Jimmy and Amy Patterson look over his letter of resignation to First Baptist Church of Newnan. He resigned because of health issues.
In October 2020 the pastor of First Baptist Church Newnan, Jimmy Dale Patterson, stepped on a finishing nail resulting in a disability that has continued to the present day. After seven months of immobility the Newnan pastor resigned so the church could find a successor. His physical challenges would have caused many to despair, but his faith and trust in God have been exemplary. Gerald Harris, former editor of The Christian Index, interviewed the Newnan pastor and his story is compelling.
The Christian Index: What is your pastoral/ministry background and when did you come to Newnan’s First Baptist Church?
Pastor Jimmy Patterson: I have been in the ministry 40 years. I have pastored churches in Texas, Florida, and Georgia. In October 2006, I came to First Baptist in Newnan, Georgia from Central Baptist Church in Sanford, Florida (North Metro Orlando). I was called to that church, twice. While there, I was recommended to LifeWay in 2000. I was their first telecommuter, which did not require me moving my family to Nashville. Therefore, we were able to keep our home in Florida. After three months, the Pastor Search Committee of Central asked me to return as their pastor. I accepted their invitation a second time and remained there another four years.
The Christian Index: What happened to cause the infection that set your physical challenges in motion? When was your last Sunday in the pulpit to preach to your congregation?
Pastor Jimmy Patterson: In October 2020, I stepped on a finishing nail which caused a small puncture wound on the bottom of my foot. Since I was a diabetic, I knew it needed immediate attention. I made an appointment with my foot doctor and he treated my ulcer for two-and-a half-months, but it would not heal. The last day I was in the pulpit at FBN was December 13.
The Christian Index: Give a brief description of how the infection progressed and the complications that prolonged and hindered the healing process.
Pastor Jimmy Patterson: While being treated by my foot doctor, I developed a MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection. I was prescribed antibiotics. My wife cared for my wound twice a day and noticed little progress, and then, on January 11, 2021, the infection exploded in my foot. The skin turned black. I went to the Piedmont Wound Center in Newnan, Georgia. There, a new foot doctor told me I needed “life and limb emergency surgery”. I was admitted to Piedmont Newnan Hospital. The surgeon carved out a seven-inch long portion of the bottom of my foot to remove the dead and infected flesh. The one-inch-deep wound was left open to heal from the inside-out. I was very susceptible to a secondary infection. Per doctor’s orders, I have stayed off of my foot and kept it elevated since January 18 to promote healing.
The Christian Index: Share the emotions and concerns that accompanied you during the months of your recuperation.
Pastor Jimmy Patterson: My wife, Amy, and I had to discuss all future possibilities, including my not making it. Those were difficult days, especially for Amy. I was also concerned for First Baptist and how my absence was affecting our people. Some of our dear members passed away and I was unable to help their families. I was also grieved that I was not available to minister to our community after the tornado on March 27.
The Christian Index: You indicated that you never experienced a time of depression or despair during the months of your incapacitation and the several setbacks you experienced. Why were you never in despair?
Pastor Jimmy Patterson: It was an opportunity for me to draw closer to Christ and more deeply know Him “through the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings“ (Philippians 3:10). Also, I was blessed to be able to come home and be cared for by my Home Health nurse and my wife. I never saw my wound and I believe that took a lot of stress off of me. My wife, however, was looking at it every time the dressings were changed and assuming the responsibility for my daily care including administering IV antibiotics. She took a lot of that burden off of me. She and the Lord carried my burden.
The Christian Index: You indicated that you were inspired and buoyed by the prayers of God’s people. Share with our readers your testimony of how prayer works and how God answers prayer.
Pastor Jimmy Patterson: When others and I marveled at my emotional wellbeing during this ordeal, I knew many people were praying for me. I was especially blessed by the prayers of children in our church. Many of them made cards for me with artwork and Scriptures like Psalm 46:1-3 and Philippians 4:6-7 on them. They so lifted my spirits that I keep some of these cards in my Bible as a reminder of the power of prayer. I am a testimony to the transforming effect of the intercession of God’s people.
The Christian Index: You have indicated that the church has been gracious to provide you with another ministry position in the church that you will be able to fulfill in your home if your inability to be mobile continues. What is that position and how will you use it to enhance the ministry of the church?
Pastor Jimmy Patterson: During this time, FBN has treated me with great kindness and care. Their love and tenderness toward me have gone beyond my imagination. I have come to the place that I realize because of my physical limitations I am no longer able to perform the duties of a pastor. However, First Baptist has created a new position for me called the Minister of Biblical and Theological Research. I will be able to continue my ministry of the Word to God’s people by addressing how the Bible speaks to the issues of the day. In June, the church will launch my new blog called “Kept”.
The Christian Index: What would you say to pastors/ministers who have had to endure long term disabilities and to the churches served by those ministers?
Pastor Jimmy Patterson: Focus on God, not your situation. In Hebrews 12:1-2, the Greek word for the “race” we are running is where we get our English word for “agony”. For the Christian, suffering is not only a reality, it is a necessity. That same verse says a believer’s life is a course “that has been set before us”. God has marked our track. He has laid it in front of us, knowing every twist and turn we will encounter. Therefore, instead of being distracted by our difficulties, we should fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (verse 2).
Also, let your hurt be an opportunity to focus on other peoples’ pain, instead of your own. That is not only therapeutic, it is Biblical: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). God can use your personal trial to become a launching pad for a new ministry to hurting people.
Furthermore, I would urge our churches to make sure you have an updated Personnel Policy Manual. FBN has a very detailed one which tries to foresee every possible eventuality for their staff members. Also, review the insurance coverage you have for your ministers. I was very fortunate that FBN had a premier medical and long-term disability policy for me. On top of all of that, FBN has been very respectful and generous to me during my crisis. It is a wonderful way to show your love to the ones God has called to minister among you.