Bill Skaar: ‘Sharing life with God’s people’

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Bill Skaar has been pastor of First Baptist Church in Grand Prairie since June 1999. 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, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background

Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?

First Baptist Church, Missouri City—minister of youth, June 1982-May 1986

First Baptist Church, Brookshire—pastor, May 1986-December 1989

Central Baptist Church, Livingston—pastor, December 1989–June 1999

Where did you grow up?

My dad worked for Shell Oil Co. He was transferred about every four years of my growing up years. After we lived in New Jersey and Illinois, we moved to Odessa when I was going into the fifth grade. We then moved to Humble when I was entering ninth grade, and that is where all our family finished high school.  

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home with parents who loved Christ and were active in the church. I came to realize my own personal need as a boy. I received Jesus personally and confessed him as my Lord in our living room when I was 7. Soon afterward, I made my profession of faith public and was baptized at Calvary Baptist Church in Edwardsville, Ill.

In Odessa, we were members of Crescent Park Baptist Church. In Humble, we were part of Forest Cove Baptist Church. I was a member of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco all through my Baylor years.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

Humble High School—1977

Baylor University—bachelor of business administration, 1981

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary—master of divinity, 1987

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary—doctor of ministry, 1992

Ministry/church

Why do you feel called into ministry?

During my high school years, I was heavily involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and in a wonderful church and youth ministry at Forest Cove Baptist in Humble. Through those areas of involvement, along with being a youth team member at some lay renewals in local churches, I began to sense God’s call upon my life to serve him through vocational ministry. That call was affirmed in many ways and by many people. I made a public commitment to that call as a senior in high school and was licensed to preach at Forest Cove after my freshman year at Baylor.

What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?

Picking one aspect is hard, if not impossible, because God’s call encompasses everything I do. I enjoy preaching. I enjoy casting a vision I believe God gave for the local church and watching him bring it to fruition. I enjoy relationships with people, both within the church body and out in the community. Every pastor knows that relationships can be the most rewarding and sometimes the most trying.

I feel blessed that in every church where Pamela and I have served, we have developed dear friendships that are lifelong. Through our relationships, we have been encouraged, supported, protected when needed and challenged to fulfill God’s call to us in each church.

What one aspect of congregational life gives you the greatest joy?

Sharing life together with God’s people in worship and service. I get a lot of joy in seeing our First Baptist Church family members using their gifts in service within our church family and out in the community to touch lives for Christ.

What one aspect of congregational life would you like to change?

Congregational life that believes in the individual priesthood of every believer will always have highs and lows as we try to fulfill both the Great Commandment and Great Commission. There will be challenges and criticisms that bring discouragement. However, there are also celebrations and commendations that bring encouragement. I would like every member to know we can disagree without being disagreeable, and we are partners together with God to reach a lost world for Christ.

How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?

I’m more aware of the ministry of presence and the impact we often have just by being present, both for our church family and as a representative for Christ in our community. Obviously, no one can be everywhere or go to everything, but a pastor’s presence is appreciated—by most—and is used to open many opportunities of ministry for Christ.

I’ve experienced years when our church had few additions, declining attendance and extremely tight finances, and I’ve experienced years when we had many additions, growing attendance and finished the year over budget. Realizing I was the same person and preacher through both of those different realities, who was seeking to pray, preach, love people, etc., has helped me realize I shouldn’t get down on myself in those low years or get full of myself in the up years. Many factors contribute to growth or decline, but we need to remember this is God’s work, not ours.

The Apostle Paul pointed out, “One plants, one waters, but God gave the increase.” I thank God for the call he gave me, but I don’t believe our success primarily is determined by outward numbers. I believe it is determined by our faithfulness to God’s call.

How do you expect congregational life to change in the next 10 to 20 years?

I don’t think I am good at seeing into the future, but I do think we see our younger generation want to be more hands-on in missions. I think we may see our churches doing less activity that is primarily focused on their own members as they seek to be more intentional in engaging in ministry that impacts their communities.

If you could launch any new ministry—individually, through your congregation or through another organization—what would it be? Why?

I don’t have anything specific in mind, but a number of years ago, our church adopted a ministry team format to allow ministries to rise up quickly according to the gifts and passions of members. I enjoy seeing someone express a heart for something that isn’t being done and encouraging them to go do it.

