A Tribute to Phil Lineberger
”as seen through the eyes of a friend”
Dr. Arthur Phillip Lineberger, pastor of Sugar Land Baptist Church and former president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas died in Sugar Land on May 31, 2015 at the age of 69. Growing up in Texarkana Phil graduated from the University of Arkansas where he played football for the Razorbacks and later worked in the athletic department. He attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his masters and doctorate degrees. Dr. Lineberger has served as a regent at both Baylor University and William Jewell College, and as a trustee at Dallas Baptist University. In addition he served as a director of the Associated Baptist Press, now Baptist News Global. During his time in Dallas he served as Vice-President of the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association.
Before arriving in Sugar Land, Dr. Lineberger served as pastor of First Baptist Church Tyler and Richardson Heights Baptist Church. Previous pastorates included Metropolitan Baptist Church in Wichita Kansas, Calvary Baptist Church of Huntsville, Arkansas, and associate pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth. All totaled, Dr. Lineberger pastored churches for 48 years with the last 19 and 1/2 years in Sugar Land.
Dr. Lineberger is survived by his wife Brenda, three daughters Becky Groves, Amy Seay and Kathy Lineberger; their husbands and 10 grandchildren with another grandchild to be born soon.
Now, for the Pastor Phil we came to know and love at Sugar Land Baptist, I want to share a glimpse through my eyes. Phil Lineberger came to Sugar Land on October 15, 1995 to preach in view of a call and he officially began his ministry here November 19, 1995. But my relationship with Phil went back a year and a half earlier. Serving on the pastor search committee to bring a pastor to the formerly Williams Trace Baptist Church we were looking for a pastor with decision making wisdom yet having the youthful energy to lead a young vibrant church in the middle of one of the fastest growing communities in America. After conducting a nationwide search, it did not take long for the cream to rise to the top. Phil stood heads above other great candidates and really offered much more than we could have ever anticipated. This is an exert of what I shared with our church dated October 15, 1995; “As we have journeyed in this process, the one thing I have realized is that sometimes we think little when God thinks big. God in His infinite wisdom knows the task ahead for us and has brought us the man he has singled out to lead us. As we have done our homework with all our background checks, the comments we continually hear are: Now how large is your church? Are you sure he is coming there? All across the denomination there is a state of wonder when our candidate’s name is mentioned about coming to WTBC…… As you can see, God has worked during our search in leading us to our candidate. The mystery of seeing how God is coordinating the bringing of a pastor with the acquisition of land to relocate is a miracle to behold. The best years of our church lie ahead of us and God is equipping us with the right person capable of leading our church.” Yes, for our church, Phil was a bright shining star who shined his light on not just our church, but the entire Sugar Land community as he took an active role shaping the lives of so many he touched. Phil was a true witness for Christ as he took on an earthly role that reflected the essence of Jesus’ life and teachings as he met people where they were. For me the star light Phil shined on my life can be seen in the five points of the star that best describe Phil’s character.
The first point he showed was excellence. Phil was all about excellence in every aspect of his life. As he took on the challenges of relocating our church from its former location, to the selling of the property, to the buildings where we are currently located, he always stressed to us to give God our best whether it was creating a facility to equip us to do God’s work or giving our best in working to accomplish God’s mission for our church. Another area he stressed excellence was in our discipleship and Bible study. Understanding he was a well learned Bible scholar, he demonstrated, understood and stressed the importance of Bible study in helping us to grow in spiritual maturity. I feel the excellence Phil demonstrated was a product of his strong work ethic learned as a child growing up and was a reflection of his persona until the end. Phil’s excellence carried over to the other four points of his star.
For the second point, I have always been amazed with Phil’s ability to connect with people in a way to not just know a name, but to invest in people’s lives to develop relationships. He was able to relate with all types of people from the popular well known to the shy introverted person. His love and concern for people I believe is what enabled this sticky faith to draw people to him enabling God to witness through him. I often spoke of Phil as a man for everyone; by that I mean there was not one ounce of arrogance in Phil or what I call a “holier than thou” attitude with him. Phil being a “normal” man was going through the same feelings and emotions we would experience and he was quick to relate and expose his life in a transparent way that we were able to understand we were not alone but Phil was walking with us in our faith journey whether it was in the good times or the bad. And, I might add Phil was this way for all, not just the selected few; and not just for members of our church. As you would expect the tip of the star devoted to relationships exemplified the people person Phil was.
The next area Phil excelled in was a genuine caring for everyone he touched. Phil was not just a thinker and an idea man, but he was a doer, a get your hands dirty type of a friend that would stand by your side along life’s troubling ways in an effort to lead, support, and care for everyone’s needs whether you were a church member or an acquaintance at Starbucks or Kroger’s. He always seemed to not just be there but actually cared and then did something about it. This too goes back to that sticky faith relationship he was demonstrating in the lives of everyone.
Along with caring, Phil was giving. He gave so much of his life, time, and money for others, no one will ever know. Whether it was in our church, our community, our state, our nation, or across the world Phil had a heart for missions. I truly believe he was taught this by the way so many reached out to him as he grew up in the projects surrounded by poverty. I feel this was the reason Phil did not mind giving of his money or material possessions to better the lives of those not so fortunate. Under his leadership, our church has given to so many missions locally and around the world. And in giving not just our money, Phil has taught us the importance of going, doing, and sharing in the name of Jesus.
That last point on Phil’s star connects it all together. This was his fun loving, prank pulling humor that could break the ice or tension in any room or situation. It was contagious because he truly loved people and he loved to laugh with them and yes sometimes at their own expense but it was all in a no harm fun way. I could go on for hours about his fun loving personality and the stunts he played on others, but those stories are for another time. I, as you, have been around or known many other charismatic people who were engaging and could draw a crowd around them; but what sets Phil apart from the other magnet people as I call them were the crowds Phil drew around him were always on the same level with Phil and were never below him. He saw himself as everyone’s equal.
Phil, and not just to me; but to everyone else was a real person whose star illuminated many lives. I was not on earth during Jesus’ time, but if I wanted to see what we are called to do in following Jesus’ lead for our witness, I did not have to look far by the way Phil went about his life: (1) his model of excellence in everything he took on; (2) his ability to connect and develop those sticky faith generating relationships with all peoples in all levels of life; (3) the way he cared; (4) how he was always giving to people; and (5) the way he made life fun and exciting.
As Christians, we have a relationship with Jesus. What is not fun and exciting about that? Yes our roads will experience bumps, turns, and detours just like I have experienced this week with the loss of a dear friend. But what Phil has shown me and I have learned from his life is that our true joy is found in our commitment to Jesus Christ. He is our healer, our comforter, our supporter and most importantly, our savior. Even though Phil’s star has gone out on earth, he still shines brightly through all the lives he has touched along the way. For you see that is God’s plan for using Phil’s life; it is through the impact he has had on our lives. Phil, my dear friend you will be missed but never forgotten.
Your brother in Christ, Dennis