Southern Story: Pat Melancon

Communications Staff — November 9, 2010

The Great Commission and the Great Commandment are perhaps the two foremost responsibilities of the Christian life. But how does one bring balanced obedience to both? For SBTS visiting professor Patrick J. Melancon, a life filled with philanthropy and Bible study has brought significant insight as to how Christians should love their neighbors and make disciples of all nations.

“The balance to those things is the opportunity God gives you. If He puts you into a position where all people need is to hear the Gospel, then I say, ‘Tell them about Jesus, tell them what the Gospel is, encourage them to repent and believe.’ But if He puts you in that same position and there is very evident need, then let’s share the Gospel, but let’s also try to meet that need,” Melancon, visiting professor of missions at Southern Seminary, said.

According to Melancon, the church should seek to expand the kingdom of God through both word and deed. 

“Often, you have two extremes. You have those who think all they need to do is preach the Gospel and they can ignore the needs that people have, and they think that is acceptable in God’s sight. But if you look at Matthew 25, Jesus draws a very distinctive line between those who have ministered to the needs that people had, whether they were in prison, without clothes or without food, and those who did not. He draws a very distinctive line there, and that line is so distinct that it’s the difference between heaven and hell,” he said.

“He takes the sheep and He’s puts them on His right side. He says to them, ‘Come, sit at My right side, because you have visited Me in prison or you have given Me clothes or food.’ And they say, ‘When did we do that?’ You see, for those who stepped to his right side, ministering to the needs of people was such a part of their lives that they did not see it as a special effort, like we do today. To them, it was just part of being a follower of Christ.”

The other extreme, Melancon explained, comes with those who are involved in community development and mercy ministry who say that is all that Christians are called to do.  “In many instances, they think that incarnational presence is enough, and it’s not. I try to encourage and help them to see that more than half of the time Jesus combined meeting a need with sharing the truth. So meeting a need is not enough. You have to tell people about Christ,” he said.

“There’s a difference between having a biblical Great Commandment ministry and having one that just attends to social concerns of a culture or society and doesn’t focus upon getting the message out about Jesus Christ.”

Melancon specializes in community development and disaster response and serves a number of affinity groups in Asia.

“The argument you will repeatedly hear is, aren’t you concerned with making ‘rice Christians’ – those [people] who come just for the benefit? I say, ‘I’m as concerned as Jesus was about that, and it never stopped Him. The Bible says He knew the hearts of all men. So not only did He know all the hearts, He knew all the possible outcomes,” he said.

“Most of the people who went and sought Jesus out were people who had some type of a need that they needed to have met. So Jesus would meet those needs and He would also share the truth about Himself, about His mission and about His purpose. When you look at the Great Commission, I tell folks you have to also look at the Great Commandment that goes along with it.  “Sometimes all we have to do is preach when there’s no apparent need, but when the need is there, you can’t ignore it,” he said.

Tracing his desire and equipping for missions work of this sort back to his earlier life experience, Melancon commented that “it is interesting to see what God uses to shape you.”

Melancon grew up in southern Louisiana, a Cajun by blood and culture. Though he did not become a Christian until his adult years, he remembers his mother and grandmother, despite living in poor conditions themselves, offering food to those around them in need. Now, he oversees efforts to reach the destitute throughout Asia.

At SBTS, he is currently teaching on this very subject, community development and disaster response missions.

“It’s a unique course, yet it’s a necessary course. I think if you look at trends, especially in Southern Baptist churches, they want to be involved in this type of ministry and this type of mission work. And this is a great time, I think, for a seminary like Southern to theologically frame the issues concerning human needs work,” Melancon said.

In God’s providential sense of irony, Melancon has not always been a Southern Baptist. In fact, growing up a Cajun, he carried a staunch allegiance to the Roman Catholic religion.

“In south Louisiana, to be Cajun meant you were Catholic,” he said. “It was just part of our upbringing. It was the way we lived.”

What is more, Melancon as an adult was baptized inside the very same church building he tried to burn down as a youth.

After some of his later-to-be wife Veronica’s family had become Christians through a Bible study taking place in their home, Veronica too came to a saving faith in Christ after attending a revival service in Eunice, La. She informed Melancon about her conversion about a week later before he would be deployed for active duty.

“When she told me that, it was a very disturbing thing. I was very angry about the fact that she had gotten saved. I was such a renegade when I was younger that I had vehement dislike of anybody who wasn’t Catholic,” he said. “The little Southern Baptist church across the street from my house, as a juvenile, I tried to burn it down numerous times. I broke the windows in the church. I destroyed the equipment inside the church. I just could not stand Baptists especially.”

Melancon told Veronica that they would resolve the matter of her conversion upon his return from deployment in four months. Once he returned, Melancon was determined to read the Bible in order to show his eventual wife that “she was no better than I was” and that they could still co-exist as a couple.

“It was through reading the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit worked in my heart and God showed me that I was the one who was lost and needed to get saved. And I just got on my knees in my mom’s living room, prayed and asked Christ to save me from my sins,” he said.

Within the next few weeks, Melancon was baptized in the Southern Baptist church that he had tried to burn down as a youth. A couple of years later he confessed to being responsible for the vandalism that came upon the building years earlier. Of course, they forgave him for it, he added.

During his college years while Veronica was away in Baltimore, Md., participating in inner-city youth ministry, God began dealing with Melancon about entering the ministry. Nevertheless, the Lord had prepared Veronica to marry him, he said.

After they each finished college, the couple moved to Memphis, Tenn., for Melancon to attend Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.

During the M.Div. program, Melancon worked part-time for FedEx in addition to serving on staff at various local churches. His employment with FedEx eventually led him to obtain the position of manager of global community relations and corporate contributions. In this role, he was responsible for public relations and overseeing the philanthropy work worldwide for FedEx. Melancon took on this position as he was entering Ph.D. studies at Mid-America.

“We got to the point where it was time to finish our Ph.D. work and God had taken us down a lot of what I thought were detours, and looking back, they were actually the main highways He wanted us on,” he said.

In addition to working for FedEx and pursuing a Ph.D., Melancon also served as an army reserve captain during Operation Desert Storm. Further, once he returned to the doctoral program following his military service, Melancon took time off from the program again when doctors diagnosed his three-year-old son Ben with cancer, which called for 2.5 years of chemotherapy.

“It was during that time that God began to deal with me about addressing human needs missions,” he said.

Once finally on the mission field, Melancon and his wife were given the opportunity to lead disaster response efforts in Asia.

The Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism and the Southeast Asian Affinity group have a relationship that allows personnel to serve as visiting professors of mission at Southern Seminary. As a result, he is teaching this semester at SBTS.

Though he and Veronica are enjoying their time in Louisville, he said that his family considers Thailand, from where they base their work in Asia, home. With Veronica, Melancon has five children: John; Caleb; Hannah; Ben; and Luke.

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