Joe Bagby is not a big name preacher. He does not serve a mega-church. To my knowledge he has not published any popular books. I doubt if he has been invited to speak at well known conferences over the course of his career. But when I grow up I want to be like Joe Bagby.
Joe serves the 4th and Elm Church of Christ in Sweetwater, Texas. I don’t know how long his tenure has spanned in Sweetwater, but it has been over 10 years. Serving in ministry is a high calling. But unfortunately that high calling can become clouded with big egos and selfish ambition. Ministry conferences have the potential to become spitting contests over the number of members and average attendance figures of each other’s churches. When I stop to think about it, it is all quite ridiculous. I confess that I avoid some professional gatherings, because I grow weary of the competitive environment. Life is too short for unhelpful spitting contests.
While some of his colleagues were busy polishing their egos, Joe chose to serve his community. Sweetwater is a West Texas town situated right off Interstate 20 of about 10,000 people. I did ministry in a town almost exactly that size for 6 years. As a minister in such a community, you have a choice. You can serve your own church and have a little extra time to read and play golf. That is one option. Or you can totally invest in the community. That is the option that Joe has chosen over the years.
He has spent his tenure in Sweetwater building bridges to people’s hearts. He has visited people in the hospital regardless of their church affiliation. (Or lack of church affiliation) He has reached out to all kinds of people in need. He has conducted community oriented Bible studies. He has taken the time to get to know people in his town. In essence, he has embraced the entire town of Sweetwater.
When I was in Sweetwater several weeks ago to officiate at a funeral for a longtime family friend, everyone at the visitation the night before the funeral wanted to tell me all about their friend, Joe Bagby. Interestingly enough not one of those individuals attends the church that he serves…They were all people he had formed relationships with in the community.
During an upcoming city banquet Joe will be named Sweetwater’s Citizen of the Year. It is obviously well deserved. He has served them unselfishly with a heart of true gold. Unfortunately it is doubtful that he will be present to accept the honor. He was diagnosed last summer with in inoperable and aggressive brain tumor. His health continues to deteriorate very rapidly. He is surrounded by family as the end of his life draws very near.
It makes me sad to think that Joe Bagby will not be present to accept such a remarkable honor from those he has served all of these years. But in another way it fits. He has chosen to spend his life in service. Receiving accolades and being the center of attention has not been the focal point of his professional life.
I would even venture to guess that the vast majority of my colleagues don’t know Mr. Bagby. Joe has been too busy serving his community to spend time trying to impress other ministers! But little does he know that there is one minister in Granbury, Texas who is indeed impressed. When I grow up, I want to be just like Joe Bagby…. May God bless his good family during this time in each of their lives.