennessee Baptist congregation, on some joint projects.
“We have a very loving group of people here,” said Milam’s wife, Nancy. “They are very interested in missions.”
Milam acknowledged that his new role as a church planter has been a challenge. “Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t retire,” he laughed. But he knows he didn’t retire because God “had a plan” for him and his wife.
“God undoubtedly still has something for us to do. We are still in His plans,” Milam said, pledging to remain there “until He tells me differently.”