ASHLAND, Ky. (KT) – Henry York counts down the days to the Southern Baptist Convention every year.
To this 8-year-old, the SBC rivals Christmas. He hasn’t missed one in his lifetime until this year, when it was cancelled much to his disappointment.
Henry had a broken arm last year and feared that it may keep him from going. He went with his arm in a cast and had those he followed in ministry – yes, he has people he follows in ministry - sign it.
Few people know every agency in the SBC, but Henry does. Just try him.
That all seems extreme until examining his Kentucky Baptist family of faith. Henry is the son of Fairview Baptist Pastor Michael York and the oldest grandson of Buck Run Pastor Hershael York. His great grandfather, Wallace York, was a pastor too. Both his father and grandfather surrendered to the ministry before they were 12 years old, so an early call would come as no surprise.
“He loves the SBC,” said his grandmother, Tanya York.
“He geeks out on it,” added his grandfather.
This faith family also includes Seth York, the youngest son of Hershael and Tanya, who works as the associate property director at Cedarmore for Crossings. He is also a member of Buck Run Baptist Church and serves as a deacon.
‘There’s no greater joy’
They are all doing Kingdom work and that warms the heart of their parents, who say the only wish they ever had for their sons was that they honored the Lord in whatever field they entered. There was never a nudge from them in any way about that field being ministry work.
“There’s no greater joy than to know that my children walk in truth,” Hershael said.
“I was delighted, overwhelmed with joy, that the Lord would use the fruit of our marriage, specifically our children,” Tanya said. “That had always been our prayer that the Lord would use our boys for Kingdom work. That’s a vital part of the way I wanted to raise them, shepherd them and love them. Whatever you do, you’ve got to do it for His glory.”
Michael, 37, said the example his parents have been and continue to be make a difference in his life. Like his father, Michael knew very early in life that God was calling him into ministry. He was only 11 years old.
People often asked him if he was going to be a pastor like his dad and grandfather. But his parents never put any pressure on him, he said. “I see from the time I was born, God was preparing me for ministry.”
The call came softly and clearly from the Lord, Michael said.
“I told Dad, ‘God is leading me to do this.’ He wanted to be sure this isn’t a family thing. He said, ‘OK, this is what God is calling you to do. Let’s start preparing now.’”
His son went in tow with him on hospital visits and his father gave him books to read and discipled him at a young age. At college and seminary, Hershael was his son’s professor. The learning has never stopped even after degrees were earned.
“What I heard from him in classes is what I saw from him,” Michael said. “He’s my first call when I have a question of ‘How in the world do I handle this situation?’ He’s a lot of guys’ first call. It’s nice to know he always answers my call.”
If he doesn’t answer, then his mother will.
“Tanya is an incredible student of the Lord herself,” Hershael said. “She had real wisdom in rearing our sons. The truth is, both of them call her more than they do me.”
Seth’s path to Kingdom work took a far different path than his brother, who is two years older. “He and Michael are two very different stories,” said their father. “The Lord has been gracious and used them both.”
It wasn’t until Seth was 21 years old that the Lord took hold in his life. He was working with David Miller, an evangelist who is a quadriplegic and requires full-time care. “He had to do everything for him,” Hershael said of his son caring for Miller. “When Seth was 20 or 21, he did that for almost a year. The Lord really got a hold of him during that time. He heard sermons every day. David Miller is one of the godliest men I know. He can’t hold a Bible or notebook. He has to preach entirely from memory. Seth saw the passion for the Word. The Lord got a hold of him and then he married an incredible young lady.”
When David Melber was president of Crossings, he reached out to Seth and asked him to come and work for them. It was the perfect fit and perfect timing - God's timing.
Seth said he didn’t always follow the Lord like he should. He was more rebellious during some later teenage years but even that didn’t affect his relationship with his father.
“Later in my teenage years, I had to identify is this my faith or my family’s (faith)?” Seth said. “The Lord greatly used my relationship with my dad to keep me from going as far (away) as I could have gone. I always had a good relationship with my dad, always trusted him.”
Working with Miller was a work of divine intervention, he said, and something that adjusted his will from stubborn teenager to understanding the importance of God in his life.
“My relationship with my dad and my time with David Miller were two major impactful things in my life,” Seth said. “Hearing him (Miller) preach every day, counsel pastors, care for people, care for his family and memorize the scripture … I was getting hit with the gospel like a mini-gun in every direction every day. It was humbling submitting yourself to someone else’s whims.”
For the past 10 years, Seth has worked for Crossings. As the associate property director at the Cedarmore property, he leads staff and trains and manages teams of college students who come in to work the camps. He does a lot of the general planning for summer programs from activities to Bible studies and has found a mission field there.
“My parents never put any pressure on me to do anything except what God called me to do,” Seth said. “I always felt a call to missions I guess because of my adventurous spirit.”
Seth, 35, has gone to France, Brazil and Haiti, and, as he put it, international missions is part of Crossings' DNA. He learned that being a next-level Christian didn’t necessarily mean you had to be in in full-time ministry as a pastor or in the church. You can do it from where God places you in life.
