Some pastors accept the call to ministry later in life — the culmination of years of experience, as a second or even third career. For Pastor Billy Benson, the path to vocational ministry was much shorter.
Benson, pastor at Garland Road Baptist Church, 2002 N. Garland, accepted the call to ministry as a young teenager, and has been serving his Enid congregation for almost half a year.
The Watonga native credits the Christian upbringing his parents provided him and his two older sisters with leading to his early acceptance of ministry.
"Dad and Mom made sure we had family Bible devotions every day, and made sure me and my sisters were in church every Wednesday and Sunday," Benson said. "It was really because of those family Bible devotions, and going to church so often, that I really gave myself to Jesus Christ at about 6 years old."
His faith blossomed into leading others in 2001, at 14 years old, when he assisted his youth minister at a camp session at Falls Creek.
It was there, during the prayer and reflection time at the Baptist summer camp, that Benson first felt called to pursue ministry as his life's work.
At first, Benson hesitated. During an altar call at a Thursday evening service, Benson said he made what he thought was a "safe bet" with God.
"I said, 'Well, God, if someone else from the church goes forward, I'll go forward,'" he said. "I thought it was a pretty safe bet, because no one from our church had gone forward all week. But, God led one girl in our youth group to go forward to give herself to God, and I said 'OK, God,' and I went forward and surrendered to vocational ministry at 14 years old."
His pastor and youth minister soon began giving Benson opportunities for more leadership at his home church, First Baptist Church of Watonga. He preached his first Sunday sermons there while still in high school and also assisted with youth ministry.
After graduating from Watonga High School in 2005, Benson accepted his first paid job in ministry — as janitor and ministry intern at his home church in Watonga. He said that first job taught him an invaluable asset for a pastor: humility.
Benson continued his studies at Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) in Shawnee, where he focused on religious studies with an emphasis in biblical languages. While studying at OBU he attended First Baptist Church in McLoud, west of Shawnee, where he taught Sunday school, served in youth ministry and as a youth sponsor to Falls Creek.
It was at McLoud Baptist Church that Benson met his wife, Kari, while she was teaching a Sunday school class. When she had trouble with some of the boys, Benson said he helped Kari and provided "crowd control help with a rowdy first- and second-grade Sunday school class." The couple married shortly after Christmas in 2007.
After OBU, Benson went on to seminary at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) from 2010 to 2013. His studies in biblical languages and theology at that point had Benson on track to serve as a professor of theology.
But, God again intervened, Benson said, calling him and his family back to Oklahoma to serve as a pastor.
His first call was as a bi-vocational pastor at Macomb Baptist Church, in a town of 32 people, as of the 2010 Census. Benson served his small congregation and also worked for the facilities management department at OBU, from January 2014 to December 2017.
Benson said his time in Macomb provided him a different kind of education than his time at OBU and seminary.
"When God called me into pastoral ministry in 2013, I had to learn a lot by trial and error," he said. "I had a lot of training and education in teaching God's word, but the other sides of leading a church, particularly in the administrative functions ... I had to learn and grow a lot in leading people."
Once he felt released from his call in Macomb, Benson began looking for a full-time position in ministry and found Garland Road Baptist Church through a classified advertisement in The Baptist Messenger newspaper.
Benson took over the pulpit at Garland Road in March, while also continuing his studies toward a PhD in theology through online courses with NOBTS.
Benson said he and Kari have settled into the Enid community, and have been looking forward to the first day of classes at Prairie View Elementary School for their three children: Hannah, 9, LeeAnna, 8, and Caleb, 6.
The position also has afforded Benson the job he's been working toward since he was 14.
"I really love full-time ministry, especially being a father, a husband and being a student again," Benson said. "It's a blessing to be in full-time ministry and be able to put time into preparing sermons, and to meet with people, to minister to them and to serve people. The church has been really great in taking care of us, in supporting us and encouraging us, and they realize that as a church we need to faithfully study God's word and be involved in missions and evangelism."
Despite being a relatively small congregation, with 50-75 congregants in the pews on Sunday, Benson said Garland Road offers a wealth of missions, worship and evangelism opportunities.
The church offers Sunday school services at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday, with four different adult classes, children's and youth programs, followed by a 10:45 a.m. service.
Sunday night small group sessions and book studies also are offered, with one meeting at the church and several others hosted in congregants' homes.
Wednesday nights the church fills with fellowship and Scripture study sessions for youth and teens, with a meal at 5:45 p.m. followed by the program at 6:30 p.m. The youth group plans to paint a home for an Enid family in need later this month.
Whether at the Sunday evening, Wednesday or youth group sessions, Benson said people who come to Garland Road Baptist Church can expect plenty of fellowship — and food.
"We like to eat — we like our fellowship," Benson said with a laugh. "We gather around the word of God, and we gather around the table, too."
For more information on Garland Road Baptist Church visit grbcenid.com or call the church office at (580) 234-6193.