It seems just like yesterday when I first shook his hand, embraced him with a hug, and thanked him after immersing me into the baptismal waters at Hindman First Baptist Church in the summer of 1996. As a result of the tragic death of my friend, Merri-Kathryn Prater, a member at Hindman First Baptist Church, Brother Mike Caudill shared the gospel with me, and led me to personal faith in Jesus Christ on April 22, 1996, when I was 17. He later baptized me that summer, and I became a member of Hindman First Baptist Church and one of his parishioners. The church later licensed me and ordained me into the gospel ministry. The death of Merri-Kathryn, my conversion, my membership at Hindman First Baptist Church, and my relationship with Brother Mike changed my life forever. I’m now 45 years old and 27 years removed from that day Brother Mike led me to faith in Jesus Christ.
Brother Mike preached his final sermon as pastor of Hindman First Baptist Church on Sunday, November 19, 2023. I’m honored today to pay tribute to him on his first official day of retirement as he has finished his faithful 36 years of pastoral ministry in Hindman and now enjoys retirement.
Brother Mike gave his life to Jesus Christ on April 18, 1974, at Hazard First Baptist Church. He answered God’s call into the ministry in 1976. He was ordained in September of 1977. He pastored Lone Pine Baptist Church in eastern Kentucky from 1977-1982 while a student at Cumberland College (now the University of the Cumberlands), Bedford Baptist Church in Bedford, Kentucky from 1982-1987 while he was a student at Southern Seminary, and he continued to serve Bedford Baptist one year after his graduation in 1986 until he answered the call to be the pastor of Hindman First Baptist Church in 1987. He faithfully served in Hindman from December 1987-November 19, 2023. Brother Mike holds three academic degrees, including a doctorate in Theology, and he pastored three churches. However, he was always affectionately known by his parishioners at Hindman First Baptist Church as Brother Mike, and he will always be known by countless as the pastor of Hindman First Baptist Church.
Given the longevity of his ministry and his persistence in gospel faithfulness, I can’t believe I’m writing these words in retrospect of his ministry in the light of his retirement. In my mind, analogous to the great Michael Jordan, Brother Mike will always be the G.O.A.T (the greatest of all time), as he jumps from the proverbial free throw line doing what he loves to do so faithfully as the Pastor of Hindman First Baptist Church. While my heart is heavy because I cannot imagine living in a world where Brother Mike is not the pastor of Hindman First Baptist Church, I’m eager to show honor and pay tribute today to my father in the faith and in the ministry.
In the following remarks, I’ll do my best not to make this tribute a lament. Instead, I want to celebrate a few of the many things the Lord taught me through Brother Mike’s faithful ministry.
First, Brother Mike taught me to love Jesus first and foremost. His 36 years of ministry at Hindman First Baptist Church were filled with faithful teaching, faithful preaching, and fervent evangelism. However, above all, Brother Mike faithfully walked with and loved Jesus. My time at Hindman First Baptist Church was too brief due to the timing of my coming to faith at the age of 17 right before I went away to college. Yet, I was still able to see firsthand that Brother Mike loved Jesus.
Jesus was not his job; he was and is his life! I saw this in his preaching. I saw this in his teaching. I saw this in his relentless commitment to personal evangelism. I heard this in his prayers. I saw this by how he faithfully loved his family well. I saw this by how he poured into me and kept pointing me to Jesus in times of personal joy and in times of unbearable pain. I saw his love for Jesus the many times we prayed together, the many times I watched his life, and the many times he allowed me to join him on hospital visitations, nursing home visits, to minister to families in crisis, and the many, many times we were able to have sweet fellowship at the parsonage as he allowed me to be part of his family. I also bore witness to his deep love for Jesus by how he continued to walk faithfully with him during the homegoing of his beloved son, Casey, who tragically died at the age of 16 in 1998.
