Welcome to The Sacramental Journey!
I’m glad you have chosen to visit! Allow me to introduce myself. I currently serve as the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church of Arlington, Texas. I love my job! It is a great church with a tremendous (and patient) staff. I’ve been here since the summer of 2001.
I began my journey on planet earth in Birmingham, Alabama. My parents had moved there during WW II from Griffin, Georgia to help out with the War effort. My Dad was blind in one eye, so none of the military branches would take him. He worked at US Steel to assist in making materials used in building ships and planes. He was the youngest of 13 children. Wow! My Mom was the youngest of 9. Wow again! So, my roots are buried in the Deep South with all that comes with it.
I have two older brothers who are very much alive and well and an older sister who is deceased. My two brothers are my heroes. They have been influential in my life at every stage along the way. In my younger days, they were appropriately mean and controlling – just to insure the universe would stay in balance. But, after my body developed and I outgrew them both, they became much nicer and appreciative of their younger brother!
We were raised in a Christian home. My parents were solidly Christian and committed Southern Baptists. Very conservative (did I say “very”?). We didn’t dance, drink, smoke (well, Daddy smoked cigars – but you could do that in Alabama – in fact most of our Deacons smoked between Sunday School and church out in front of the church), chew, etc.
Our community was an ethnically mixed suburb of Birmingham comprised of immigrants from Italy, Poland, Scotland (and Georgia). The men worked in the coal mines, iron ore mines and the massive steel mills located on our side of town. It was mostly blue-collar, family oriented and just good. I walked to school every day without fear (except for my brothers and their friends). It was a Leave it to Beaver childhood.
My Sacramental Journey began very early in life. We were at church each Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. We were a part of everything at our local Baptist church. My conversion came a little later, though. I was saved at age 17 when I was a senior in High School.
Our lives revolved around church, family and sports. My brothers and I played baseball, football and basketball in athletic leagues in our community. My parents spent so much time at ballgames! Baseball was my first love and I dreamed of playing third base for the Boston Red Sox. I played third base for the Ensley High School Yellow Jackets – had a few opportunities to play in college, tried to walk on at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB), kept playing on various teams in Birmingham and even played semi-pro for a while in Texas with the Fort Worth Texans. But—the Red Sox decided Wade Boggs was a better option for them (I still quibble with them over that decision).
While I was in college at UAB, I met Cindy Falkner and immediately fell in love. Her falling was not so immediate, but fortunately it came in time. We were both pursuing interests in the medical field; she was preparing for Physical Therapy School and I was preparing for Medical School. We both were experiencing a revival in our faith at the time.
Finally, we decided to get married. We also both admitted to each other that God had called us independently of each other to ministry. The Sacramental Journey continued for us both. After much prayer, discussion and counsel—we decided to answer God’s call in our lives and head to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for training.
In June of 1981, Cindy and I married in Birmingham and moved to Fort Worth, Texas to begin our ministry journey. We did not know at the time that it would take 11 years to complete my seminary career! But, hey—I am from Alabama!
I loved my time at Southwestern. Dr. Russell Dilday was President and the faculty was unmatched in Southern Baptist life. As students, we were challenged, taught and mentored by some of the finest scholar ministers our branch of Christendom has ever produced. I graduated in 1985 with a Master of Divinity. I applied to the Ph. D. program and was accepted in the field of Church History. Dr. William R. Estep was my major professor and guided me through my doctoral pilgrimage.
I took the full complement of seven years to complete my doctorate. My interests in research narrowed to the study of American Christianity in general and Southern Baptists in particular. I decided to write my dissertation on the controversy that plagued Southern Baptists for the latter part of the twentieth century. I graduated in July of 1992 after my dissertation, Factors Contributing to the Resurgence of Fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1979-1990, was approved.
Along the way, much happened in the Wiles family. We had two children during our seminary journey. Hannah was born in 1987 and Josiah arrived in 1990. We have learned more about life, love, patience, grace, joy and family through them than we could have possibly ever learned without them. We thank God for them every day.
The Lord has blessed us by allowing us to serve His kingdom mainly through pastoring local churches. We began in 1983 when Jimtown Baptist Church in Jimtown, Oklahoma called me as pastor. We drove up every weekend from Ft. Worth for over two years as we served that church. The rigors of preaching every Sunday helped me hone my skills as both an exegete and expositor. The poor souls of the church had to listen each Sunday while I was learning on the job. Most of them were peanut farmers so they were accustomed to being patient waiting on a harvest. So, their patience came in handy listening to a young preacher find his way each week! Plus, if you know anything about peanuts, they grow underground, so you have to trust something is happening if you can’t see it. Once again, a great skill for them to have while they were waiting on me to improve!
