Ward Hayes has been senior pastor of Valley Grove Baptist Church in Stephenville four years. 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.
• Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?
Trinity Baptist Church in Sweetwater, 2003-13, senior pastor
Caps United Methodist Church, Caps, 2001-02, pastor
• Where did you grow up?
I was raised on a cotton farm and ranch in Rotan—home of the Yellowhammers!
• How did you come to faith in Christ?
Under the faithful teaching of my mother and the good members of First Baptist Church in Rotan, I came to Christ as a boy of 8. Through God’s tool of grace called Walk to Emmaus, my fellowship with him was renewed and energized at age 25.
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• Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
West Texas State University, now West Texas A&M in Canyon—bachelor of business administration in accounting, 1990
Hardin-Simmons University, Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, master of divinity, 2006
Hardin-Simmons University, Logsdon Seminary, doctor of ministry, 2016
• Why do you feel called into ministry?
I am a second-career pastor. God’s call on my life into the pastoral ministry came in my early 30s. We were a family of five living in the home-community of both my wife and me. We had a great job, great family, great church—and a great calling.
God’s call was clear, distinct and unmistakable; He was calling me to the pastorate. The call was to “a land he was yet to show me,” but the call to begin the journey was without question. Because of that certainty, the hardest decision of my life was also the easiest.
• What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?
Seeing a spark turn into a blaze! Whether it is in the life of a brand-new believer or a long-time follower whose passion has been reignited, seeing the fire of faithful obedience burn brightly in the life of another is powerful and contagious.
Their enthusiasm for edification, study, worship, service and outreach all increase in ways that ripple out and impact others in their midst, creating a testimony that is undeniable. Their desire to mature and develop in their discipleship both encourages me and challenges my ministerial efforts and effectiveness to grow as well.
• What one aspect of congregational life gives you the greatest joy?
Accomplishing together through joyful cooperation that which we cannot achieve on our own. Our society today tempts us to be so splintered at every turn. Working together through community is a beautiful testimony to the fractured world.
• What one aspect of congregational life would you like to change?
The competitive mentality of us vs. them hurts us in many ways. Our human nature leads us down this path. Our competitive society applauds the idea. Whether it is ministry vs. ministry, church vs. church or person vs. person, the mentality that pits one against another can be damaging, distracting us from kingdom purpose and plans.
• How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?
Baptist ethicist T.B. Maston initiated the discussion and promoted the idea of “both-and.” The concept holds great wisdom and perspective, and I utilize it often. In that regard, my perspective on ministry and my approach to it have required an increased understanding and use of “both-and.”
Successful ministry moves both quickly and slowly; we should waste not time nor opportunity, but it takes time to build trust, relationship, healing and momentum. Successful ministry is about both people and the word; spiritual nurturing must be paired with spiritual nutrition if we are to grow in our spiritual maturity. People only care what we know when they know that we care. The “both-and” approach teaches me both humility and patience.
• How do you expect congregational life to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
I don’t foresee huge changes in the next 10 years, but I believe the momentum of today will continue to build, and the decades beyond will look significantly different. As the generations that have valued the social climate of the Christian faith mature and pass, the pressure to live distinguished lives will increase. This pressure will impact our congregations. I pray we will not lag beyond in equipping the church for the tasks ahead.
• What qualities do you look for in a congregation?
My observations of congregations experiencing seasons of growth have noted several similarities.
First is a strong affinity between pastor and church. This love for one another and for the Lord is both growing and desired. Without it, the likely result is the two parties pulling in different directions.
Second is the presence of servants and servant leaders. The humility and conviction to do what needs to be done and to lead by example is critical.
Third is humility and trust, with God and with each other. We always must follow God’s lead, trusting him always. We also must exhibit a humility and trust with one another that treasures relationship and conversation in the living out of our faith and roles.
• Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your congregation.
Perseverance through adversity in all its forms, the battle against human complacency and discerning the Lord’s vision for our congregation.
