My family has been compared to the Tribe of Levi. As a child, I can remember family cookouts feeling like an auxiliary meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. My father, Horace Sims, was a pastor; my maternal grandfather, Grady Bridwell, was a pastor; and uncles on both sides of the family were pastors. The last thing I wanted to do was to follow in their footsteps. But God had other plans.
It was my daddy who led me to faith in Jesus. We were grilling hamburgers in the backyard of the parsonage at Abney Memorial Baptist Church in Greenwood. Our town had experienced several bad electrical storms and tornadoes that spring. As my dad placed those burgers on that old Weber kettle grill, thunder clapped and a light rain began to fall. He joked, “This could be the big one! This could be the night we all go home to be with Jesus!”
My 10-year-old self took those words seriously. As I thought about death and eternity, I knew that my destiny would be different from the rest of my family. As I expressed concern over my sinful condition and separation from God, he gently pointed me toward Calvary and Christ’s completed work on my behalf. We knelt right there in the newly formed puddle and I trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of my life.
Over the next several years, I was discipled and grew in my faith until I encountered some rebellious years in high school. Looking back, much of that rebellion stemmed from sensing God’s clear call to ministry. Having grown up with so many pastors in my family, I had experienced a ringside view of the good, bad, and ugly that pastors encounter on a regular basis. However, during the first semester of my freshman year at North Greenville College, I surrendered to God’s call on my life.
From that time forward, there were no greater influences on my ministry than my dad and my granddad. They encouraged me, taught me, and prepared me for the road ahead. Everything from the size paper I used (before I went digital) to the way I organize an outline and prepare a sermon is still greatly influenced by those two. The vast majority of my library came from their offices.
In 1997, I accepted my first pastorate at 23 years of age. I relied on them heavily. Poppa Bridwell had advanced Parkinson’s disease and was no longer able to be the help that he was in earlier years. My dad and I talked every Sunday. We discussed one another’s sermons and reviewed the highlights and the lowlights of the day. We went to associational and state convention meetings together and shared a lot of laughter and tears.
In December of 1998, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer — and by March of 1999, he was gone. The grief that I felt was almost unbearable. I was less than two years into my first pastorate, and in the blink of an eye I lost my father, my pastor (the only pastor I’d ever had), my mentor, and my best friend in the ministry. He was 59 years old. Within a month, my grandfather would join him on heaven’s bright shore.
I was devastated. I remember wondering what I would do and how I would make it without their steady guidance. It didn’t take long to learn that they had already instilled in me everything I would need to complete my own journey. My inheritance was a steadfast faith in a God with whom all things are possible and a deep sense of awe and wonder at His call upon my life. I can still see those footsteps I didn’t want to follow; I cherish every opportunity I have to continue the legacy that they left behind.
Today, my son Jonah is preparing for his freshman year at Anderson University. He will major in Christian studies with an emphasis on preaching and theology. He never met my father or grandfather. For my birthday, he commissioned a painting of himself, my daughter Brianna, my father, and me. We are walking together and “Whistling at Snakes.”
As we make this journey together that I made with my dad, I have discovered a new kind of joy that I have never known. My prayer is that the footsteps I leave for him will be as clear and steady as the ones that were left for me.
–Bryant Sims is pastor of First Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Greenwood and a former president of the SCBC.