Published June 1, 2019
LOUISVILLE—Dr. Lincoln Bingham has officially retired from the pastorate at St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights, but you will still find him 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 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 almost six decades of ministry under his belt, he and his wife of 66 years, Lillian, will continue to serve the Lord here rather than travel or pursue a leisurely life. "We both have done so much traveling over the years—I have been in other countries and in most states. I want to do what we can do here—I want to do some things where I'm not obligated.
"I am not asking for rest, but I am just not able to do my very best," he explained. 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 him. He was preaching on a Sunday a few months ago when "it hit me," he recalls. "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."
His involvement with St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church years prior to the merger began with a phone call he received from a former pastor in Hopkinsville, Ky. "He cried out to me, 'go and help that church.'" At that time Bingham was working for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, who encouraged him to take that 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," he 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.'"
His first pastorate was in Mercer County, which had a congregation of about eight people. He was asked to preach there, and on that Sunday the retiring preacher of that church 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 8-10 people which grew to a powerful church of about 300 people. He left there after a 35-year ten-ure to take a position with KBC.
His friendship with Shively Heights pastor Mark Payton played a major role in merging the churches that the men 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. 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 to be interested 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. We also have a young adult choir. And we're holding onto 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 says he receives great satisfaction in the love he witnesses among the members at St. Paul. "You see genuine love between blacks and whites here. 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. 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, if people 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. I think that is the problem."
Family history plays a significant role in the Bingham story. His grandfather, who lived to be 100 years old, had been a slave, but he "never had any gripes or complaints. He said he was brought and bought by a Bingham."
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. 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. 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."
While he eyes a slower pace in retirement, Lincoln Bingham still plans on "going the distance" in showing his love for God and people.
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