Renewed commitment to prayer leads Texas church’s transformation
TROUP, TX (BP) – Preston Lindsey has worn a lot of hats in his lifetime. He’s been a logger, pipe-fitter, oil field roughneck, telephone lineman, and a shipping manager and transportation director for a grocery chain. He spent 15 years as an agriculture teacher with the Troup Independent School District before becoming its director of support services, a position he holds today.
One thing the 65-year-old never expected to be was a pastor. Yet, since January 2023, he has worn that hat as well, pastoring at First Baptist Church of Troup where, through an emphasis on prayer, the church is experiencing new life.
A native East Texan, Lindsey was raised in Mixon – a tiny community with fewer than 100 residents located seven miles southwest of Troup. He trusted Christ at age 10. He married Kelli, his high school sweetheart, attended Kilgore College, and later earned a degree from the University of Texas at Tyler. Lindsey still resides near Mixon on 50 acres with Kelli and two adult children, both with special needs. Another daughter and her family also live nearby.
No stranger to church work, Lindsey served 40 years as a deacon at FBC Mixon, where he led dozens of mission trips. Following a mission trip to Mexico two decades ago, he realized he was serving himself more than serving God.
“I realized then I wanted to serve Christ with all my heart,” he recalled. As he reached his 60s, he “really began to feel the call.” God was doing something. “He was leading me to be a pastor somewhere,” Lindsey said. “It pretty much scared me to death.”
Meanwhile, FBC Troup lost its pastor in June 2022. Lindsey understood some of the circumstances. He knew many people at the church and was saddened by its struggles. One Monday morning, Lindsey drove by FBC Troup as usual on his way to work at the school district. He pulled into the church parking lot to pray for the church, its members and the community.
Within 30 minutes, he received a call from one of the FBC Troup deacons asking him to fill the pulpit the following Sunday. He agreed, thinking the Lord might use him to help the deacons reorganize. He preached that Sunday and met with the deacons about the church’s issues.
The next Monday morning, he once again found himself praying in the FBC Troup parking lot.
“Lord, what are you asking me to do?” Lindsey recalled praying. Within 15 minutes, another FBC Troup deacon called to ask him to preach again the following Sunday. Lindsey agreed. The deacons then asked him to serve as interim pastor until things could be “straightened out.”
Lindsey was astonished. Yes, he was a lifelong Bible student, but he had no formal seminary training. He had just gotten through studying Moses with the youth group at FBC Mixon. Was it time to step out in faith?
“I wanted to serve the Lord,” he said.
So he said yes.
What followed is a “crazy story of what God’s doing,” Lindsey said.
A matter of prayer
If his ministry at FBC Troup was to honor God, Lindsey knew it had to begin in prayer – a truth he had learned at the 2021 Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting in nearby Flint. At that gathering, he said he heard “preacher after preacher” talking about how prayer had changed their lives and their churches.
“I brought that focus to Troup,” he said. If his involvement at the church began with prayer in the parking lot, his time as pastor would also start with prayer.
Whereas FBC Troup had once averaged around 120 in services, only 35-40 attended during the new pastor’s first month. The four deacons and Lindsey committed to pray, a commitment the church body, though small, also embraced.
They focused on 2 Chronicles 7:14-16, Lindsey said, spending weeks on that passage.
“We prayed in church services. We prayed as a deacon group. We really wanted to understand what humbling ourselves meant,” he said. The church held a 12-hour prayer vigil in 2022 and again this fall, with people signing up for time slots and coming to the church to pray.
“After our church fell on our knees and asked the Lord for His direction, things happened,” Lindsey said.
It started in the youth department.
Tragedy brings unity
“Our youth exploded,” Lindsey said, crediting youth director Matt Ranshaw and his wife, Brooke, for bringing new life to the group and encouraging mission trips. Like Lindsey, Ranshaw is bivocational, serving also as a policeman for Tyler schools.
Students started sharing Christ with their friends. The youth brought their parents, friends and family to church. More than 170 kids and 35 volunteer workers participated in a recent Wednesday night youth group meeting, Lindsey said. That increase has spilled over into the church, which now averages 200 on Sundays.
“We’ve had 60 baptisms so far this year,” Lindsey said. “We’ve seen amazing things through our youth and the leadership. All that is of the Holy Spirit.”
Some of those amazing things started after a tragedy.
Youth camp at Piney Woods in July 2022 started out as a struggle, Ranshaw said. Kids were not gelling. Groups kept to themselves. Ranshaw was discouraged. Wednesday of camp week, he called Lindsey and learned that the congregation had prayed for youth camp that evening.
Things started changing quickly. Kids at camp started opening up that same night: students shared their struggles, some admitted to needing salvation, and others revealed brokenness. Camp ended on a spiritual mountaintop for many, and the students wanted to continue that when they got home.
The youth group started growing in numbers and spiritual maturity, which would soon be tested. On Sept. 9, 2022, during the Troup homecoming football game, junior player Cooper Reid – Lindsey’s cousin’s son – collapsed on the field. Cooper had gone to camp with the FBC Troup kids, although he attended another church.
Instead of the planned homecoming the following night, the school held a community prayer vigil for Cooper. FBC Troup kids attended, as did pastors, kids from other schools and community members.
Ranshaw saw his students’ faith in action.
“Sometimes you can teach kids all you want. Until they experience it, they won’t buy in,” he said, adding that he told his youth group, “Now you understand intercessory prayer.”
The youth and church continued to pray for Cooper, who has since returned home and continues to make progress.
Progress is real for Ranshaw, Lindsey and FBC Troup. And all the progress has come as God has continued to show Himself faithful through their continued prayers.
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.