A prince among pastors
The term, “Prince of the Church,” is used almost exclusively of cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church. However, I believe that I have had the privilege to know a number of “princes” in the church, especially among pastors, who were not cardinals. One such “prince among pastors” is the Reverend Dr. Steve Bingham.
I first met Steve when he arrived in 1999 to serve as the senior pastor of Peachtree City’s 2,200-member First Baptist Church. Steve and I met at a ministers’ breakfast and I learned that we shared several things in common: we were both born the same year, both claimed towns in Tennessee as our hometown, both had been pastors for most of our adult lives, and were both Tennessee Volunteer fans in a Georgia Bulldog world.
By every measure, Steve Bingham was a terrific success. Married with a beautiful family, he was well educated, a great preacher, and had experienced great success and satisfaction as a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention. Steve was also down to earth, friendly, trusting, and easy to talk to.
At Peachtree City’s First Baptist Church during his 11-year tenure, Dr. Bingham led the church to add a third contemporary worship service, eliminated $3.7 million of church debt, led a $4.2 million campaign to renovate the church facilities and to build The Bridge Community center, developed the Health and Wellness Ministry to minister to people in both the church and community, developed a counseling and spiritual life ministry, established a free health clinic, helped establish a Hispanic ministry with a full-time Hispanic pastor, participated in six foreign mission trips, and kept the church at number 52 in the Cooperative Program of the 3,500 Baptist churches in the Georgia Baptist Convention.
All that would be quite an accomplishment in a lifetime, but Steve saw it all happen in just 11 years in one church.
But, with all that, that’s not why I think that Dr. Bingham is a prince among pastors. I judge a pastor on this criteria: If I needed a pastor, would this person be someone I would personally go to for help? Steve was, and is.
I knew that if I ever had a problem — especially of a sensitive nature — I could go to him for advice, counsel, and help without having to worry if he would betray my trust and confidence.
A few times, especially in my younger years, I trusted a couple of pastors in that manner and lived to regret it. They were good pulpit men, good organization men, but they were not trustworthy. In one case, I shared about a situation with a pastor I counted as my friend and, before the day was out, he had shared in details my circumstances with another pastor in a different city.
I am very careful whom I trust and I trusted Steve Bingham. I still do. Steve was one of those men who seemed to always ask himself, “If Jesus were in this situation, what would he do?” To ask that question is one thing. To actually do it is another. Steve did both, sometimes at great cost.
Although most people don’t realize it, a pastor’s job is a difficult, thankless, nearly impossible task. For one to survive decades of ministry with one’s sanity and integrity intact is a great accomplishment if not an outright miracle, something Steve did with grace and honor.
Dr. Bingham departed from the great people in Peachtree City last year and has since accepted a call to serve a congregation in Athens, Ga. I hope they appreciate the gift that he is. A prince of the church walks among them.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]