Friday, June 12, 2015
My friend Phil Lineberger is now with the Lord. I miss him as I miss my other friends I talked to so much while serving as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed: John Baugh, Herb Reynolds, John Petty, and of course, my mentor Phil Strickland. I wish I could seek their counsel on many occasions. A part of me feels lost without them.
I am so grateful I still can call Ron Cook, Bob Stephenson, David Sapp, Charles Wade, Bill Jones, and Bill Bruster from my TBC days. I have been blessed to have friends believe in me through the years (and I could name so many more).
Phil Lineberger’s death is especially sad, not only for how it occurred, but because he is not replaceable (just like the others mentioned above). He was truly a unique gift from God to all who knew him.
When I think of Phil, I think of LEADERSHIP. He was a gifted leader but showed it in unique ways, peculiar to his gifts. Phil led with laughter. His memorial celebration was tremendous . . . we laughed half the service, just as we laughed half the time we were around Phil. But Phil used laughter to bring us together, to lead us forward, and to unite us around our purpose and our goals.
He had a magnetic personality but, unlike some who I feel use their tremendous personal gifts to build their own kingdoms, Phil used his gifts to build God’s kingdom. It was never about Phil, it was about the Kingdom of God. In many ways he was permanent co-chair of TBC for the 22 years I served there, even if he didn’t always have that title. He was engaged; he cared; he gave of himself and his gifts to our common cause.
And Phil was the same person in private. One of my favorite memories is when Phil needed a ride to DFW airport after a Baptist meeting. Loretta and Mother (Mary Jim) were with me. Mary Jim said fine, “but we have to stop at Cavender’s in Arlington and get David some clothes. He needs a new sport coat and boots.” The trip suddenly became something special, as Phil took over the task – as he put it to me – of “cleaning you up—making you presentable.” Phil was in charge – new shirts, sports coat, boots; in typical Phil Lineberger fashion, a shopping trip became an adventure to be experienced and treasured, when we could stop laughing enough to shop.
Phil also led through his courage. I am sure he never asked the question so many did during the battle to save the BGCT, which was “what might this cost me?” He opposed the evil of fundamentalism from the very beginning, simply because he knew it was a perversion of the Gospel of Christ. Not taking a stand was never an option for Phil. The fundamentalist agenda was clear to any who had eyes to see, and it destroyed the Southern Baptist Convention as we knew it. He would not straddle the fence, either, when it came to saving the BGCT and our institutions and ministries. He never considered shrinking from that fight. He was a courageous leader.
Finally, Phil was a true leader because he empowered others to serve and lead. True leaders bring out the best in those around them.
When I spoke at Phil Strickland’s funeral, I talked about the gift Strick gave so many of us when “he believed in us when we couldn’t even believe in ourselves.” Phil Lineberger was the same way. He was my friend. He believed in me, supported me, encouraged me, and made me want to do my best because of his faith in me. When folks lied about me, I never had to worry that I would need to call Phil and say, “This isn’t true, you know.” Rather, he would be the first to call and say, “hang in there, I know this isn’t true.” True friends believe in each other. They empower each other. They encourage each other. Phil was a leader who made all those around him better.
I will always miss Phil. But when I think of him, each time ends with a smile and a laugh just like he would want it.
Saturday, June 6, 2015
(reprinted from the May 4, 2011, issue of
TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup)
Remembering a Good Friend and Bright Leader - John Petty
by Phil Lineberger
Pastor, Sugar Land Baptist Church;
The mantle of leadership fell comfortably around the shoulders of John Petty. He was well-educated, with a bright and inquisitive mind. He was a caring and engaged minister to his church members and to the wider Baptist audience. He had a strength of will and an ability to make wise and informed decisions. John's sense of humor put people at ease in his presence. He studied and applied himself to the practice of preaching.
Because of his God-given abilities and his concern for Baptist principles, John was selected for leadership at a young age. In every leadership capacity, John served well. We saw and admired the gifts and commitment of John Petty.
What we didn't see was the darkness of depression that was gradually overcoming this young leader's mental and emotional capacities. Slowly but surely, this disease of depression - along with the long-term chronic stress of ministry - overcame John's will to live. He was being changed in ways that he alone sensed. It was as Paul stated in his first letter to the Corinthians: "a glass that one sees through darkly or a mirror with a poor reflection." John came to a point where his mental, emotional, and spiritual comprehension was distorted beyond human understanding. He no longer knew how much he was loved and needed by his family, his friends, and God. He could no longer feel the warmth and affection of others. He could no longer respond in a healthy, natural way to those who loved him most. He knew only that the painful struggle he was enduring had to end.
The last time John and I were together was at the BGCT meeting in McAllen, Texas, in November 2010. I encouraged John to go with me so that we could spend some time together and be encouraged. He had shared his struggle with me several months earlier. As we sat and talked, I realized that the John Petty I had known for many years was no longer there. John looked through me and past me as we conversed. It was as if his mind was traveling beyond our time to some distant place and some other destination. What I didn't comprehend was the depth of depression guiding John's thoughts and emotions.
