Unknown, Yet Well Known

2002–2006 are probably some of the fondest years of my early Christian life. The summer after I graduated from high school, a friend called to see if I was interested in a 3rd shift job at Ryobi (now TTi). It was relatively simple. Engineers needed test machines to run nonstop to examine the engine and parts, so someone needed to be there at night time to keep the fuel supplied and hourly measurements recorded. There was the occasional frustration, but there was usually lots of downtime. It was before smartphones, so aimlessly wandering social media on a handheld device was not even a reality. Though I wish I had been a more diligent worker (and even more productive spiritually), it was the perfect scenario.

I had been saved for about 18 months, and I had surrendered to the ministry about six months prior. I was about to enroll in Bible college classes at a small school in Greenville, SC. I had an iPod filled with MP3 sermons, a wide-margin Cambridge Bible, and multiple free hours each night to listen to sermons, work on schoolwork, or sit outside and pray. For most of those four years, I was completely alone for almost the entire shift. There was one person I met there who ended up being evidence of God’s providence.

Phil Coleman was one of the first-shift technicians. The only thing I knew about him was from the friend who initially called me about the job: “You’ll like Phil. He’s a preacher.” He had worked for Ryobi for many years and had also spent time as a pastor. The pastor of the church he attended died, and they asked Phil to become the new pastor. It was his second pastorate, and it was an experience with a “discipl-er” who was able to spend time with me.

The first time I preached at a church besides my own was around 2003 at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Salem, SC. It was a Wednesday night, and there were probably a half-dozen people there. The first time I preached in a revival was at that church, and the first time someone gave me an offering was at that church. Phil Coleman would drive over an hour to lead the services on Sundays, and for much longer than that on Wednesdays as he left Ryobi for Salem, SC. As time passed, I saw the church body grow. When I left Ryobi, we would still meet occasionally for lunch to talk about how things were going. Our youth group has heard him multiple times (at his next pastorate or when he came to our church). When I had a medical episode in 2018 (which initially appeared to be a seizure, but later the doctors said it was stress), Phil met me for lunch, and we talked about the pressure of introverted people in the ministry.

I am sure that Phil knew that Mt. Carmel would never be a mega-church, but I doubt that was his goal. The son of a pastor, Phil set an example for me that pastors should not primarily focus on how many people are at church as long as the pastor is being faithful. Knowing that Phil’s personality was like mine, I am sure he spent many miles on the way to Salem wondering if he was making a difference. Only eternity will tell what difference Phil has made at the churches he has pastored, but as I share this post in 2023, I am filled with thankfulness to God for the difference he made in my life. Because of a perfect job at a perfect time, God initiated a friendship with a pastor who unknowingly took me under his wing and taught me what perseverance looks like, no matter how few are watching.

He would open the word, go through the verses, the “common people heard him gladly,” and he left the results to God. If my appreciation for Phil Coleman is the tiniest glimpse of Timothy’s love for Paul, then I can only hope to one day make such an impact on someone under my ministry.

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