Appalachian Pastor Lawrence Baldridge’s 54 Years of ‘Enduring Ministry’

At a time when the tenures of most pastors is measured in single digits, Lawrence Baldridge is an anomaly, having served Caney Baptist Church in the heart of Appalachia for 54 years.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” the 81-year-old pastor said, recounting stories from his years ministering daily to communities in Kentucky’s mountain region. “Ministry here, I think, is more personal. The people are real. If they like you, they will tell you. If they don’t like you, they will tell you. You have to earn their respect, and that takes time.”

Baldridge has baptized nearly 200 new believers since 1980, when the Kentucky Baptist Convention began keeping records. That’s an impressive number considering the population of Pippa Passes is just shy of 650. But, as Baldridge jokingly points out, his church also draws people from surrounding communities like Booger Branch, Onion Blade, Hemp Patch and Bunion Fork, where he happens to live.

“Lawrence is as good a man as ever pulled a breath,” said Knott County resident John Short, a former state legislator who represented this area in Frankfort. “He came here more than a half century ago and has faithfully ministered to the sick, comforted the grieving and buried the dead. He’s been there for the births of babies, for the weddings of our young men and women, for every major milestone in life. This good man has proven his faithfulness.”

The average tenure of pastors nationally is three to four years, said Tom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

“As our research has shown consistently, longer tenure is needed for church health,” Rainer wrote in a blog post at this past October. “Longer tenure does not guarantee church health, but a series of short-term pastorates is typically unhealthy.”

The key to long tenure for pastors, Baldridge said, is fostering strong relationships within the church and community.

“You have to make inroads with everyone,” he said. “You have to grow relationships. And that comes easy if you love people and if people love you.”

Baldridge has left no doubt that he loves the people he serves, said his long-time neighbor Ron Daley.

Daley called Baldridge a “true mountain renaissance man” who has been heavily involved in community development as a means of helping people out of poverty.

Respect for Baldridge extends far beyond the mountains. He has been an example of faithfulness for pastors across the state and beyond, said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

“We celebrate his enduring ministry and all that it means to Caney Baptist Church and the entire community,” Chitwood said. “Might the Lord bless and protect the ministry of all our undershepherds in Kentucky as He has Brother Baldridge’s ministry.”

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Source: Baptist Press