LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Lincoln Bingham has officially retired as pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights, but he’s still in the pulpit there and in the office most every day during the week.
At age 87, he serves as the interim at St. Paul — the church in Louisville, Ky., that made national news in 2009 when an African American church, St. Paul Missionary Baptist, merged with an all-white church, Shively Heights Baptist.
With nearly six decades of ministry, Bingham and his wife of 66 years, Lillian, will continue to serve the Lord at the church rather than travel or pursue a leisurely life. In addition to preaching, he still makes some hospital visits, although others in the church help with that responsibility.
The decision to retire came unexpectedly — even for Bingham.
He was preaching on a Sunday a few months ago when “it hit me,” he recounted. “I had not prepared it, but it came to me that it was time to retire. That was a Spirit-led decision, that it was time for me to go.
“I love this church, but what I’m doing — it is not at my best. I would like to be a member without any position, but I will do anything I am asked by the new pastor who comes in.”
Bingham’s involvement with St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church years prior to the merger began with a phone call from a former pastor in Hopkinsville, Ky. “He cried out to me, ‘Go and help that church.'” Bingham was working for the Kentucky Baptist Convention at the time and was able to serve the church in addition to his KBC responsibilities as cooperative missions consultant.
“The church started growing — I was there about 15 years, then brought it here to merge.
“This [St. Paul] is a place of Christian love,” Bingham said. “I have never been treated any better, loved any more, than I have been here.”
St. Paul is the fourth church he has pastored, but he never sought any of those positions. “The Lord led me to all those ministry positions. I never applied for anything. It’s like the song we sing, ‘Wherever He leads I’ll go.'”
Bingham’s first pastorate was in Mercer County, Ky., for a congregation of about eight people. He was asked to preach there, and on that Sunday the church’s retiring preacher pointed to him and said, “There’s your pastor.”
The church grew, then West End Baptist in Louisville called him. That, too, was a small congregation of eight to 10 people which grew to about 300. He left there after a 35-year tenure to take a position with the Kentucky convention.
Bingham’s friendship with Shively Heights pastor Mark Payton played a key role in merging the churches that they pastored.
“Mark and I had been friends — everywhere he had gone he had me come and preach revivals for him. My wife and I stayed in their home. And wherever we went — conferences or meetings — he’d find me. When that church was declining in membership, he called and talked about merging.
“I met with our church and over 120 people agreed to it. I prayed about it and thought it’d be the right thing to do. Our friendship would justify it because a friend will try to help another friend.”
Four years into the merger, Payton accepted a position elsewhere. “I never expected it to happen. I thought he’d be the pastor,” Bingham said. “When I retired from KBC, I thought I would stay here a little while to help. I thought I’d be retired completely. But after four years I became the only pastor.”
The church shows no sign of retreating from its mission of reaching people. On Easter Sunday, seven people came forward during the invitation expressing interest in church membership, so Bingham remains optimistic about the church’s long-term potential.
St. Paul has had success in trying to reach the younger generation. “We have a children’s choir with about 25 in it and they sing every Sunday. That’s one way we’re reaching the young,” Bingham said. “We also have a young adult choir. And we’re holding on to older people, but we do have a lot who have passed on, who are homebound or in nursing homes.”
When someone talks with Bingham, one word and one action is immediately noticed — love. He said he receives great satisfaction in the love he witnesses among the members at St. Paul.
“You see genuine love between blacks and whites here,” he said. “It’s why they love me, it’s why they love one another…. I think it is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts that has made the difference. It is the love of God that people see, not hear.”
Known nationally for his work on racial reconciliation, Bingham models the attitude he believes is essential for that process to take place. “God so loved the world, that He was willing and did die for us. Because of that, I love people,” he said. “I love people because God loved me as a person — I am willing to do what God would have me to do.
“If others see Jesus in us … it will attract people regardless of race. It will have the effect it should have. If they don’t see Jesus in us, you can hardly expect them to be moved to act accordingly.”
Family history plays a significant role in the Bingham story. His grandfather, who lived to be 100, had been a slave, but he “never had any gripes or complaints.”
His father was a role model for him in faithfulness. “My father was a great man of God. There were 10 children in our family — my father loved God and loved people. He seldom complained about anything. His love had a powerful influence on me. I wanted to be like my father. While he was not educated, he was gifted and talented and a great servant of God.
“The difference in my life is that my grandfather loved; my father loved; it made my situation much better,” Bingham said.
“Not only has that been a part of my heritage, but it has helped me in congregations. I have gone into churches where no one shook my hand except for the [host] pastor when he came in, but after I preached they would come and shake my hand. I think it was evident to them that I loved them.
“Certainly people see love,” Bingham said. “It’s not about how good I can preach, it’s that I have the power to love. If we’ll get that over to people, we’ll be making a difference in reaching lost people. People want it, they just don’t have enough models to see.”