“Could I be a faithful lay person and serve in church and be on mission in the workplace? Now I’m dealing with so many college students. You can be an engineer and be on mission for God or be a teacher, which might be our greatest mission we have right now. Not everybody is supposed to be a pastor or move somewhere. You can still be intentional with your ministry.”
Seth and Candice have been married for 13 years and have four children – Stella, 9, Hershael, 7, Harper, 5, and Jennifer, 2. That's a mission field in itself.
He and his daughter, Stella, started a podcast, “From the Beginning,” that is a children’s version of the Bible. They started with - where else? - Genesis and have done three episodes with good response.
“I was telling my dad, I don’t want to overcomplicate this podcast,” Seth said. “It is complicated to make it very simple. But I hear his voice, as a preacher, making it (the scripture) digestible to everybody in the congregation. I want to present the narrative of God’s Word that’s easily digestible.”
Father-son ties that bind
Their parents are actively involved in the life of their sons and their families. Henry is the only child of Michael and Sarah, who just started their ministry at Fairview Baptist two weeks ago. This will be the fourth church where he has served and the third as the lead pastor.
Hershael has heard Michael preach on many occasions and, without trying to be biased, says he “handles the Word really, really well.”
“I was Michael’s preaching professor at Southern Seminary,” he said. “I’ve observed as a dad and preaching professor. I’m not being biased when I say he’s an incrediblly fine preacher.”
Michael said his father is an important figure in his life from almost every angle. “He’s my father, my professor, my mentor. It’s an all-of-the-above thing. My dad was my pastor, too.”
His mother is a partner with her husband in ministry, and that’s how Michael said it absolutely was. “From a young age, she gave us this ethos: our family is involved in ministry, it’s not just your dad.”
As a young boy, being the PK (pastor’s kid) was not always easy. Michael remembers once getting into some trouble for talking a little too much during Sunday School.
“I got held after with a few of my friends. The Sunday School teacher said, ‘Michael, I expect more from you because you’re the pastor’s son.’ I said something like, ‘I guess their parents are supposed to teach them how to behave?’ I knew I was going to get in trouble at home. I thought my best approach was to appeal to my mother’s sympathy, maybe get her feeling sorry for me. I said, ‘It isn’t fair being the pastor’s kid. There are unrealistic expectations.’ She said, ‘You’re right. You should never be held to the standard because your Hershael’s son. You’re held to a standard because you’re one of God’s sons.’” It was one of many drop the mic moments from his mother.
Hershael, who was called to the ministry at the age of 10, said he had a similar relationship with his father who nurtured him. Hershael and Michael have many similarities behind the pulpit too, including an unusual physical characteristic with one finger.
Watch for that pinky crook
“I have this thing with my pinky where I hold it at a weird angle when I preach, same as my dad,” Michael said.
“It’s absolutely true,” his father said. “I don’t know what that is. If you see videos of me, the way I crook that pinky, Michael does it too. The whole nature nuture debate comes to mind.”
Michael said his father is his favorite preacher, and he has listened to thousands of sermons from him so it’s natural that he would sound and be like him. But as much as he listened to him, he also watched him.
“What I saw in my dad was truth lived out,” he said. “What I saw in him was integrity, a resolve.”
Michael remembers being in the backseat of the car with headphones on and his mother and father were talking about church issues. His father didn’t know his son could hear their conversation because of the headphones.
“Dad talks louder than he realizes sometimes. I don’t know if he knew I could hear but I remember conversations he and mom had. There were some challenges going on at the church and I watched how he conducted himself with integrity and faith in those tough times.”
Michael York said, like any preacher, he’s had good and bad sermons, but the bar really rests on if he had faithfulness to the text and he finds “a lot of freedom in that.”
“I’m a lot like my dad but I’m not my dad,” he said. “We have similar styles but different styles. Every time I feel like I owe people an apology for a sermon, ultimately the question I ask is ‘Was I faithful to the text?’ If I’ve done that, I feel like I’ve done my job.’’
His father said being faithful to the text should be the standard. Like Michael, he said he has had good and bad sermons. His wife sometimes serves as the one with the final say – or no say at all, which is a bad sign.
“Typically, every Sunday after church, I tell him, ‘I loved this part of the sermon or here’s something you taught me.’ If I ever got in the car and I was silent, he’d wait and then it would come out,” Tanya said. “I’d say, ‘For anybody else that would be a fine sermon, but I know what you’re capable of.’’’
Tanya said she’s heard both of her sons speak on multiple occasions and calls herself a “critical listener. I just don’t love every sermon I hear. But I love the way they address the text.”
This family of faith loves and supports each other and are honored to have been chosen by God to do work in the Kingdom. They are now together in Kentucky, from Fairview Baptist in Ashland to Buck Run in Frankfort and Crossings in Bagdad. Nobody is more than a short drive away.
Hershael and Tanya York have poured a lifetime of love and biblical knowledge onto their sons and now they are working with the five grandchildren.
Is it any wonder that Henry York is such a fan of the Southern Baptist Convention?