We resigned from Jimtown and soon were called to serve First Baptist Church of Mertens, Texas. This was our first time to actually live on the field where we served. I had recently graduated from Southwestern with my Master’s Degree and I had begun my doctoral work. We lived next door to the church in a parsonage and we loved every minute of it. Well – except for the time we found a snake in Hannah’s nursery. And the time the town well broke and there was no water. And the time our dog got locked in the church and tore up the Fellowship Hall. And the time I broke out the kitchen window chipping golf balls (wink, wink – inside story only for a handful of people).
Actually, Mertens became our home church for the rest of our ministry. We truly loved our time there. Hannah was born while we were serving there. We have lifetime friends and you will hear me mention many experiences from our time there if you ever hear me preach. We remain very close to the people of Mertens and I plan to be buried there.
We left Mertens to join the Staff at Green Acres Baptist Church to pastor the mission church, Southside Baptist Church. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to serve as a pastor of a mission congregation and also serve on the staff of a large church. I learned so much during this time! Paul Powell was the Pastor of Green Acres and he took me under his wing. Actually, he worked my rear end off! He challenged me to be a better pastor and preacher. Josiah was born during our days in Tyler as well.
Southside grew tremendously while we were there. Lots of young families joined us and we loved it! I learned the value of personal discipleship, accountability groups and small group ministry while I was at Southside. I learned how to conduct large staff meetings because I attended the weekly meetings at Green Acres. So much of what I do to this day was shaped by my time in Tyler!
We left Tyler to pastor Calvary Baptist Church in Garland, Texas. This move marked our return to the metroplex and hone my skills as a leader in that context. God opened many doors for us in ministry at Calvary. The church was warm and loving – one of the great relational churches I have ever known. The staff was marked by healthy relationships and we just had fun working together. This church helped me understand the value of a missional heart in the life of a congregation. Because this church still had some of its charter members in place, the DNA of the church was highly missional. These folks remembered the excitement of a church plant and the small victories were so appreciated.
We developed deep relationships in Garland that have lasted to this day as well. We were blessed by some wonderful friendships through loving people. We left Garland to move back home to Alabama when I accepted the call to First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama. This is the oldest Baptist Church in my home state. It is located in the heart of the technological capital of the south. The Marshall Space and Flight Center of NASA is housed there along with the Redstone Arsenal. Plus, Huntsville lies at the beginnings of the Highland Rim that launches the Appalachian Mountains --- it is a beautiful city.
We spent six years in Huntsville. These were formative years for our children, family and ministry. The church has a rich history and deep roots in the community. Leading the church was a true test of skill and ability, but I learned my way as a leader. Cindy truly grew into her own as a leader in her own right while we were in Huntsville. She launched a global ministry that has continued on in the church. We began our focused ministry on the continent of Africa under her direction during those days. We made some great friends, went to lots of Auburn football games and enjoyed raising our kids.
In 2001, we moved to our current home, Arlington, Texas. Our return to the metroplex is a story too long to tell here. It was quite a journey! But, we arrived in the summer with a teenaged daughter, a young son and my parents in tow. We made quite the entrance! First Baptist Church of Arlington welcomed all of us with open arms and has proven to be just the church the Wiles family needed. We have had ups and downs and faced many challenges since that move to Arlington, but our family and ministry have both flourished here. We love this church and this community.
Along the way, so much has happened. Wow. Cindy and I are ever in love with each other. God has blessed us both with a warm and deep affection for each other. We both love Jesus and feel called to make Him famous all over the world. She tolerates all of my idiosyncrasies (except for my spiritual gift of sulking, which she refuses to let me practice), lets me play golf both left-handed and right-handed (don’t judge), joins with me in watching Auburn and Baylor football, accommodates my chaotic ordering of life and listens (mostly) to me preach each week. Together we have buried three parents and now care for my elderly Mom who lives in our home. We love our grown children and their spouses. We are blessed to be able to spoil our grandchildren since they live close by. We’ve traveled the world together. We have spent countless nights under the stars in Africa and under the roofs of numerous homes across America. We’ve progressed from party line telephones (you may have to Google that) to smart phones, iPads and the Cloud. Our stuff is stored on the Cloud, scattered across our home and crammed in a storage building. Our memories are rich. Our life is full. And—we are glad to be together on The Sacramental Journey.