• What do you wish more laypeople knew about ministry or, specifically, your ministry?
The churches I have served have been extremely loving and supportive. Most of their members have held an informed, mature understanding of the challenges of ministry and the strain this calling can exert on minister and family.
That said, one reminder I would share is to understand the consistency of ministry. The ministry is almost always on our minds. Whether it is sermon/Bible study preparation, the hurting and sick among the hundreds of people we know, visit and for whom we pray, God’s vision for the future of the flock, the tasks ahead, the unexpected emergencies/funerals, those struggling in spiritual battles, relationships in strife, celebrations of births and accomplishments, the cheering on of families and students, etc.,
In the midst of these wonderful opportunities to glorify God and bless others, we desperately try to love and serve our own family well.
The calling from God is beautiful, but it is not without its challenges. Having an understanding and encouraging congregation is blessing beyond measure.
• What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?
God’s promised blessing to Abraham utilizes the vessel of family (Genesis 18:18-19). I believe the family of faith continues to be that vessel of blessing to the world. The breakdown of the family in our society and world also damages and squelches the vessel of blessing. Ministering to families—repairing the damaged vessel of blessing—is one of the greatest challenges of the church in the years ahead.
• Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
My early mentors include Tom Garland and William Duke, two laymen and brothers in the faith who pushed me to grow. Werth Mayes is a dear friend and brother who influenced me in the pastorate and toward seminary. I was exceedingly blessed by the professors at Logsdon Seminary and thank the Lord for them. Jack Ridlehoover has been a treasure from God as a seasoned pastoral mentor to call on. And Dr. David Miller, who supervised my doctoral studies and project, has been a valued mentor of wisdom and encouragement.
• What did you learn on the job you wish you learned in seminary?
Vision casting and leadership. I am not fully convinced it is possible to teach these areas successfully in seminary, but they are two things that are vital in every pastorate.
• What is the impact of ministry on your wife and family?
The churches I have served always have been gracious toward our family, but I did have a conversation with all of our adult children about this. Their response surprised me. While I always promised our kids I would never ask them to do something because they were “pastor-kids,” they said they grew up with an internal pressure to not disappoint/embarrass me. This was a revelation to me, but I can certainly understand it. I can see this pressure on all my family.
One of the difficulties with calling is that while the pastor feels the call, all the family feels the impact of answering that call.
• Name some of your favorite books (other than the Bible) or authors, and explain why.
In His Steps by Charles Sheldon was a very powerful influence in my early walk. Chuck Colson’s books always educate and challenge me. C.S. Lewis was given a brilliantly creative mind to explore and explain doctrine. David Platt and Francis Chan always sound a call to action. There are many others certainly worth mentioning, but I will cease with these.
• What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
I will share two that hold great meaning to me. The first is Matthew 16:16, when Peter replies to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” with these words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus’ question is one we all must answer. Peter’s answer is both inspired and inspiring.
The second passage is similar. In John 6:68, Jesus’ asks the disciples if they want to leave with the crowd because his teachings are hard, and Peter responds: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
These passages remind me Jesus alone is the Christ, the only one worth following.
• Who is your favorite Bible character (other than Jesus)? Why?
I love seeing the refining of Peter’s raw faith. I relate more to Barnabas’ ministry of encouragement. But my favorite inspiration is Paul. His perseverance, discipline and spiritual leadership are valued traits worthy of respect.
• Name something about you that would surprise your church.
While I haven’t owned any in over three decades, I love cattle. I dream of having a place with a few head and a horse or two. Perhaps one day the Lord will allow it to happen; until then, I battle back any envy of those who do!
• If you could get one “do over” in ministry, what would it be, and why?
There is no way to pick just one, so I will pick none. I hope I have learned from my mistakes. I pray the forgiveness and love of others cover my errors. Finally, I will trust that grace will allow those who know me to remember the blessings more than the misses.