What qualities do you look for in a congregation?

Love for God. Love for each other. Love for their world. A heart for prayer and evangelism. I’ve been blessed to see those qualities in all the churches where the Lord called me to serve.

Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your congregation.

First Baptist Grand Prairie faced many of the same challenges facing many First Baptist churches and others across Texas—a slow decline in attendance, aging membership without a steady influx of young adults and older facilities demanding high maintenance. The Lord led us to relocate as part of the strategy to address these challenges, and those three issues are not our challenge right now.

One of our challenges now is the fact we have less educational space for adults and youth, and we have to use the model of multiple Bible study hours.

Another challenge is Grand Prairie is a growing city that is increasingly diverse. One of the blessings that has come out of our relocation is a significant number of our new members are reflective of that diversity. Our congregation is far more diverse racially than we were in our downtown location. Our challenge is to continue to reach that diverse population in larger numbers and then help every person feel connected and stay committed after they join.

Finally, we have the challenge of continuing to pay off the indebtedness, which we assumed in the relocation, along with building future facilities to address educational and ministry needs without adding to the indebtedness. God has been faithful and provided thus far. I trust he will continue to do so in the years to come as we focus on reaching people for him.

What do you wish more laypeople knew about ministry or, specifically, your ministry?

Ministry has its stresses, but it also has blessings and benefits that exceed those stresses. I know some church members can have unrealistic expectations of their pastor and staff members, but the vast majority of the people in our churches have been prayerfully supportive and encouraging.

We as ministers need to keep in mind that our members have stresses that come from their work and family as well. They work hard and then come volunteer in church ministry. They give, often sacrificially, and they often do it without getting any recognition.

Our purpose statement at First Baptist is: “We exist to glorify God and to work with him as he builds his kingdom.” I think we all need to affirm the call God has given each of us in his body and to appreciate and encourage one other as we share life and ministry together for the glory of God.

About Baptists

What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?

Congregationally, I think the key issue is dealing with the dynamics of changing demographics, aging congregations and older facilities, just as every church I’ve pastored has faced. With the majority of our churches plateaued or, in reality, declining, this issue is a huge one: How do those congregations reach people in this generation?

I believe our denomination exists for the churches and not the churches for the denomination, so one key issue for the denomination is how to be a resource for encouraging and facilitating the ministry and mission of the churches in a cooperative way.

What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?

When we relocated our campus, there was no question we would put our church name in big letters on our building. One of our prayerful goals and challenges is to be the presence of Jesus in our city in such a way that people will associate the name “Baptist” with something positive. Enough research has shown the name “Baptist” does not get associated positively with many people. I pray this can change by our witness of love for one another and our love for people through meeting needs and sharing Christ.

About Bill

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

At the top are my parents, Irv and Patsy Skaar. They modeled a love for Christ and service in the church.

My in-laws, Dr. Jim and Dixie Wimpee. They encouraged me and loved me as part of their family.

James Roach was my pastor at Forest Cove who gave counsel and encouragement to my call.

Ron Durham was my pastor during my Baylor years.

Grayson Glass was the pastor at First Baptist Church in Missouri City when I served as student minister. He not only was a strong preacher/pastor, but also he modeled a passion for prayer and evangelism and showed me the importance of being involved in associational and denominational life.

W.J. Wimpee, Baylor chaplain for many years—my wife, Pamela, is one of his nieces. W.J. modeled grace and kindness toward everyone.

Charles White, businessman and former development officer for Baylor. Great encourager and example of faith and perseverance.

Don Gibson, retired director of Texas Baptist Men. He was the coordinator for all the lay renewals I participated in during high school and then as a youth coordinator through college. Don modeled as deep a trust in God and dependence upon prayer as any man I have ever known.

Directors of missions and denominational leaders such as Harold Sellers, Raymond Dunkin, Gary Herron, Bob Dean and Charles Wade.

I also have been blessed with retired pastors/missionaries who supported me and were sounding boards for me, such as Ben Welmaker at Central Baptist Church and J.R. Chaney at First Baptist Church Grand Prairie. All of these men and others not named, along with many godly women, helped shape me and encouraged me to stay the course.

