By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
First Baptist Church, Madisonville, honors Lon Shoopman on 40th anniversary
MADISONVILLE — When Lon Shoopman became pastor of First Baptist Church here on the second Sunday of January in 1975 he had no expectations of how long he would remain.
But he knew how he would approach his second pastorate as he transitioned from First Baptist Church, in Sebree, Ky., where he served for four years following graduation from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“You have to go to a place and lead like you are going to be there forever,” said Shoopman.
And though it has not been “forever,” his tenure has lasted 40 years and on Jan. 11, the congregation honored their pastor for his ministry in Madisonville.
Shoopman was honored along with his wife Pat during the morning worship service. Their three children and nine grandchildren also were part of the celebration.
TBC Executive Director Randy C. Davis congratulated Shoopman and First Baptist on the milestone.
“Lon Shoopman is the consummate Christian gentleman. For over four decades he has led his church like he lives his life: with discipline, compassion and integrity,” Davis said.
He added that Shoopman “had a tremendous impact on my own life as a member of the search committee for the executive board when I was called as executive director. I love this dear brother.
“On behalf of our network of churches across Tennessee, I congratulate Bro. Lon and First Baptist on modeling what it means to have a great commission impact as pastor and people for past four decades.”
Shoopman said he came to the position knowing that the title “pastor” would not automatically earn him status as leader of the church.
He observed that whenever a pastor leaves a church, a vacuum in leadership is created. It usually flows to a group within the church and doesn’t necessarily flow back to the new pastor when he arrives, Shoopman noted. “Leadership is not bestowed. It is earned,” he said.
The longer he stayed at First Baptist the more Shoopman realized that no matter how long he stayed, he was an “interim” pastor. “Every pastor is an interim pastor whether you are there four years or 40 years,” he observed. “You are there for only a limited time.”
A long tenure is not about the pastor, he continued. Pastors will come and go but the church and Kingdom work will remain.
The key, Shoopman said, is for the pastor “to serve the best that he can while he is there.”
And that is what Shoopman has strived to do during his 40-year tenure at First Baptist.
He is the first to admit that First Baptist has changed “drastically” over the years and that has been positive, he said. Churches must change in order to remain relevant and effective, he noted.
The key to his tenure at First Baptist is not the tenure itself but the fact that it has been “tenure without stagnation,” Shoopman said. “Kingdom growth is not stagnant. It is evolving,” he observed.
“I have continually tried to cast a new vision for the church,” he said, adding that he has been “blessed to be part of a church that has allowed me to cast a vision.”
Shoopman recalled that when he came to First Baptist in 1975 the church had a legacy of missions and caring for children/youth.
That has continued.
The church has taken on numerous missions projects both locally and globally (which included adopting the Songhai, an unreached people group in Burkina Faso) and is a strong supporter of missions through the Cooperative Program, giving 10 percent of its undesignated receipts through the CP giving channel.
First Baptist also continues to place a strong emphasis on young families and children and youth, Shoopman stressed. “If we fail to pass the gospel on to the next generation who comes behind us, the church will die.”
He has seen the church grow steadily (from about 200 to 600) during his tenure and has seen the church add to and improve its facilities.
But when asked what has been most fulfilling about his ministry at First Baptist, his answer is simple.
“Everyday ministry has been the high point. It hasn’t been about building buildings. It has been about touching lives with the gospel.”
At the age of 70, Shoopman has no immediate plans to retire. He will continue to strive to “serve the best I can” and help the church continue to advance the gospel.
“My prayer and hope is that the church’s greatest days are before it and not behind it,” he said.