SHREVEPORT/BOSSIER CITY – A church may call a man to be its pastor, but God calls a man to preach.
Jeff Harper is a testimony to that statement.
He began his career in ministry at Bellaire Baptist Church in Bossier City in 2000 as a student intern. Throughout his eight-year tenure, he served on the staff of his father, Randy Harper, in the sports outreach program, student ministry, young adult ministry and recently as the associate pastor.
A month ago he accepted the pastorate at his father’s old church to serve in the same pulpit his father served in more than 15 years ago.
“I always envisioned I would stay under my dad’s ministry until he retired, and then follow him into the pulpit if that was God’s plan for me,” Harper said. “In 2008, Northwoods Baptist, dad’s old church, approached me and asked if I would become their pastor.
“I prayed about it but I just wasn’t comfortable at the time with the idea of leaving Bellaire, especially since our church was in the middle of a $6 million-building campaign,” Harper said.
A year later, Northwoods approached Jeff again.
“I still was hesitant about leaving,” Harper said. “So, I asked God to tell me what I needed to do. After much prayer, He changed my heart, and I decided to accept their offer.
“It is ironic because I really never wanted to preach because one of my greatest fears is getting up in front of people and speaking,” Harper said. “When I finally made my decision, I had a great deal of peace, contentment and joy.”
Jeff’s decision brought many of those same emotions to his father.
“As a father, I am so proud of Jeff – actually I am so proud of all three of my sons. Jeff, who is the oldest, surrendered to the ministry right out of high school. Joey, who just returned from a tour in Iraq, is a sniper in the U.S. Army, and Jared is a firefighter,” the elder Harper said.
“Jeff is doing what he has been called by God to do. We will certainly miss having him on our staff here at Bellaire but we are so excited for him as he begins this new chapter at Northwoods,” Randy Harper said. “They [Northwoods] are really getting a true gem. He’s a better preacher than I am and has a lot more energy than I do.”
Jeff proved it as he hit the ground running. In six weeks in the office, and five in the pulpit, he has had 19 people join the church and last week had another surrender to the ministry.
Still, his start at Northwood wasn’t without some early struggles – jitters.
“The first day I walked into the church it was so quiet, I could hear the wood creaking inside, the cars driving by, and a deafening silence,” Harper said. “I asked God, ‘What have You gotten me into?’”
As it turned out, the silence proved helpful to Harper.
“The silence allowed me to focus more on Him,” he said. “It allowed me to see that we could do something amazing here. This area is crying out for God. Therefore, I want to develop a leadership structure so we can reach people.
“Certainly, I would like to see the church grow, but I am more interested in depth over width. By that I mean, I want to take this church deeper into the scriptures, rather than just to get more people in the seats,” Harper said. “And you do that by setting up a healthy structure of leadership within the church and preaching the Word to the people here.
“There is so much work to do here,” Harper said. “I am thrilled God gave me the opportunity to return to this very traditional area, to my dad’s old church and finish where he left off. If I can do a tenth of what my dad accomplished, I believe people will think I am successful.
“But what I do is nothing compared to what God can do. I am His servant and I can feel that God is doing something amazing here. And He will have his way, whether He uses one church or a number of churches. I am thankful I can be a part of His plan.”