ALBION — His life, fittingly enough, is straight out of a Bible story.
Burr Oak Baptist Church of Albion will be having an installation service Sunday for its new associate pastor, Ben Sexton, 34.
The church will be giving its entire morning worship service over to the recognition of Sexton’s installment as new associate pastor of youth. The community is invited to this service and a short reception at the close of the service. Light refreshments will being served.
The service times are from 10:30-11:45 a.m.
For Sexton, it was a long journey from his home near Traverse City, Michigan, to Albion. But he had been on a longer faith journey that should make him utterly relatable to youth.
“All of us have a story,” he said. “My story has quite a bit of color to it. It is very much like a Prodigal Son type story.”
In the Bible, Jesus tells a parable about the son of a wealthy man who asks for his inheritance. The son then moves away and squanders the money on a lifestyle that isn’t Godly. When the son hits rough times, he eventually returns to his father, asking to be treated as a servant. The father embraces his returned son, throwing a large party in his honor.
It is a story of God’s mercy and love.
Sexton can’t just talk the story of the Prodigal Son. He has walked it.
When he was 18, the church he was attending found itself in turmoil. The congregation became split.
“I walked away,” he said.
Sexton didn’t step foot in a church again for eight years.
He got married and had a family. When his children were young, he wanted them to to go to a church, to experience what he had experienced as a youngster — before all of the church turmoil had spoiled it for him.
He got more than he bargained for.
“The Holy Spirit did a great job of doing work in my heart,” he said. “There was something bigger out there than I had forgotten about.”
Sexton returned to the fold, older and wiser.
Now, he can share his life story as someone who has lived a tough life and come back to the faith.
“I’ve dealt with the depression and the anger,” Sexton said. “I want the kids to know they have someone who understands those feelings.”
Sexton said walking the walk makes for easier connections with youth.
“They want to see realness,” he said. “They want to see adults as human. You are an adult it is safe to go to and be real with.”
As youth pastor, Sexton works with Burr Oak Baptist’s 5:15 youth group, which consists of junior- and senior-high students.
“There’s a lot of good about that age group,” he said.
Those young people are starting to come into their own, developing an understanding of who they are and who they want to be.
Sexton said the youth group, which is open to all youth in that age group, strives to be “a place they can be themselves. It’s a great place for them to come and relate to other kids. We love God and we love people. We strive for everyone to know that.”
And the group has a lot of fun along the way, Sexton said.
The key to his ministry is to make the faith taught in the church real to the young people.
“How real do we live our own faith?” he said. “We need to be re-grounded in what it means to be the church.”
Sexton said he wants the youth group members to know of God’s grace, forgiveness and love, and to live that out.
Getting to Albion
Before he could work with the youth of Burr Oak, he had to find his way to Albion.
Back in church near Traverse City where he served as a lay minister, Sexton had been holding down a full-time job supervising maintenance for a company that owned 25 gas stations along the western side of the state.
“I was working 70-80 hours per week,” he said. “It didn’t leave much time for family and anything else. My wife and I determined it was time to pursue ministry full-time.”
Sexton did not know how he would afford going to college to receive his master’s degree in Divinity. He went to the Internet and found a church that might be a perfect fit — Burr Oak Baptist Church.
“I had no idea where Albion, Indiana, was at that point,” he said.
His wife was hesitant to leave Michigan. But in January, they came to Albion for a visit.
They felt at home. It was a similar-sized community they had come from.
“My wife’s attitude was a 180-degree difference,” he said.
The church has a partnership with the Faith Bible Seminary in Lafayette which would allow him to pursue his degree at 1/3 of the normal cost.
It all just fit.
A year ago, and he didn’t know where Albion was.
Now, the prodigal is home.