The Right Man for the Job
FBC's interim pastor one of the leading Baptist preachers in the Southern U.S.
By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, Special to the News-Telegram
Oct. 10, 2008 - At age 17, Bill Anderson didn't dream of being a preacher. His future wife, it turned out, knew what Anderson would become before he did.
Probably neither envisioned, though, the depth and breadth of Anderson's 50-year career in the ministry which continues today as interim pastor of First Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs.
"First Baptist-Sulphur Springs is a great church in East Texas, a strong and active church, is mission-oriented and has a widespread ministry," said Anderson, who has served as a Baptist pastor since the late 1950s. "It's been a delightful experience. I couldn't ask the church to be more gracious or receptive of us. These are very gracious and loving people."
One of the leading Baptist preachers in the Southern United States, Anderson pastored Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., for 26 years, was the interim pastor for First Baptist Church in Dallas, was vice-chairman of two Billy Graham crusades, and has held the position of national chairman for the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board as part of his storied career.
His Christian journey started over half a century ago when Anderson was a 17-year-old football player at Refugio High School. He attended church but wasn't a Christian.
"I enjoyed church because I was kind of a gregarious kid, but I never really understood what they were saying about my spiritual condition," Anderson recalled. "I'm sure I heard the Gospel many times, but didn't recognize it. When I was 17, I came under conviction. I came to realize that my life was in a mess. I had some things going for me -- I had a great athletic career -- but I was rotten inside and knew it. I wanted to change but didn't know how to change.
"I got in some trouble, and a man came to see me, a Baptist guy. Now, I had gone to the Baptist church and thought they were kind of loud and I didn't really understand what they were talking about. Here is this man very simply explaining to me that there is a God, he has created you and he has created you for a purpose. The thing that shocked me was that here is a man telling me that God has a purpose for me individually. It was a stunning concept. I had planned to be a veterinarian, go to Texas A&M and play football for Bear Bryant; that had been my life's dream. Now, here's this guy telling me that God has a plan."
As it turned out, Anderson did go to college to play football -- though it was Baylor University, where he was an All-Southwest Conference tight end and led the Bears in receiving in 1957. But there was more to God's plan for Anderson than a pigskin, he said.
"This man told me that night that the first part of His plan was for me to receive Christ as my savior. Then, that would release Him to act in my life," Anderson said. "That made perfect sense to me. I invited Christ into my heart that night, knowing what it was about and knowing what the issues were. I was different immediately -- it wasn't a sensational experience, it wasn't a real emotional experience, but it was a change in my life, something that made me different."
The impetus for that change, he would find out later, was his future wife -- the head cheerleader at the high school. Even before they started dating, she had told the youth director at their church that there was a young man named Bill Anderson who was in trouble and needed to change.
"I didn't know that until months and months later when I began dating her that she had asked him to come and see me. Now, she never said that and he didn't -- I didn't find out until I was verbally engaged to her, so she's earthly responsible for my conversion experience."
After they became engaged, Anderson told his future wife, Addie Williams, that believe it or not, he felt the strong pull to become a preacher. Addie believed him, because she had known since her pre-teen days that she would be a preacher's wife.
"She told me further, when I was called to preach, that God had told her when she was 12 years of age that she would marry a Baptist pastor," Anderson explained. "She didn't say a word about that until I told her one night, 'This may shock you and you may want to jump and run, but I've got to be a preacher. I've just got to.' She quizzed me strongly about that, why and how I felt that way. I thought she was going to run, but then she told me that when she was 12 God told her she would marry a Baptist preacher."
And what a preacher he has become. He has a Doctor of Divinity degree from Trinity College in Dunedin, Fla., but doesn't talk excessively in theological clouds. Instead, Anderson uses his folksy witticisms and life stories to prove his points and to explain Biblical passages.
Anderson said God has outfitted him with the speaking style that works best for his experiences, which included growing up in the post-Depression era in a family that was both broke and broken (he lived much of his young life with a sister after his father died when he was an infant).
"Lincoln said God must love common folks because he made so many of us," Anderson related. "I think one of the benefits of my background is that I'm from a poor background, which I'm thankful for. Everybody was poor around us, so we didn't know any different. I grew up in a clan that was very articulate -- we talked a lot. They didn't have a lot of prejudices as I look back on it. They were down-to-earth and straightforward, so I always want to remember when I preach how the guy outside hears it, because if you use theological jargon, he's not helped by it, nor should he be."
Anderson doesn't memorize his sermons -- he just talks from the heart. A First Baptist Church, he preaches two sermons every Sunday morning, one at 8:15 a.m. and another at 11 a.m. While the topics are the same, the message itself isn't identical because he talks to each congregation like he's having a conversation with a friend.
It's something he has done for almost five decades, raising four children, three of whom have been directly involved in Christian ministry. He had always told his wife that when he turned 65, he would retire. That date came and went, and he still kept preaching until his wife reminded him of his promise about a year-and-a-half later.
"When I did retire, in about four or five weeks, the Lord told me that I was released from the pastoral ministry, which I had always loved. But he told me, 'Now, go and encourage my churches.' That wasn't audible, but in my heart I felt it strongly. I hope I've always been an encourager, but I had no idea what was coming," Anderson said.
Since that time, he has become the chancellor of Covenant Christian Academy in Colleyville while serving as interim pastor at First Baptist churches in Euless, Dallas and Wichita Falls before coming to Sulphur Springs.
"I've always remembered my direction to be an encourager, because churches need to be encouraged in the transition period. Staffs need to be encouraged," he explained. "The big thing is that you get to keep the team together, because the sheep tend to scatter."
He is content to continue serving as interim until the church calls a new pastor. He doesn't know if it will be a month or a year.
"One thing a church gets with an interim is someone who will pray for them continuously to get the right man for a pastor. I think the church is ready for leadership," Anderson said, "and I think it's ready for the new man.
"Of the churches I have been interim for, I believe in my heart that they all called the right man for that church. I believe it will happen here, as well."
Members of FBC believe the right man was called in the interim.