Second, Brother Mike taught me the importance of loving my family well. He graciously loved me enough to allow me to spend time with his family. I remember many weekends and weekdays we all spent time together laughing, talking about life, crying, and rejoicing together. For me, those moments were gold, for they allowed me, as a young Christian and a younger minister of the gospel, to see how a Christian man and a minister of the gospel should love his family well.
Third, Brother Mike taught me the importance of mentorship. He poured into my life much wisdom, time, and material resources in the years immediately after my conversion and calling into the ministry. I tell people all the time that seminary trained me to read Greek and Hebrew, to do exegesis, and to think critically and analytically, but Brother Mike taught me to be a pastor. I had the privilege of being one of the first students in the “Brother Mike Caudill school for pastors.”
Two stories are worth mentioning related to this point. (1) I remember during my first semester of theological education when I was in college, one of my classmates looked me in the eye in my dorm room and said: “Jarvis, we are Christians because God chose us in Christ.” I responded by saying “That’s crazy.” Immediately after that conversation, I picked up the phone and called Brother Mike to ask whether this statement is true. He could have overwhelmed me with a lot of confusing theological jargon. Instead, he invited me to come over to his house on a Saturday morning, and he walked with me through multiple bible verses about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. He emphasized the importance of personal evangelism, and he also gave me multiple books to read on this topic, which helped me tremendously. He answered my questions as my pastor and carefully shepherded me in my young faith in these deep truths of God. He listened to my objections, and he guided me as a good shepherd, giving me time to think, search the scriptures, pray, and come to my own conclusions in time on these important matters, while loving me and being patient with me along the way as I continued to grow in learning new, exciting, and challenging things.
(2) A second story related to Brother Mike’s pastoral development of me occurred on a Sunday night after a long day of ministry. He and I were at the parsonage having some fellowship after our Sunday evening service. The time was approximately 8:30PM. There was an unexpected knock on the door. Brother Mike answered, and it was the local funeral director. He informed Brother Mike that an elderly man had died who was born in Knott County (the county of Hindman), had moved away, and he had no family or friends in the area, other than his son and his daughter-in-law who returned home for the funeral to fulfill his request to bury him here. The funeral director asked Brother Mike if he would do the funeral. He said yes without hesitation. I went with him to the funeral, and the only ones in attendance were Brother Mike, the two family members, a deacon from our church, and I.
I couldn’t believe what my eyes saw and what my ears heard when Brother Mike stepped into the pulpit at the funeral home to preach this man’s funeral. He preached as if he had known him his entire life. He honored him, his family, and Jesus. On the one hand, it was one of the saddest funerals I had ever attended in my life because virtually no one was there. On the other hand, Brother Mike’s love for that family made it one of the most beautiful expressions of Christian love I’ve ever witnessed at a funeral in my life. It was a master class on faithful pastoral ministry.
Fourth, Brother Mike modeled sound character and sound doctrine. His personal character and his theological character have been gifts to so many in his 36-years of ministry at Hindman First Baptist Church.
Fifth, Brother Mike taught me the importance of rigorous study for the purpose of sound preaching and teaching. I still remember his commitment to study scripture, personal development, and theological acuity. He was the first person who instilled in me a hunger for and a love for rigorous study and reading. He gave me books from his own personal library to read. He gave me my first Greek and Hebrew Bibles before I could read them. He gave me my first Greek Grammar, published by a scholar who was an academic giant at the school where I now teach. He helped me in the early days of my study of Greek to understand Greek would help me develop strong exegetical skills, and a strong preaching and teaching ministry in the church.
He taught me how to preach before I had any formal theological education. He explained to me the important role of a strong pulpit ministry in the life and health of the church. He was the first person to introduce me to different methods of preaching, including the method of biblical exposition. He gave me books to read on preaching, assignments from biblical texts about different styles of preaching, and then we would meet to discuss my work. We regularly listened together to different preachers with different styles of preaching and spent time discussing and analyzing them.
