For the pastor of First Baptist Church of Inverness, becoming a Christian at age 13 and dedicating a half-century to the ministry were essential.
When the Rev. Dr. Babb Adams started preaching the gospel in Florida more than 50 years ago, his pulpit was on street corners, at a feed mill and in railroad yards in Tampa.
After a period of preaching to railroad workers on their lunch breaks, he was invited to preach in the quaint little First Baptist Church of Aripeka in the community near the Pasco-Hernando county line. He was invited back several times, and those visits turned into a full-time job.
Though membership was small and air-conditioning in the church was by hand-held fans donated by a local funeral home, Adams, now 71, considered it the opportunity of a lifetime. He said it was the first church that gave him the chance to share the gospel and preach the word of God.
"There is no way in the world I can put into words what it meant to me to be called to be a pastor there. I was very happy there, and it was a tremendous learning time for me. They were a very sweet, loving people that prayed for, encouraged and helped me. I certainly owe them a debt of gratitude," he said.
Also grateful _ for Adams _ are members of his church, First Baptist Church of Inverness.
Colleen Meahl, 70, has been a member of First Baptist for 33 years. She has known Adams since he arrived at the church in 1981. "I think he is wonderful," she said. "He is great with people, the children and the church. I think I have grown spiritually just knowing him. He really knows his Bible, and that means a lot."
Another church member and Adams' secretary of three years, Margie Tyner, 43, said, "Babb is great to work with. He has been a good friend, a real spiritual leader in my life, as well as a father figure. He is a good shepherd, very caring, very personable and down to earth. Also, his messages encourage me to make God real in my life and show God's love to others."
Joe Maddox, a First Baptist member of four years and director of missions for the Alachua Baptist Association, said, "Of all the pastors that our children have been under, they have felt better about Babb, been closer to Babb, and have had a great relationship with him other than any other pastor."
Maddox, the father of seven childrenages 2 to 14, added, "He is a find shepherd and a fine pastor. His care for people really shows in his walk with the Lord."
Adams served as pastor at three other Florida churches before he was asked to be pastor of First Baptist Church of Inverness 19 years ago.
Adams said that God has brought him a long way from where he started as a small child. Adams, who was born in Oklahoma and raised in Texas, said he wasn't raised in a Christian home. He said he became a Christian at 13, about the same time his father, who worked in shipbuilding, moved the family to Tampa for a new job.
"A man who was a pastor at the time found me playing in a dirt road one day and stopped and talked to me about the Lord. It was then that I knelt on the edge of that road and gave my life to Jesus," he said.
"Other than the knowledge that I was going to heaven, nothing much changed in my life then. Later on, though, there came a time that I did have a terrible burden to see people become Christians and to live morally right."
Adams later enrolled in the University of Florida for medical studies. But while there, he felt an urge to head in a different direction.
"The Lord really spoke to my heart. I was hesitant to go into the ministry because of my background, so I tried to do other things and fill my life with Christian activities. But it just came to a point where that wasn't enough," he said.
"I realized that going into the ministry was no longer an option but a necessity. I just came to a place in my life that I didn't feel like I could survive unless I did what I believed God's will was for my life, which was to preach and to be a pastor."
Adams earned a doctorate in ministry from Luther Rice Seminary in Atlanta, and a doctorate in divinity from Stetson University in DeLand.
Though times have not always been easy for him, for Marilyn, his wife of 47 years, who has chronic pancreatitis, and for their three adult children, Adams said there is no doubt in his mind that he has followed God's will.
"The only one thing I have never questioned is God's call or his hand in my life. There have been times during the ministry that there has been pain and heartache because of the circumstances of the ministry, but there has never been a regret that I surrendered to the Lord," he said.
"The thing that is revealed over and over again to me is God's faithfulness. He is an awesome God! You can depend on his word and his promises. Everything else in life is kind of temporary, but . . . my conviction is that the scriptures of God are the absolutes."
Adams said that following God's plan for his life throughout the past five decades was always made easier by his wife's support and help.
"I don't know if I would have ever made it this far if it wouldn't have been for my wife. Marilyn is always such an encouragement to me. She has been the stabilizing force in my life. There is no way to describe the debt that I owe her in sharing in the ministry all of these years."
Reflecting on his life in the ministry and the churches he has served, Adams said he has seen many changes in churches and preaching methods in 50 years.
"In yesteryear, most of the preaching methods were confrontational, but today they are mostly relational. I think that both have their place; there are times when nothing will do like confrontational, but there are also times for relational," he said.
"Back in those years you could make people feel guilty about the things they did wrong, but today you can't hardly make them feel guilty about anything. In those days, hell would strike real fear in people's hearts, but today they are not frightened by anything."
Though Adams said it can be frustrating for preachers to face some societal changes, he thinks there is no other job on earth that he would rather have.
"I think that being a pastor, or God's person in whatever capacity, is the highest purpose there is. You would have to stoop to be a king or president."
When asked how long he will continue to preach, Adams said, "God called me and put me in this, so I think when he gets through with me he will tell me. As long as my health holds and my mind is as it should be, then I am going to do what I think I need to be doing," he said.
"I am sure there will come a time when he will either carry me home to glory or lead me to do something else, but I have had no indicators at this junction as of yet," he said.
To celebrate Adams' 51 years in the ministry, more than 150 church members recently gathered at a reception to honor him and his wife. The deacons at First Baptist presented numerous Bibles in honor of his ministry. They will be placed by Gideons in hotels, motels and other public places.