My Grandpa Riggs was known in our denomination as a preacher, evangelist, and the first full-time Director of Foreign Missions. But before that, he was a church planter. In 1938, at the age of 22, Raymond Riggs (with the help of his wife, Winona) started a church in Royal Oak, MI with a dozen new Christians. They started services in the street. Winona played the piano from the back of a truck, while Raymond preached in the open air. The church was named the Highland Park Gospel Tabernacle and quickly moved into a storefront building. With street preaching, revival meetings, and gospel concerts, it didn’t take long for the church to outgrow their location. They purchased a vacant mosque and changed their name to Highland Park Free Will Baptist Church. After 16 years and two additions to the building, the church was averaging 400 in attendance (read a history of the church here). Grandpa died on April 13, 2009, but I learned a lot from his life and from conversations with him about how to best live–as a church planter and a man.
1. Love your wife. Family jokes aside, Raymond loved his wife. He delighted in her and treasured her.
2. Stay true to the Bible. Above all else, the Bible is the true and living Word of God. You can be sure of it.
3. Don’t be afraid to be what others call progressive. Did you notice that he didn’t brand the church with the denominational tag right away? And that they bought a mosque? Both of those would get you in trouble today with a lot of circles, but he did it…and in 1938.
4. Understand the culture and have a strategy. Raymond didn’t just hold old-fashioned revivals. He also used the radio and other means to communicate the gospel. He once told me that one of the biggest ways of getting families into church was to peruse the newspaper for birth announcements. Someone from the church would then take the family a gift basket and ask if they could put the baby’s name on the Cradle Roll at the church. When the family agreed, the church would officially add the baby’s name to the roll, including having the name put on the wall in the nursery. When the family came to visit the church, they immediately saw that the church cared about their child. Again, my grandpa said this was one of the best strategies they had to reach unsaved people. He understood what people cared about and ministered to them in that way.
5. Following God sometimes means doing what others think is crazy. Raymond pastored the Highland Park Church for 16 years and saw continued growth. But he left to become the first full-time director of the fledgling Foreign Missions department of Free Will Baptists. Why? Because he thought leaving his comfort and taking on this role was the best way to ensure that the gospel went to all the nations.
6. Love people where they are. Raymond (and Winona) loved people. I don’t mean they put up with people. They loved them. They had this way of making everyone they talked to feel like they were their best friends. Dr. Ken Riggs wrote this about his dad:
Daddy’s love for people cannot be learned in a classroom. It came from being alone with God. It came from not being afraid to get his hands dirty in the ministry—from getting in the grease pit of a gas station to mucking out a hog pen with a farmer. It came from sitting with someone in the hospital or watching a friend die. It came from experiencing life with all kinds of people (reference).
So those are just a few lessons I have learned from Raymond. He certainly wasn’t perfect, and neither am I, but I think we would all do well do learn from these. (You can read much more about my grandpa and see many more pictures here
Is there someone in your life that you learned a lot from? Maybe even more as you look back?