Jess Wilbanks ordained into gospel ministry

Williston First Baptist Church recently ordained its children’s and youth minister into the ministry.

Jess Wilbanks, who has led the church’s children and youth for four years, was ordained into the gospel ministry during the Sunday service on March 12.

“Hospitality is the hallmark of her ministry,” said Blake Wilbanks of his wife as he outlined what it means to be ordained.

Jess Wilbanks then shared her personal testimony, including how church has been an important part of her life since childhood. Even though her family moved a lot when she was younger, she said her mother took her and her siblings to church each week.

“Church was always a constant,” she said.

At the age of 16, Wilbanks went on her first mission trip. Witnessing the hopelessness in Ukraine on that first trip and, later, poverty on trips to other places helped spark Wilbanks’ passion to serve and minister to other people.

Whether it was health scares or deaths, various difficulties affecting her family over the years strengthened Wilbanks’ faith and appetite to help people.

“The Lord has been faithful through many trials,” she said tearfully. “Through great adversity, my reputation, life, worth, and joy belong to Jesus. I can choose joy in the midst of heartbreak and disaster.”

She cited James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Wilbanks said she’s seen that scripture play out in her life, including when Hurricane Katrina hit shortly after she moved to New Orleans to attend seminary. Though the storm was devastating, she said it shaped her life and call to serve.

Seminary is also where Jess met Blake. The couple married in 2007. In 2009 they quit their jobs and left New Orleans to move to Barnwell to care for Blake’s father, the late Richard Wilbanks, as he battled cancer.

After Blake preached one Sunday at Williston First Baptist Church, he learned of an opening to work with students. Jess applied and got the job. In the two years she worked there, she said 16 students accepted Christ as their savior. She left in 2011 but returned in 2015.

“It’s important to love God and serve people,” said Wilbanks, who also serves as chief professional officer for the Barnwell County United Way.

She encouraged those in the congregation to be a blessing to others, even if it’s simply by being kind and smiling. “Give your time and talents to God and see what great things he can do through you,” she said.

Dr. Stephen Burnette, the church’s pastor, then preached the ordination sermon where he said it’s important to practice “servant leadership”. He then highlighted five ways to do so: 1) Live with Integrity, 2) Labor with Diligence, 3) Lead with Vision, 4) Love with Sincerity, and 5) Laugh with Freedom.

Using some of the 14 rules of leadership created by the late H. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose nickname was “Stormin’ Norman”, Burnette showed how they apply to leaders everywhere – on and off the battlefield. The retired general’s military career included commanding the U.S.-led international coalition that drove Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991.

“Leaders lead people, not processes,” said Burnette of one of the principles.

He also cited two more: “When in command, take charge. When in charge, do the right thing.”

Wilbanks will soon be leaving her jobs in Barnwell County due to Blake accepting a job at the Chick-fil-a corporate office in Atlanta, Ga.

“Barnwell County embraced me and will always have a special place in my heart with family, many friends, students, neighbors, community leaders and churches to cherish,” said Wilbanks.

One of her favorite places is near the end of Reynolds Road, where the trees overhang and change with seasons. “It feels like the center in that you can get to Barnwell, Blackville and Williston from there. I'm going to miss driving through fields and seeing familiar faces,” she said.

Though her location is changing, her mission of serving is not.