TOP STORY > > Young pastor leads Jacksonville church
Bumgardner is close to the same age as when his predecessor, Pastor Lyndon Whitledge, who retired this fall, took the helm of the church.
The first Sunday that Bumgard-ner delivered a sermon at North Jacksonville Missionary Baptist Church marked 42 years to the day that Whitledge, then 26, started at the church. To Bumgardner, the prospect of a similarly long tenure suits him just fine.
“My desire would be to see my kids grow up here, get married, have a family and see their kids raised here, too. If I am here 42 years, great, or longer, great.”
The two pastors have already settled into an easy rapport. Bumgardner is glad too that Whitledge is staying involved with the doings of the church, and the two seem comfortable with their respective roles on Sunday mornings.
“On Sundays, he gets to relax,” Bumgardner says. “He’s ready for it to be someone else’s turn.”
A lifetime of experience prepared the young minister for his new post. Reared in the same denomination that he now serves, he was saved at age 7 and enjoyed family life that revolved around the church. But like many adolescents, he drifted away from his faith to see if that was any better.
“I grew up in the church and everything was pretty much normal, until age 16 or 17, when I tried to get away from the church to experience other things in life,” Bumgardner said.
The sudden death of the 14-old-year brother of a close friend made Bumgardner re-evaluate his life and what gave it meaning. He regretted having never shared anything about God with his now-deceased friend or the boy’s family. How he related to the people in his life changed from that point forward.
“I started ministering to them; I let them know what the Lord has done for me,” he said. “I started looking at things differently. I realized that there are opportunities to do God’s work all around us, but we have to be willing to do it.”
A year later, at church camp, Bumgardner dedicated his life to God and has never looked back.
“I made a commitment to God to do exactly what He wanted me to do with my life, to pastor His churches,” he said.
A year later, still a teenager, he started looking for a church to pastor. Connections through Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock directed him to a church in Alma, one of appropriate size for a novice preacher.
The congregation numbered no more than 20. He stayed with that church more than two years.
Since leaving at the end of 2002, the young pastor has led three more churches, each congregation larger than the one before – in Slidell, La.; Jerome, Idaho, and most recently, Greenville, Miss.
During those years of gaining practical experience as a pastor, Bumgardner earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Missionary Baptist Seminary and is now working on a master’s degree in theology from Oxford Baptist Institute, in Oxford, Miss.
Bumgardner is clear about the purpose he is to fulfill at his new church.
“The reason I am here is to reach out to assist in anyway that I can to those who are in Jacksonville, Cabot and the area around, to try to minister to them, to let them know that the Lord has done for me,” he said.
When pressed for specifics, Bumgardner recounted the story of a young woman from his hometown whose life is joined with his by their shared faith and an experience of the miraculous.
When doctors told her that she had advanced ovarian cancer, she and fellow Christians, including Bumgardner, were steadfast in their confidence that God would restore her health.
Going into surgery, her prognosis was grim, but when she awoke from the operation, her doctors told her they had no scientific explanation for the puzzling findings. The workings of a higher power they acknowledged was the only explanation for the mere trace of cancer they had found.
“I got to be part of that, to pray with her, to stay with her, encourage her and help out,” Bumgardner said. “But in return, she got to teach us how important faith is.”
Jacksonville Missionary Bible Church is a place where people can find acceptance and love, Bumgardner says. A focus on youth will be a priority, to create a haven for young people, where they feel comfortable and a part of things.
“People are looking for something where they can be loved and connected through, a place where they can come and be part of a family,” he said.