I did not accept any invitations to preach on Easter Sunday. Instead my family and I traveled more than 250 miles one way to attend Union Band Baptist Church. The caravan included my two sons, Sam and Art, their fiances Erin and Sarah, my wife, Nellie Jo and me. My youngest son, Jess, and his girlfriend Rachel were not able to be with us.
Why would I make a roundtrip journey of 500 miles to attend this church? I admit the first reason is that my oldest son, Sam, is the pastor. But there is much more to this story than familial loyalty and pride. There is simply something special about the church.
Union Band Baptist Church will be 200 years old this summer. The church is located near the small community of Howardstown, Ky., just a few miles from the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. I have no idea how many pastors the church had before Sam, and neither do the members. Sam works in the energy commodity futures world during the daytime. He is a student at Southern Seminary in Louisville on weekday evenings. But on weekends he is at Union Band. He has been there nearly a year and has yet to miss a Sunday.
You see, Sam loves the people of Union Band Baptist Church. And they love him. When he first started preaching at the church, only six were in attendance. On this Easter Sunday, 21 people celebrated the Resurrection at the church. And there was little doubt that there was an abundance of love among the "large" crowd.
I love attending Union Band when I can. I am not the president of LifeWay Christian Resources at that church. I am simply "Sam's dad," a title that is among my favorite. There is no pretense and no class citizenry. We are all just plain folks - good Christian plain folks.
Sam is patiently and lovingly teaching and preaching the Word at Union Band. He secured pew Bibles and also gave every attendee a new Bible. He typically preaches and teaches verse by verse through a book of the Bible. On this Sunday, all parental prejudice aside, he did a masterful job of preaching the Resurrection story of Luke 24. I looked at some of the faithful that Sunday. They were hanging on to every word he preached.
No, the little church is not perfect. They struggle financially. They are struggling to get an evangelistic outreach ministry going in the community.
But the church does have much to offer. There are no personal agendas. There are no conflicts that divide the church. And the people are not wealthy enough to be distracted by the material things of the world. They have a dynamic ministry of prayer. They just built a fellowship hall with their own labor and sacrificial contributions. And they welcome with a hug anyone who comes into the beautiful old church building.
Sam is asked from time to time when he might move on to a more "significant" ministry. He humbly shares that he is at Union Band until God says otherwise. And in recent months, he has seen the real possibility of a long-term bivocational ministry. In other words, he is at Union Band for the long haul if God so directs. "Dad," he shared with me recently, "I could very well be at the best church in the world. Why would I want to leave this?"
As I left the simple church, more hugs were exchanged. I saw the smiles and heard the laughter of genuine Christians. Herbie admonished me to bring "that other son and his girl" the next time we return.
I will indeed return. It is rare to see such love from people to pastor, and from pastor to people. It is rare to see such sacrifice of time and resources, sacrifices that keep the little church alive as a presence in the Howardstown community. And it is rare to see the depth of caring and concern expressed repeatedly among the members.
You see, I did not merely attend a worship service on Easter Sunday. I also worshipped the Living and Resurrected Lord. And as I bade farewell and saw the church grow smaller in my rearview mirror, I prayed that I might return soon. I sensed that what I experienced at the Union Band Baptist Church will only be surpassed at the final reunion of all Christians. The little country church was indeed a foretaste of heaven.
Thank you Lord for Union Band. May churches like her multiply across this land.
This article originally appeared on April 17, 2006.
Dr. Thom Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist.