It’s not uncommon to run from God. Like Jonah we board a ship for Tarshish instead of Nineveh. Like Adam we try to hide in a garden our Creator spoke into existence. Or like the man with one talent, we bury it rather than use it. The roads are broad, plentiful, and landscaped with temptations.
My longtime friend, Jerry Pickard, wisely chose to run toward God at an early age. He took the straight and narrow way many years ago. With 48 years in ministry, he’s pausing to see how God will use him next. Jerry retired on September 15th as pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Milledgeville after 33 years. “I retired as the pastor,’’ he said, “but I didn’t retire from ministry.”
Jerry and I both attended Unadilla High School. He was two grades ahead of me, but we spent a lot of time together in the F.F.A. String Band. When I was in the ninth grade, the four guys in the band invited me to play piano. I was the kid in the group and tickled to be playing with four juniors. Jerry moved from piano to guitar, and patiently taught me to play by chords without relying on sheet music. He and Charles Jones mentored me through country classics like Down Yonder and Wildwood Flower.
Even during our youthful days, Jerry’s faith was evident. He had a spiritual maturity that many of us as teenagers were lacking. He kept his language and humor clean and treated everyone with respect. It didn’t surprise me when he followed God’s direction toward full-time Christian service.
I asked Jerry to tell me about his call to ministry. “Those seeds were planted early,” he said. “One of my first memories is of sitting between my parents at Unadilla Baptist Church.”
After high school Jerry attended Valdosta State College where he earned a degree in history. He was President of the Baptist Student Union and became involved at First Baptist Valdosta. He began to have a stirring in his heart and talked to Rev. Jim Pitts. Jerry felt God might be calling him to preach, but he didn’t feel worthy.
“None of us are worthy to bear His name,” said Rev. Pitts. “All we have to do is be willing and available.” So that’s what Jerry did. “I never ran from God,” he said. “I ran to Him.”
After college Jerry taught school in Warner Robins and worked with young people in his hometown church in Unadilla. Clark Standard was his pastor, friend, and mentor. As God firmed Jerry’s awareness of a call to ministry, Rev. Standard suggested he enroll in seminary.
Jerry spent three and a half years at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He and some fellow students began attending First Baptist Dallas. It was a 40-mile trip each way, so they stayed after morning worship and waited for the evening services. They volunteered to help with outreach, and soon began spending Sunday afternoons following up with visitors who had turned in cards.
Jerry benefited tremendously from the inspired preaching and effective leadership of W. A. Criswell and Jimmy Draper. Rev. Draper invited him to become an intern. “Seminary was an excellent place for learning,” said Jerry. “First Baptist Dallas gave me the opportunity to use what I learned.”
Rev. Clark Standard moved from Unadilla to Britt David Baptist Church in Columbus. He asked Jerry to pray about becoming his associate pastor. Under the guidance of Clark Standard, his “father in ministry,” Jerry learned how to effectively pastor a local congregation.
Columbus was good in other ways too. Another pastor introduced Jerry to his future wife Terri Brasington. “We were set up without either of us knowing it,” he said with a smile. “The rest is history.”
Jerry pastored in Vidalia and Macon before being called to Northside Baptist in September of 1986. I commented that a 33-year tenure speaks well for both him and the church. “I had a very patient congregation,” he said with modesty.
I asked what advice he would give to young preachers. “I would tell them to love the people and preach The Word. People need a steady diet of The Word of God.”
Jerry doesn’t know where the next road may lead, but there’s no doubt of its direction. He’ll keep running toward God. Those seeds were planted early for him. Jerry intends to keep planting them for others.