Ron Lyles has been senior pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Pasadena, Texas, since August 1981. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on church and ministry. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated minister to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
South Main Baptist Church began in May 1954. I am the second pastor of this wonderful congregation, following Dr. B.J. Martin, who served here for 26 years. After an eight-month interim, I succeeded him.
Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?
I was the pastor of Brookston Baptist Church from 1971 to 1974, First Baptist Church in Rio Vista from 1974 to 1977, and First Baptist Church in Grandview from 1977 to 1981.
I also have served as an adjunct professor of Old Testament for Southwestern Seminary, Houston Baptist University, Ogbomoso Baptist Theological Seminary (in Nigeria), Logsdon Seminary, B.H. Carroll Theological Institute, Stark College and Seminary and Truett Seminary.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Texas—mostly in East and North Central Texas—and graduated from Decatur High School. My dad was the pastor of churches in Cookville, Naples, Paradise, Tyler and Decatur.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I grew up in a Christian home. My father experienced a call to ministry at First Baptist Church in Snyder when he was 27. Due to the combination of church and home, I trusted Jesus when I was 6 years old, making my decision public during a revival service at the church where my dad was the pastor. He baptized me after that.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
• Dallas Baptist University, Bachelor of Arts in Religion, 1972
• Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity, 1974, and Ph.D., 1980
About ministry life
Why do you feel called into ministry?
I experienced a call from God to ministry during a Royal Ambassador camp at Pineywoods Camp. I shared my decision with my parents, and my dad advised me. I preached my first sermon at 12 years of age at the Temple Baptist Church in Tyler, where Dad was pastor, on Sunday evening, Jan. 27, 1963.
What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?
Although I sought the degree that qualified me to teach theological education, I enjoy immensely the privilege of engaging persons of all ages in the local church setting. I love preschoolers, preteens, students, young adults, median adults and senior adults.
What one aspect of ministry gives you the greatest joy?
The proclamation aspect of ministry, in which I interpret a biblical text and seek to deliver its truth creatively for hearers to see the relevance and application to their lives.
What one aspect of ministry would you like to change?
I would like to change the concept some Jesus-followers have that vocational ministers are to perform the ministry of the congregation instead of facilitating and motivating the congregation to do the ministry as a shared commitment.
How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?
I have become more and more convinced that nothing takes the place of personal presence. The presence of the minister in times of crisis is so critical. The balance between preparing to speak for God to the people and embodying the presence of God with the people is crucial to maintain.
How do you expect ministry to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
The adaptation of ministers to the rapidly changing technology and social media landscape and how to adapt the vehicle of proclaiming the good news while maintaining the constancy of the gospel’s truth.
If you could launch any new ministry—individually, through your congregation or through another organization—what would it be? Why?
Individually, a stronger role in advocacy with regard to gender equality in ministry and with regard to lending practices and other social and economic justice matters.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your ministry.
• Competing for time with incredibly busy schedules of young families.
• Supervising without micromanaging other ministry leadership team members.
• Knowing when and how to end active ministry gracefully and continue to serve.
What do you wish more laypeople knew about ministry or, specifically, your ministry?
The amount of time required to exegete the Scriptures and to exegete the culture in order to apply the resources of the former to the issues of the latter.
What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?
The key issue for both is how to represent Christ to our culture in a unified way though we are so divided by hyper-political agendas from the right and the left. How to be the body of Christ rather than a political action committee for either political party.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
My father, who guided me as a parent and mentor, and Dr. B.J. Martin, my predecessor at South Main, who became my good friend and supporter and provided the best example of collegiality in ministry.
What did you learn on the job you wish you learned in seminary?
Administrative responsibilities in working with a multi-staff congregation.
What is the impact of ministry on your family?
Very positive. Brenda, my wife, is the consummate partner in ministry and loved by South Mainers. All four of our children and their families are involved actively in leadership positions in Baptist churches, two of them here at South Main. One of them, Dr. Tim Lyles, serves as the minister of music and administration at the Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
• John Grisham, for his exhilarating mystery stories.
• Thomas Cahill, for his interpretation of the contributions of various ethnic groups, especially The Gifts of the Jews and Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter.
• Jon Meacham, for his insightful works in American history, especially The Soul of America.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
Psalm 34:3, the verse that my wife and I have as our life and ministry verse. “Come, glorify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.”
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
Samuel because he responded to the call as a boy. The account of his call by God at night in 1 Samuel 3 was the text for my first sermon in 1963. My dad was my Eli who facilitated my call.
Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.
I am confident publicly but fairly insecure at my core.
If you could get one “do over” in ministry, what would it be, and why?
Supervise fewer persons. Delegate authority and responsibility more to fellow ministers.