October 14, 2002
Branson For 25 years, Pastor Jay Scribner has led the community of the First Baptist Church with occasional forays from the pulpit to deliver his opinions at City Hall.
Recently, parishioners honored Scribner’s longtime service, a tenure that is rare among the 1,950 churches that are part of the Missouri Baptist Convention, said executive director Dave Clippard. Less than five years is average, he said.
"Someone hitting 25 years in one church is quite a milestone," Clippard says. "It speaks volumes about a trust level between the pastor and the people. You look at a situation like that and say, ‘That church has its act together.’"
The church and the community were quite different when Scribner, fresh from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, applied for the job of pastor in Branson. He and his wife, Kay who have been married 35 years had never heard of Branson.
Now 53, Scribner says he has stayed at the post because "I have felt purely that God has wanted me here and because of the great relationship between the pastor and the people."
He came to Branson with the idea that he would stay, he says.
"The problem with greener pastures is that they require more water," Scribner says.
When Scribner arrived in 1977, he found a small church in downtown Branson. Average worship attendance was 289 compared with 728 this year.
In 1986, church officials sold the downtown location and built on land overlooking U.S. 65 at Missouri 76. The location, he says, was a blessing. Because of the high visibility of the site, about 90 out-of-town visitors can be found at most Sunday services. Last year, the tourists came from 40 states and 40 denominations.
"The church of Jesus Christ at large is one big family," Scribner says.
Members also have been generous over the years. The church operates on an annual budget of $812,381 compared with $92,000 in 1977. Total giving since 1977 has amounted to $13 million.
More growth is ahead for the church, Scribner says. The next project is a $1.75 million family life center that includes a gym, racquetball courts, weight and aerobics spaces and a prayer chapel. The center is an example of ways the church has had to adapt to meet the changing needs of its congregation, Scribner says.
"The message of Jesus Christ doesn’t change even though the atmosphere and environment of family and community life does," Scribner says. "The task is to find ways to adapt to get the message of Jesus Christ out."
The worship style has changed over the years. The church now has two Sunday morning services that balancing traditional music with the more upbeat sound of a praise team and a praise band, he says.
The congregation has grown in each age group as well, he says. "We care about people of all ages, and that’s kept it fun," he says.
Becky Brown, who served as the church’s business education administrator for 17 years, praised Scribner for his work to keep the church debt free. Working on a pay-as-you-go basis, it took seven years to build the new church, Brown says.
"We never had debt that he has had to pound people to pay for," Brown says. "He just put the plea out for what we needed, and when enough money was there, we would buy it."
She also applauds his leadership in mission work. Under his guidance, the church has helped set up and support 29 other churches in Missouri and Arkansas as well as outreach efforts in several foreign countries.
Over the years, Scribner has not been shy about stepping outside the church to speak on community issues. That included strong stances against gambling and expanding the number of businesses that serve and sell liquor, and supporting zoning to prohibit what he calls "lewd dancing."
Scribner quotes 18th_century British orator Edmund Burke, who said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
"It is character that determines conduct," Scribner says, "not just within the walls of the church, but in the community, the nation and the world. Christians need to keep a constant vigil, and I’m compelled to be a leader in that. I do it because I want to do what it feels like God wants me to do."
Scribner says he’s grateful that his congregation has forgiven his mistakes.
"I’m human," he says. "I’ve done my best when I knew I needed to to make reconciliations."
The youngest of seven children raised in Ashmore, Ill., Scribner says he’s the only preacher in the family. In the hall outside his office is a plaque that says: "Working for the Lord doesn’t pay much, but the retirement plan is out of this world."
"I met Christ as my savior when I was 20, and it’s been an exciting ride," Scribner says. "I led my alcoholic father to faith when he was 79."
Scribner has served on boards of several Baptist agencies, including president of the Missouri Baptist Convention in 2000. In 2001, Scribner received an honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Hannibal-Lagrange College in Hannibal, where he got an associate’s degree in 1969.
Branson has been a good place to raise their two sons, Scribner says. Paul and his wife, Jill, have an 18_month_old son and live in Branson. Mark and his wife, Jaime, now live near Kansas City where Mark has his first ministry, Scribner says.
Scribner says he takes his ministry one day at a time and is not thinking of retiring.
"I wake up excited every day to tell someone about Jesus Christ," Scribner said. (This story was reprinted with the permission of the Springfield News-Leader.)