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Father and son unite congregations

Saturday, August 14, 2010


The congregation of Holy Hills Baptist Church has had many new beginnings in the past 18 months, but the church's recent decision to merge with another Independent Baptist congregation has senior pastor Jeremy Ballinger coming home.


For Leonard Ballinger Jr. and Jeremy Ballinger, church has always been an extension of family relationships. Never more so now that the elder Ballinger's congregation of Trinity Baptist Church has voted to merge with his son's church family at Holy Hills Baptist Church. 'You hear all the time of churches splitting,' said the younger Ballinger. 'I think it's great to hear about churches coming together.'


After a fire destroyed the church building on Sunday, March 29, 2009, members of the Holy Hills congregation were required to step out on faith. The church purchased a storefront on Highway 51 that used to house a furniture store and began renovating the space.

About the same time Holy Hills purchased its new building, Jeremy's father Leonard Ballinger Jr. chose to retire from his position as pastor of Trinity Baptist Church -- a position he has held for 36 years.

"About the time Dad retired, we bought this building," said the younger Ballinger. "The way everything happened, it just seemed to lead us in this direction. Trinity and Holy Hills have always had a good relationship, a good fellowship one with another. We are about the only two Independent Baptist churches in Dyersburg who have been around for so long. I remember, as a kid, Trinity and Holy Hills went on a trip to Eureka Springs together. (The two congregations have done) things like that all through the years."

Since his retirement, the elder Ballinger had been helping his son with the Holy Hills remodel. Trinity's congregation spent some time searching for a new pastor before deciding to look closer to home. Fittingly, it was Father's Day when the congregation of Trinity Baptist Church joined Holy Hills for its first combined service.

"From Father's Day until last Sunday, they have been meeting with us," said the younger Ballinger. "And this past Sunday morning, Trinity voted to merge with Holy Hills Baptist Church."

Together, the two churches total between 200 and 315 members.

Jeremy Ballinger serves as senior pastor, with John Dillinger in the position of associate pastor. For the elder Ballinger, the merge offers the benefit of slowing down as well as the opportunity to continue overseeing the Bible institute he started in 1984.

"I'm trying to enjoy my retirement," said Leonard Ballinger with a chuckle. "But, honestly, I enjoy what I'm doing right now. And that's helping my son."

As the younger Ballinger takes the lead position in his working relationship with his father, some might expect a little friction from the reversal of roles.

"My son will be calling the shots," said the elder Ballinger, who said he has had friends ask if he will have trouble deferring to his son's judgment. "I told them, 'According to the Bible, it's what I must do.'"

"It's not a matter of one of us being in charge," said the younger Ballinger. "It's a matter of being able to work together and glean from other people's wisdom. To be able to take that experience and use it."

Along with his father, comes the church family that Jeremy Ballinger grew up with. The elder Ballinger started the church 36 years ago, after serving as pastor of two other Dyer County churches. Jeremy Ballinger was 1 year old.

"I guess one of the neat things is that being raised in Trinity Baptist Church, everyone in both churches either knew me when I was born, changed my diaper -- I've heard that one a lot -- or helped raise me," said the younger Ballinger. "It's wonderful now to (serve those same people) as pastor. For them to accept me. The people have been real good to me."

The two congregations have a lot of work ahead of them.

Much of the interior of the new church building has been completed. A large foyer, peaceful sanctuary, restrooms, extensive nursery, three classrooms and office space are currently being used, with work soon to begin on additional Sunday School classrooms and renovations to the exterior of the building.

"We have concentrated mostly on the inside," said Jeremy Ballinger. "We are still working on dressing up the outside to make it look more like a church -- or what a lot of people think constitutes a church -- a steeple and a brick building. But a church is actually a body of believers, working together. That's a true church."

A church, many might even say, is just like a family.