What did you learn on the job you wish you learned in seminary?

All the things a pastor deals with beyond preaching, such as budgeting, working with committees/ministry teams, coordinating a calendar, conflict management, hospital visits, ministry through crisis, doing funerals, building campaigns, etc. All these things can be addressed in some way at seminary, but they really can’t be learned in a practical way until a person does them.

I enjoyed my classes in seminary and the relationships I had with professors and fellow students. I feel blessed that the Lord let me serve full-time in churches during both my M.Div. and D.Min. work. Through that, I had instruction and practical experience going on at the same time. I think both of those affected each other in a positive way.

What is the impact of ministry on your wife and family?

I met my wife, Pamela—maiden name, Wimpee—at Baylor. Pamela’s dad was a surgeon in San Angelo and a deacon at First Baptist Church. He and Pamela’s mom helped start Southland Baptist Church. Her mom was a godly woman and great role model. Her two uncles were Dr. W.J. Wimpee, longtime chaplain at Baylor and Robert Wimpee, longtime pastor in South Texas, serving over 25 years at First Baptist Church in Kenedy. All that prepared her for the demands of being a pastor’s wife.

We made a commitment we would try not to place unrealistic expectations on our children to be “perfect kids.” We encouraged them to be involved in church and school. Our children, Melissa and Bradley, watched us deal with criticism and opposition, but they also saw how God worked through those times by providing overwhelming support from the majority of the church family and they received great encouragement from church members. They came through with a love for the Lord and a commitment to be part of a community of faith. I think the impact has been primarily positive and they have expressed that.

Name some of your favorite books (other than the Bible) or authors, and explain why.

Many books have blessed me over the years, but I’ll list three:

Breakout Churches, by Thom Rainer. I just finished rereading this one, and I appreciate the study Dr. Rainer did to identify factors God has used in turning some declining churches into growing churches.

Purpose in Prayer, by E.M. Bounds. Everything he wrote about prayer is good, but this book was the first one I read. I still go back and read some of his statements and stories for inspiration today.

How to Make Your Church Hum, by Paul Powell. I enjoyed getting and reading Paul’s books over the years, but this one was special because Paul gave me a copy when I visited him at Green Acres Baptist Church while I worked in the development department at Baylor for one year after graduating. It was one of his first books, if not the first, and I was challenged to read about his experiences in leading churches to grow and to reach their world for Christ.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

It is impossible to say one verse is my absolute favorite, but 2 Corinthians 1:20 is one: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” Throughout my ministry, there have been many times that one or more promises from God’s word were the things I held on to in prayer through difficult times. I can look back and see how he has fulfilled those promises to his glory, and at First Baptist Church Grand Prairie, I’m glad, in the words of my wife, Pamela, that we “stayed for the blessing.”

Who is your favorite Bible character (other than Jesus)? Why?

Like the Scripture question, it’s hard to pick one, but Caleb is one of my favorites. Faithful and visionary at 40, he never lost sight of God’s promises through the wilderness years. I love his spirit at 85 when he told Joshua, “Give me this mountain!” I want to keep that faithfulness and attitude in my life.

Name something about you that would surprise your church.

After 18 years at First Baptist Church Grand Prairie, I’m not sure there’s anything people don’t know about me. Most know I enjoy golf and have an athletic background, but many were surprised when they found out I could play the guitar a little. Some still may not know I played the cello in junior high and then played one semester in the Baylor symphony. I did it to honor my mother who wished I hadn’t quit playing. I was last chair, but I was allowed to sit on stage while the real musicians played.

If you could get one “do over” in ministry, what would it be, and why?

There are some individual situations—a few very painful—I wish I could have affected a different outcome. However, I try not to dwell on the past.

I believe there are a few things we can do with the past, but one thing especially we cannot do. We can rejoice over past things as a memory of encouragement. We also can reflect on the past to learn how we might do something better and more effectively. We also can repent over a past mistake to learn from it and seek to make things right if we can. However, we cannot rehearse the past over and over, because it’s unhealthy and prevents us from moving forward.

I want to keep looking ahead and believe that in Christ, the best is yet to be!

To read other “Deep in the Hearts of Texans” columns, click here.

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