When I answered the call to preach at the age of 18, he gave me numerous opportunities to preach during youth services on Sunday nights, and eventually he asked me to fill in for him on Sunday mornings when he was away preaching. Brother Mike would meet with me every Monday morning to discuss the service and my sermon after the Sundays I preached. His feedback was loving, kind, instructive, helpful, pastoral, gentle, and always filled with grace and truth. He prepared me well for what was to come as a future seminary student.
Brother Mike also taught me how to teach. He taught me how to make the deep things of God accessible so that as many people as possible can benefit from them. Brother Mike’s ministry modeled a love for the scriptures and a commitment to see people’s lives transformed by them. I remember a good friend of mine, a brother with whom I answered the call into the ministry on the same day at our church under Brother Mike’s ministry, and I were 19. We both said we wanted to get to a place in our walks with Jesus where we could answer questions with scripture quotations just like Brother Mike. Brother Mike loved the word of God, but he also loved for the people of God to understand it. He was a master teacher.
Sixth, Brother Mike believed in me. While I was not at Hindman First Baptist Church for the entirety of his 36-year ministry, as I reflect on his pastorate there, I can’t help but likewise reflect upon how my 16-year teaching ministry in theological education and my 26-year preaching ministry have been shaped by Brother Mike’s ministry at Hindman, because he believed in me and because he invested in me. I get chills just thinking about it.
There were many words of encouragement Brother Mike gave to me that have come to pass in my life. For example, Brother Mike gave me my first Greek and Hebrew Bibles before I knew what they were. Greek and Hebrew are important parts of my life. He talked to me about the different ways the Lord might want to use me in ministry, encouraging me to be open to what the Lord wants to do. He trusted me with his pulpit and teaching lectern. Most humbling, Brother Mike gave me the honor of preaching for him several Sundays in 1998 after his beloved son, Casey, went to be with Jesus at the age of 16. I didn’t know at the time what an honor that was because I was so young. Now, as a 45-year-old (old!) man, I look back with tears of gratitude that Brother Mike believed in me and trusted me enough to preach for him during his family’s time of grief.
Finally, I don’t have words to express all the ways Brother Mike impacted so many lives in his 36-years of faithful ministry at Hindman First Baptist Church or the countless ways he has impacted and continues to impact my life. He and his faithful wife and co-worker in the ministry, Ms. Alice, have been like a mom and dad to me. They have impacted an innumerable amount of people in eastern Kentucky and beyond for the sake of the gospel. Countless have come to faith in Christ through their ministry, and so many lives have been transformed by the power of the gospel by their faithfulness. Their ministry saved my life, and their legacy will continue until Jesus returns as one generation after another, they’ve influenced, will continue to hand the gospel down throughout the ages because of their faithful ministry.
Brother Mike and Ms. Alice are the first Christian family I knew and that I ever spent a significant amount of time with after my conversion. In many ways, Brother Mike and Ms. Alice were my first spiritual parents, along with so many other dear saints from Hindman First Baptist Church. Through their ministry, I converted in 1996, my uncle converted in 1997 a year after my conversion, and my aunt converted six weeks before she died in 2018. Brother Mike played an important role in her conversion, as he prayed for her for over twenty years and as he witnessed to her often when he visited her in the hospital or spoke with her as she visited Hindman First Baptist Church.
Brother Mike and Ms. Alice mean the world to me. Without their faithful 36-year ministry, I would be lost and without a purpose.
While my heart is deeply saddened that Brother Mike is no longer the pastor at Hindman First Baptist Church but has now entered retirement from full-time pastoral ministry, I rejoice that he was faithful to shepherd his beloved Hindman First Baptist Church so well for 36 years. I am also thankful that he will be able to enjoy other avenues of ministry with his family and with those precious grandchildren. My prayer for this dear father in the faith and humble giant in Christian ministry is he and Ms. Alice will experience every blessing and joy during these days of retirement. I trust with full confidence that our Lord Jesus Christ will say to Brother Mike Caudill on that great day of resurrection: well-done, my good and faithful servant.