John Petty is gone from this earth but very present in the minds and thoughts of so many. The distance between this world and the next is not as far as we might think. The wall between the two is not as thick as we might imagine. John Petty still has a relationship and influence in the lives of those he loved and served.
Friday, June 5, 2015
Saturday, May 30, 2015
You CAN go home again: 50 years later,
evidence of rich returns on a church's
investment in its youth
Kansas City was a wonderful place to grow up, and - though it's been over 40 years since I last lived there - I still consider it my hometown.
The occasion that brought me "home" last weekend was the reunion of the youth group that grew up together at Bethany Baptist Church in Kansas City. The church isn't the same these days. As those 1960s youth grew up and moved either out of town or to the suburbs, the neighborhood grew older and the church's membership decreased dramatically. I drove over to the church last Friday and was greeted by the two pastors (the church now has two congregations, one Spanish-speaking and one English-speaking); they were astounded when I told them that when I was growing up there, Bethany ran around 700 weekly in Sunday School. I'm told that the two current congregations can barely fill a Sunday School classroom. The youth and education building, which in those days was bustling with activity - Sunday School & Training Union classes, youth fellowships in the basement, as well as the church offices - was sold many years ago.
But there was a thriving church in the 1960s that is now scattered - in the lives of the youth who grew up there - throughout churches in the Kansas City area and well beyond. We had a vibrant youth group. Our Chapel Choir - under the direction of Joe Dell Rust - went on choir tours almost every year and required two buses to make the trip. In 1965, we were the featured choir one evening at Glorieta Baptist Assembly in New Mexico; on the way there and on the way back, we sang at churches in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. There was a fellowship among those youth that continues today.
At the reunion last Saturday - held in a park in nearby Leawood, Kansas - I saw some old friends I hadn't seen for almost 50 years, and we reconnected as if 1965 were yesterday. After being led in prayer prior to digging into our pot luck lunch, we sang "Blest Be the Tie That Binds (Our Hearts in Christian Love)," and we meant it. The folks in that group have been through a lot the past 50 years - the usual life experiences, such as divorces, deaths of spouses and other loved ones, health challenges, faith journeys that have run into some bumps and detours along the way, and so forth - but they've made it well into the 21st century with a spirit, a winsome, Christ-like spirit, that can't be quenched.
By the magic of Skype, I used my cell phone to bring Joe and Martha Rust - who have lived in North Carolina since leaving Bethany in 1969 and were not able to make the trip to KC - to the reunion, live and on a video screen. For about a half-hour, my phone was passed from one person to the next, as these "youth" - mostly now in our 60s - talked to Joe Rust and helped him to "catch up" on their lives the past 50 years. I eavesdropped on an occasional conversation and was moved to hear one after the other thank Joe, usually with a catch in their throats, for investing in their lives during their most formative years.
I was also moved by one of those former youth who shared with me that his parents were not Christian, that he had no Christian influence in his life until he visited Bethany and got involved in our youth activities, including the choir. He accepted Christ and was baptized at Bethany, and says that Bethany Baptist Church changed his life forever.
Joe Rust, of course, didn't do it alone. There were numerous Sunday School & Training Union teachers, GA & YWA leaders, RA leaders - in fact, one of our RA leaders, Rex Weese, showed up at the reunion. Then there were our pastors during those years, first Luther Dyer and then Richard Wallis. Well, the list is endless . . . so many people, including of course our parents, helped us to grow up, invested themselves in our lives, and the payoff is evident 50 years later.
What a blessing to visit with old friends and find that there is still a "tie" that binds us together. I found myself rushing to hug some of those folks I hadn't seen in so many years. We even had a reunion of the "three beats" - Mike Eaton, Robert Ingold, & yours truly - of the Three Beats and a Half-Note boys' quartet that frequently sang in church and even sang at the state RA convention one year. (Only the "half-note" - Jerry Eaton - was unable to make it to the reunion.) Then there are also a few with whom I've stayed in contact over the years, like Dave Eikenbary, Donnie & Gary Willey, and Bill Woolsey, my longtime buddies whose friendship means so much to me.
In the 21st century, youth leadership is faced with even greater challenges than when we were growing up. Church has a lot of competition from other activities. Just instilling a desire for a life of faith, a life of sacrifice, and a love for Christ is more challenging than ever before.
But if my experience in Kansas City last week tells me anything, it is that investment in our youth - and today that goes right up through college age and beyond - is worth any sacrifice we can make. We must see these youth not where they are today but where they can be in the years to come . . . even 50 years down the road. No matter how hopeless the task may seem at times, God continues to work in the lives of young people. But we must be His voice, His hands, His feet, His heart, investing ourselves in their lives.