The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


February 20, 2013

The Pastor in the red shoes

BECKLEY — Were a style of footwear preferred by early pollinators of the Gospel, it was probably the sandal — the casual wear of the desert and the biblical day. They didn’t work for Dr. James Boyd, new lead pastor at Memorial Baptist Church, Beckley, who once found his to be a hindrance.

“No more flip-flops ever” was a personal decision after he had preached on a sweltering day in his native region out West to later hear from a parishioner he might have enjoyed the message, but couldn’t get past the pastor’s toes.

God forbid his feet should keep someone from the Promised Land.

“I’m trying to get past superficial exterior expectations,” he phrases. “There are times I will wear a coat and tie when that is what’s expected. To others, it doesn’t matter a lick. I don’t want to be an obstacle to anyone hearing the truth.”

He got them on eBay, his trademark red Nike running shoes, the terminus to his casual office ensemble of sweater and jeans.

“I guess I’m cheap,” comes a second admission, remnants of his seminary days where he learned the art of surviving on faith and $17,000 a year, and the art of disciple-making.

In other casual shoes, he has sprinted as a tennis instructor, speed-walked as a mailman. He kicked a soccer ball in a league of late, trading adrenaline-pumped kicks with other 40-somethings, but admits it made him feel every one of his blessed years.

He’s an expert at restoring old BMWs — the son of a man with a penchant for the German automobiles — and as such made himself available for advice to those out of reach of a metro dealership. One Fort Worth BMW dealership even considered him its unofficial chaplain.

Each avocation in his life, he uses to create a wider sphere of influence and to impact those within, positively and by the life-changing word of God.

If you were expecting an emotionalist message worthy of a three-piece suit and slicked-back hair, you’ve also wandered into the wrong sanctuary. Boyd rather dislikes fitting a mold on that count, too.

While his footwear is simple and common, his God is anything but. And it is that, the image of a casual, everyday God, which Boyd contends has polluted the concept of Christianity to an increasingly troubled world.

“(The unchurched) are justifiably indifferent to church. People don’t reject church because we portray God as holy. They reject church because we portray God as so common.”

In the middle of introducing the Old Testament Book of Numbers to his attendees, Boyd is setting the stage for believers and believers-to-be to understand the true holiness of God, which will then lead, he believes, to an increased appreciation of the sacrifice and transforming power of Christ.

“When we read (in the Old Testament) that someone stepped onto His holy ground and DIED, we might say that’s harsh. But we say it’s harsh only when we don’t understand the holiness of God. When the world begins to see in us the holiness of God and to know, ‘I can’t be like that without some help,’ that’s when we begin to get it, to mature and to make a difference.”

Boyd’s own doctrine developed early as he was reared in a Christian household in Phoenix, Ariz., and learned Scripture from a single, steadfast church leader.

“He was a very studious, solid preacher,” he remembers.

With the knowledge, influence and constancy of the pastor’s tutelage, Boyd moved to Fort Worth after graduation to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There, he went on to attain his Ph.D.

From the monochromatic tan landscape of the west, to the verdant hills of the east, Boyd believes he may be the only resident who gets visibly excited when it rains.

“Why did you come here?” is the question he is most frequently asked about his cross-country relocation nearly a decade ago.

“The answer is God. I grew up quite urban and there was no human reason for coming here to a rural location. I didn’t know if they would accept me,” he states, thinking back to his first West Virginia post as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Princeton.

“I had put out resumes to 100 different universities and colleges," but he felt called instead to take an offer to pastor in West Virginia.

Boyd, who has pastored Memorial Baptist since mid-January, has two children, girls ages 6 and 9. “One wife,” he jokes, adding that she is his partner at home and in ministry, homeschooling their kids and leading a women’s Bible study.

His vision for the 300 active members of his extended family of faith is to carry their influence with them, into their workplaces and daily associations, weaned from the “milk” of initial conversion onto solid spiritual food and feeding the same to others.

“The American church body is not stepping outside of itself, members seeing their role as ‘me, being a part of the church body.’ I say this not in a pejorative way, but we are full of spiritual babies. A baby is born very dependent on others, is incredibly selfish and needs to be corrected by others, to be held and comforted by others. (In today’s church) when you have 90 percent spiritual infants as your church body, it’s like having 90 kids in the nursery and only 10 workers in the church.”

His emphasis as church leader is to have the right balance of spiritual newborns on the path to maturity and of those having grown in wisdom in their walk with God, understanding the critical nature of their influence in helping others to grow.

“Once people in church are there long enough to gain knowledge, by the time they are in their spiritual teens, they realize they can serve, that, ‘God has a call on my life and this isn’t all about me.”

Encouraging others to take it to the next spiritual stage by spending time with God and serving is Boyd’s chief role.

“I disciple people as a preacher, but I can only do two or three at a time because it’s like parenting.” So, he equips others, the maturing church body. “That’s when a church grows… when every believer does.”

Boyd believes great things are on the horizon for a unified and mature church body, but he won’t resort to horizontal shortcuts for church growth, like promoting one style of music over another.

“We are emotional creatures,” he explains, “but there’s a balance between respecting that and manipulating emotions to feel a certain thing. What happens if you draw them in with a certain style of music and then the music changes? You lose them. Christ said ‘If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.’”

Instead of “doing church,” Boyd encourages, “Let’s ‘be’ the church” … the hands and Oxforded, loafered or sneakered feet of God’s eclectic, eccentric army.

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