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Texas church ‘saw something’ in inexperienced, ex-felon pastor

“I got called into ministry at this church with no education, no experience in the pastorate, and as a convicted felon," said LJ Wright, pastor of New Home Baptist Church. "I had no idea how it would work. The church was committed. They saw something.”

NEW HOME, Texas (BP) – New Home Baptist Church gave Pastor LJ Wright a chance in 2019. Since then, the congregation’s faith has produced fruit – despite the pandemic and the pastor’s own tragic personal loss.

Wright’s journey to New Home Baptist, located in the small Texas Panhandle town of the same name, population 350, just south of Lubbock, followed an atypical track.

“I wasn’t raised in a Christian home,” Wright said. At age 10, he was removed from his biological parents and raised in the foster system, living “all over the place.” He spent his early childhood in Oregon, then New Mexico, and finally graduated from high school in West Virginia.

Although Wright captained the varsity baseball and basketball teams in high school, college provided too many opportunities for alcohol and substance abuse.

“I made a shipwreck of my life in college,” Wright admitted. “The Lord found me in a really dark place and saved me.”

That dark place turned out to be a county jail, where Wright was detained on substance abuse-related charges. In total, Wright estimates he spent more than three years incarcerated as a young man. 

Yet at age 25, he met Jesus in a county jail.

“I was in trouble,” he recalled. “Every time someone tried to share the Gospel with me, I rejected it.” One day he felt convicted to attend a church service in jail. As the speaker preached, it was as if the “blinders were ripped off,” Wright said. “I recognized my sin. … I was terrified that I had rebelled … but not only had He preserved me, Christ died for me.”

It was as if he had become a “new creature on the spot.” Years of anger at the foster care system, his parents and the world dissolved.

Connecting through tragedy

Following his salvation, Wright began studying the Bible; telling people about Jesus became his passion. He served at a church as part of its Spanish ministry and began doing pulpit supply for the Lubbock Baptist Association. He was soon invited to preach at New Home, then without a pastor.

“I wasn’t looking to be a pastor,” Wright said. Even so, New Home kept approaching him. The vote to call him to the position in 2019 was unanimous.

“What had the church done?” Wright wondered. “I got called into ministry at this church with no education, no experience in the pastorate, and as a convicted felon. I had no idea how it would work. The church was committed. They saw something.”

Wright and his wife, Tiffani, expecting their first child, moved into the pastorate. Two months after they came to New Home, tragedy overwhelmed the young couple, then 29 and 23 years old. As the baby’s due date neared, a routine visit to the obstetrician proved devastating when the physician could not detect a heartbeat. Wrenley Wright was buried on what had been her original due date: Nov. 23, 2019.

The church rallied around the couple.

“God used that situation with Wrenley to bring our church family together. We have a bond now that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. I was green in the pastorate. They were so patient with Tiffani and me,” Wright said. “It was so hard.”

Wright calls the tragedy a major turning point for the church, a loss that cemented relationships within the congregation: “We are family here.”

Growing through challenges

It wasn’t long before COVID-19 struck. After an initial pause, the church resumed in-person worship quickly. Folks returned, but provisions were also made for online worship. Attendance fluctuated during COVID, then picked up. Weekly attendance now ranges from 100-150, but Easter 2023 saw attendance soar to 250 with two services.

Included among Wright’s attendees are his biological mother and stepfather, who are members at New Home – where she sings in the choir and he serves on committees. Wright reconnected with his mother before his salvation, learning that she was a believer and happily remarried.

“My mother was serving the Lord,” Wright said. “We have been serving Him together ever since.”

Baptisms and memberships have exploded since 2020, with more than 60 joining and 30-plus baptisms – one of which was preceded by Wright counseling a 10-year-old boy on the cost of following Christ.

“I may lose my friends. I may lose money. I may lose my reputation,” the boy told Wright, “but I know Jesus is worth it.”

The church’s active Wednesday night children’s programs – including Royal Ambassadors, Girls in Action, and Mission Friends – draw 100 kids from the town and surrounding areas. Many unchurched children attend. In anticipation of future growth, New Home recently paid cash for a 10-acre lot, and plans are in the works for a new facility.

Wright calls himself the “most blessed man on earth to be able to serve this community,” praising his youth pastor, staff and volunteers. “We have great people in all positions. These people love the Lord, love to serve, love the church, love the community,” he said. Ultimately, it has “all been God’s work. He is sovereign. We are just trusting Him.”

This article originally appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN.