I want to humbly add my thoughts to Ray Van Neste’s blessings on our home pastor’s retirement. Tears flow far easier than words as I realize what grace God lavished on me through the ministry of A. Ray Newcomb (First Baptist Church, Millington, TN). His reward will be great as his ministry ripples through heaven. As I reflect I realize Bro. Ray never stopped being my pastor even though I stopped being his congregant. So I offer the following in all gratitude to man who “spoke the word of God to [me]” (Heb 13.7).
1. Like many, I was practically born (1973) and reborn (1995) under Bro. Ray’s ministry. For 22 years, I heard the gospel proclaimed twice every Sunday, once every Wednesday and countless other times in various settings. And, oh, how simple that gospel was! I don’t remember any particular sermon but I remember the demand to repent and believe dominated every one of them. Thanks to my parents and Bro. Ray I was so familiar with the gospel that I could share it long before I ever believed it.
So thank you, Bro. Ray, for keeping the gospel central and simple.
2. Bro. Ray sowed the seeds of biblical authority in my life. He was and is a Bible man. Words like “inerrancy” and “infallible” were part of my vocabulary from an early age. I’ll never forget his tattered red Scofield KJV Bible he opened every week. In fact, he would announce the page number of his Bible assuming everyone should have one! He frequently asked the congregation to hold up their Bible if they brought it. I don’t remember any particular sermon but I remember my parents’ Bibles were always open on their laps.
He and I wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on everything these days, but it’s not because I hate his views. It’s because he helped me love my Bible. Strangely enough, that I would have convictions at all (much less different ones) is due in large part to the seeds sown by his ministry.
So thank you, Bro. Ray, for loving your Bible and investing its authority in me before I ever had a chance to question it (even if I don’t use a Scofield or KJV!).
3. Bro. Ray loved “soul-winning.” I’m not sure when that phrase was first used, but Bro. Ray might as well have coined it. Our town was home to the world’s largest inland Naval school in the world. Countless young sailors circulated through before it was converted into an administrative post. As early as I can remember Bro. Ray would spend every Saturday on the sidewalk between the base and downtown. With his lawn chair, umbrella, gospel tracts and that Scofield Bible he would evangelize sailors walking into town. I confess my snobbery has become jealousy. Would I would give for half the evangelistic zeal of Ray Newcomb! I’m confident the kingdom will be far more crowded from his efforts than mine.
So thank you, Bro. Ray, for loving souls and being a shameless model of passionate evangelism, for doing “all things for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor 9.23) “so that you may by all means save some”(1 Cor 9.22).
4. Bro. Ray was my pastor. My mother was a secretary at FBC for 32 years, about the last third under Bro. Ray’s leadership. I spent hundreds of mornings at the church building roaming the halls, climbing the chapel steeple (shh!), snooping around classrooms, romping through the baptistery, raiding the kitchen and playing you-name-it. When FBC built their gym I was practically a fixture during school breaks. When Bro. Ray’s door was closed I knew not to bother him. But when it opened he was always available. I’m sure he and Mrs. Owens grew tired of a pesky kid (he jokingly called me “Joe Barry”) wandering in and out of his study, but he didn’t show it.
He buried my mom and help marry Amy and me. I realize now that his fingerprints are all over my immediate family’s history. And what precious fingerprints they are. At any major event Bro. Ray was somewhere around.
As a new convert at 21 I endured that rebellious stage where everything I thought was right and everything the church did was wrong and irrelevant. It was an idiotic phase of which I am not proud at all. Bro. Ray patiently attempted to rein me in, but I refused to be reined in. Although I was the pathetic, prideful rebel against his and the church’s authority he called me one day to apologize! I had wronged him and yet he assumed the offense to himself. That, my friends, is what pastors do.
So thank you, Bro. Ray, for walking prayerfully with my family through the thick and thin. And thank you for being a bigger man by being a humble man. Thank you for being my pastor.
5. Bro. Ray was and is a “throwback” to an age of absolute moral integrity. As far as I know he was never inappropriately alone with a woman. He never suffered the slightest accusation of any impropriety. He remains blameless in the community and a worthy example “with those outside” (1 Tim 3.7).
So thank you, Bro. Ray, for being an “old-fashioned” example so that guys like me can benefit.
6. Bro. Ray has cranked out pastors. A pastor’s ministry can be evaluated on a number of different fronts. One of those is the effect he has on raising up pastors. There are dozens and dozens of men in ministry because of Ray Newcomb. Whether he had a direct or indirect influence on them, they were incubated under his authoritative ministry. Many men now love serving Christ’s church and she is all the more strengthened for it.
So thank you, Bro. Ray, for presenting pastoral ministry as a “fine work” (1 Tim 3.1) and a worthy calling.
It helps to look down often to see on whose shoulders you stand. When I do I find Bro. Ray’s loving hands holding my feet steady in faith. “I thank my God in all my remembrance” of A. Ray Newcomb (Phil 1.3).
HT: Ray Van Neste