WBU alums, former classmates mark milestones at two largest Baptist churches in Plainview

PLAINVIEW – Sitting in a comfortable chair in his study, Dr. Travis Hart's dry, quiet demeanor is cracked by a smile.

"If I had known I was going to end up here, I would have been a lot nicer as a student," he chuckled.

Hart, a 1968 graduate of Wayland Baptist University, has spent nearly 22 years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Plainview. Although he didn't go into details about his behavior as a student at Wayland, Hart did say he never dreamed he would one day pastor First Baptist.

The son of a Baptist minister, Hart grew up in small churches. He attended Wayland, then moved on to attend seminary, where he received a bachelor’s degree. Hart completed his doctorate of ministry in 1976 from Phillips University. He completed his educational pursuits while pastoring small congregations in Jermyn, Texas, near Jacksboro, and Okeene, Okla.

While at Okeene, WBU president Dr. Roy McClung, visited the church for a January Bible study. When returning to Plainview, Dr. McClung was contacted by Olton's First Baptist Church, asking if he knew of anyone who would be a good pastor. Dr. McClung gave them Hart's name. Hart was called and accepted a position in Olton where he stayed until December of 1985 when he was called by FBC, Plainview.

"I started the first Sunday of 1986," Hart recalled.

Hart has spent the last 21-plus years in a pulpit that has forced him to continue to learn and grow professionally. Growing up in small churches, Hart said he has been challenged by what the 2,100-member church has to offer.

"I didn't understand big church," Hart said. "That has really stretched me. It has made me work harder at my preaching because I know there are people out there who are educated and who are professionals and they want to be ministered to on a level that reaches them."

Hart said looking out over the congregation was very intimidating.

"When I came back, I became Dr. Ivyloy Bishop's pastor. I became Dr. (Dorothy) McCoy's pastor. I became Ailese Parten's pastor … Florrie Conway's pastor … all of those people that were extremely influential as teachers and administrators in my life, I got the opportunity to come back and invest something in their lives," Hart said. "That was a real cool thing for me to do."

Hart remembers a word of advice he received from a fellow pastor when he took the job. Hart was worried about being the pastor to, at the time, 21 former pastors who were in the congregation, as well as a number of people holding a Ph.D. The fellow pastor told Hart not to worry, "they needed preaching worse than anybody."

Throughout the years, Hart has tried to follow Christ's leading while presenting a clear and concise message.

"The gospel is very simple and very clear," he said. "I have always felt that if a child left without understanding it, I have probably missed my audience."

While he has been pleased with the impact First Baptist Church has had on the community, Hart knows that things must change if FBC hopes to continue to impact Plainview. He is a man whose heart is set on missions. Not only foreign missions in the sense that the church send out missionaries around the world, but in local missions in which the church sends out missionaries around the corner.

"Our church has never been a liturgical church, but we have been a little white collar and stiff," he said. "I really see a church understanding that to minister effectively in this community as it has and as it continues to, we have to get to where the people are and do good ministry and missions here and around the world."

Hart says that Plainview is in a state of rapid transitions and the church must transition as well to meet the needs of the community. But it's a change that may be slow in coming.

"I've always referred to First Baptist as a bus," Hart said. "You've got buses and you've got Volkswagens. You can turn a Volkswagen on a dime, but you don't turn a bus on a dime. I think this church, historically, has made a real impact on the community. I'm not sure that the way we are put together, and I mean by that, a downtown, relatively affluent, predominantly Anglo church, is going to have the same kind of impact on Plainview in the future as it has in the past."

Hart said truly making the necessary transition will take a change in the fundamental viewpoint of the church and of how it perceives its mission.

"I think we are going to have to stop measuring church by the standards through which church used to be measured which is budgets, baptisms and Sunday School attendance. I think that has passed," he said, "I think the mark of a church that has a good ministry is a church that's involved in what someone has called global missions. That means local and around the globe."

Hart continues to push the members of FBC toward this line of thinking and has seen some success as the church continues to branch out.

"As the community has changed, the type of ministry our church provides has had to change. We may not have changed as quickly as we should or could have, but I still think we have had a great impact."

While driving the bus can be difficult and tedious at times, Hart has enjoyed the opportunity. He and his wife, Janie, have had the chance to raise their family in Plainview, something that means a lot to the son of a pastor who was in a constant state of transition while growing up.

"They have allowed us the opportunity to let both my children go through the same school," Hart said. "I went through seven different schools growing up. Plainview and First Baptist Church have allowed me to raise my family here."

Hart's son, Harrison, 22, is married and works as a firefighter and medical technician in Plainview. His daughter Ellen, 17, will be a senior at Plainview High School.

If he could do it all over again, Hart said he would have done things a little differently, walked "more slowly through the crowd and not been so driven to get somewhere that I missed what was going on around me." But he wouldn't trade the opportunity he was given to serve this church and this community.

"I never dreamed of this opportunity," he said. "I know I don't deserve it, but is sure has been a lot of fun."