Who are the most influential people in your life as a follower of Jesus? What places have played a major role in shaping you as a believer?
As I look back on my own Christian life, I can name many people and places God has used to challenge, encourage, teach, and grow me. I owe of all these people and places a great debt for their willingness to love and serve me. A few examples:
As a young child in Tennessee, I was raised in a Christian home. My family attended Collierville First Baptist Church consistently (except for when my sister and I could convince our parents to stay home and eat McDonald’s sausage biscuits instead). I attended Vacation Bible School each year, and participated in RA’s (essentially a Southern Baptist version of Boy Scouts). I played Upward Basketball, and my sister was getting involved in the Youth Group before we moved to the Cincinnati area. My parents taught me the truth about Jesus from a young age, and emphasized the value of a church family.
Hebron Baptist Church (Hebron, KY)
This is the church we joined when we moved to the Cincinnati area. I sat and listened to sermons from a preacher named Shawn Edwards. He loved Scripture, and taught it faithfully. BJ Sanders, my Youth Minister, took a great interest in me. He was a wonderful friend, mentor, and discipled me patiently throughout my teens. Through the work of this church, I first sensed a calling from God to go into vocational ministry. God used this church in big ways during some of the most formative years of my life.
Cincinnati Christian University (Cincinnati, OH)
I attended CCU for both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and met many friends along the way. The professors were gifted, experienced, and Scripturally-grounded teachers. I learned more about Scripture at CCU than I ever could have imagined, and my love for Christ, the Church, and vocational ministry was nurtured well there.
Journey (Union, KY)
Journey was a small church plant close to my house, and the first church to ever issue me a paycheck. I was a VERY part-time Youth Minister, and only served there for about a year – but I met wonderful people who loved God, and got my first taste of what it’s like to be in vocational ministry. I also learned about some of the unique challenges of working at a brand new church, still trying to get off the ground.
Batesville Christian Church (Batesville, IN)
While finishing my Bachelor’s degree at CCU, I worked here for two years as part-time Minister of Youth and Family Life. Upon my graduation from CCU, I moved to full-time at BCC for another (almost) two years. Steve Yeaton, the Senior Minister at BCC at the time, quickly became one my most trusted and valued mentors. Steve taught me just about everything I knew about vocational ministry prior to arriving at Prairie View. This is the church Olivia and I were married in; we lived in this church’s parsonage when we brought Javan home from the hospital; this is the first church to give me consistent preaching opportunities. This church gave me financial support to begin my Master’s degree at CCU. We have wonderful memories at BCC, where so many godly believers loved us, cared for us, and showed us grace as we learned how to be spouses, parents, and church leaders. Those relationships still mean the world to us, and we keep in touch with many of the believers here regularly.
If not for these people and places, I would not be serving at Prairie View Christian Church today. God used each of them in unique ways to help me become the man, husband, father, and Pastor I am today. I owe each of them a great debt, and am incredibly grateful for all of them.
Now that you know some of my history, back to the original question of the post: Who are the most influential people in your life as a follower of Jesus? What places have played a major role in shaping you as a believer?
As you reflect on that question, thank God for those people – whoever they are. Pray for those people, and for those churches and institutions that served you well. It may be easy for you to look back and lob criticisms at those people and places; that’s true for me as well, and some of those criticisms may have merit. However, don’t forget the debt you owe them. God – in his wisdom – put you in the right places, at the right times, with the right people, to get you to where you are today.
There’s great value in knowing your history. I hope reflecting back on your history as a believer would bring about the humility of knowing how much you owe God and others. I also hope you’ll be filled with gratitude for the people and places God used to shape you into the believer you are today.