Kentucky pastorís 56 years at Glendale Baptist Church includes leading more than 250 young people into ministrycomment (0)
January 2, 2014
At age 15, Ronnie Hicks visited Glendale Baptist Church, Bowling Green, Ky., for the first time. As Hicks walked out the door, pastor Richard Oldham sensed God telling him, “I want to use this young man.” So Oldham told Hicks that God’s hand was on him.
Hicks didn’t know what to make of the pastor’s words that day but three years later he felt God calling him to preach and committed his life to vocational ministry, with Oldham serving as his mentor through college at Bowling Green’s Western Kentucky University. Forty years later, Hicks retired from a career of serving as pastor of Southern Baptist churches and it was clear that Oldham’s sense of God’s will had been correct.
Hicks is not alone in that experience. During Oldham’s 56 years as pastor of Glendale Baptist, more than 250 young people have surrendered their lives to fulltime Christian service — with their pastor mentoring them all.
Today Oldham’s protégés, who call themselves “Swordsmen,” occupy pulpits across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and have served as state convention presidents, SBC Executive Committee members, trustees of SBC entities and leaders in many other capacities. For more than 50 years, the Swordsmen gathered each summer in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting.
“His legacy is not a megachurch,” said Mike Routt, a Swordsman who pastors Circle Drive Baptist Church, Colorado Springs, Colo., and is the SBC Executive Committee vice chairman. “But more than 250 people have surrendered to ministry under his leadership. If all of those 250 people and their families were back at Glendale, he would have one of the largest churches in America. But his legacy is not there at Glendale Baptist Church. His legacy is at churches and preaching points across America and around the world.”
Oldham was called to Glendale on July 21, 1957. Initially he told the pastor search committee he wasn’t interested. But they called a second time and said the church was in a business session and would not adjourn until he agreed to pray further about coming. That prayer led to a move from Lansing, Mich., where he was pastoring, to western Kentucky.
Five decades later, at age 83, Oldham hasn’t felt God call him into retirement. In the past two years, four new Swordsmen have surrendered to vocational ministry.
“I met with some [young people] last night until 11 o’clock,” Oldham said in an interview earlier in 2013.
From day one at Glendale, he felt called to spend much of his time with younger people in the church. Often he can be found in a local restaurant surrounded by an entire section of students, and on Sunday nights he produces a local radio program called “Teentime” on which his young disciples preach, sing and give their testimonies. In 51 years of Teentime, Oldham has never preached on the program himself.
“One time in a deacons meeting one of our deacons brought up that the pastor is spending too much time with young people,” Oldham said. “And he thought the deacons ought to correct me. I had to say to them, ‘Men, if you don’t want your pastor to spend time with young people, you need to get a different pastor because God’s called me to do that.’”
As he spends time with young men and women, Oldham said a key to guiding so many into ministry is exposing them to outstanding preachers.
“When these men come, I get our young people to spend time with them,” Oldham said. “I purposely had these men come to expose our young people to greatness.”
A unique facet of Oldham’s ministry is his lifelong singleness. He had girlfriends early in life and was even engaged once. But shortly after arriving at Glendale, he realized the ministry to which God had called him was too time-consuming to take on a wife and children.
“The Lord seemed to say, ‘It’s OK. I’ll take care of you,’” he said of his singleness. “And He has.”
During his ministry Oldham has baptized more than 6,000 people. Many of them went on to be Swordsmen.
Naturally 56 years of ministry have brought difficult moments. One of the most dramatic occurred in the early 1990s when during a sermon Oldham realized that the choir behind him was leaving. Soon the congregation began leaving too and he heard a voice from the balcony: “Don’t move. It’s just going to take one shot.”
A gunman was perched in the balcony with his weapon aimed at Oldham. Because of sunlight shining through a stained glass window, Oldham couldn’t see the man. But he responded, “Whoever you are, you’re not going to take a shot. This is God’s house. Let’s pray.” Oldham began to pray and a deacon talked the man into surrendering his gun before the police arrived.
Yet the difficult times pale in comparison to God’s blessings over the decades, Oldham said, and one of the greatest blessings is seeing God use his Swordsmen.