Believers all know that God doesn’t call the equipped into ministry; rather He equips those He calls to be His servants. And we all know that the road to serving God many times—if not always—isn’t a smooth one. It is more often filled with events that, to those less determined and faithful, would prove to be obstacles that cannot be overcome.
Larry Nigh accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in 1960 at the age of 9 at Oklahoma City, Northwest.
“All the church staff members were great encouragers to me as I developed my walk with the Lord,” he said. “At the age of 16, I was called by God and surrendered my life to full-time ministry. I knew from that very moment God was calling me into the pastoral ministry—to be a preacher.”
Little did he know that the path to a lifetime of ministry would take him through and over many obstacles as he faced those “stumbling blocks,” including severe health issues for many years. Later in life, he persevered through more than two decades battling an autoimmune disease called Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID), which is characterized by recurrent infections and low antibody levels, specifically immunoglobulin.
As a result, he had to receive infusions of donated antibodies more than once a month during the span of those two decades. And he faced hospitalizations resulting from pneumonia and other illnesses on many occasions.
The youngest and third son among four siblings raised by a harried mother who found herself striving to provide for her children after a divorce in the mid-1950s, Larry would model his mom’s determination to succeed and be faithful to God’s call as he persevered to earn post-graduate degrees after graduating from Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU).
“I never doubted God’s call on my life,” he said, “and there are those times when you wonder if you have made the right decisions, but standing firm in the faith and the call has always been enough to see me through, especially with my wife, Sandy, by my side.
“From the very beginning of my call to ministry way back in 1967, I have claimed Gal. 2:20 as my life verse—“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” I am so thankful that I have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and called to minister in His name. But I realize that the life I live now in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. I am challenged every day to allow Him to live in and through me—equipping me, encouraging me, and providing for me in all that I am to do through Him. I cannot fail if I live my life in faith!”
No one can deny that Larry Nigh lived his life in faith, especially in his determination to earn his Master of Divinity degree at Southwestern Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Midwestern Seminary. He earned those degrees over a long span of time since he couldn’t attend classes full time while doing so. He was very grateful for the OBU extension program that gave Oklahoma Baptists an opportunity to serve in a local church and gain valuable experience at the same time.
In a 1987 interview with the Baptist Messenger, Larry said, “Not all pastors and staff workers have the opportunity to go to one of our seminaries for on-campus work. Sometimes, God does not open the doors to go straight to seminary out of college. I entered the full-time pastorate right after I obtained my degree from Oklahoma Baptist University. Eight years later, I started my seminary degree coursework through the Shawnee extension program, which takes six years to complete by attending classes only on Mondays.”
The years and decades pass by—much too quickly—and everyone stays busy living their own lives, not knowing exactly the impact those very close to them have on people through the years. I can see today that my brother, Larry, had an impact on countless numbers of people as he served as pastor of Gage, First; Norman, Alameda and Ponca City, Northeast, the latter for 34 years before he retired on Aug. 2, 2018.
Larry concluded the 2013 Oklahoma Baptists Annual Meeting at Broken Arrow, First by preaching the annual sermon. His sermon was based on Acts 16 and applied the Annual Meeting theme of “Serve” by challenging messengers to go where the people are, target the hearts of all people and focus on making new converts. He said churches should overcome the mentality that people will come to them. Instead, they should figure out how to go and serve people in the communities where the churches are located.
He practiced what he preached and led by example. He encouraged the members of Northeast to participate many times in an annual event called a “Great Day of Service” to the community. Projects consisted of doing basic yard work, tree and brush removal, minor repairs and hauling off trash and unwanted furniture.
Larry said he began 2013 with a challenge for his congregation.
“In January, I challenged our church with the following theme for the New Year: ‘Building My Church . . . Reaching My City.’ Without a doubt, both goals were met in the ‘Great Day of Service.’” Our congregation was built up and strengthened through the willingness of our people to work together. I challenged our church to have 200 workers, but the Lord blessed us with 340 workers, (90 percent of our average Sunday School attendance) who made a commitment to be a part of this great project. We literally modeled what the church is supposed to be and do. We ministered by stepping out of the four walls of our church on a Sunday morning to go out and minister to people in Jesus’ name.”
That motivation was ingrained into Larry’s ministry on an international scale as well. He and Sandy led mission trips for many years to Oaxaca, Mexico, a city of 500,000 in the mountains of southern Mexico about six hours driving distance south of Mexico City. Members of the church have taken 16 mission trips there since 1999.
“We built a church outside Oaxaca,” Larry said. “Besides building church buildings, we did evangelistic projects, showed the Jesus film, and held carnivals and children’s projects, as well as providing medical teams.”
He also led mission trips to Tezpur, India, where an unreached people group of more than 2 million people had never heard the gospel story. He and three other members of the team led a four-day worship and leadership conference for local pastors and key leaders; and Sandy and another nurse taught in the nursing school of the Baptist Christian Hospital of Tezpur.
As a young preacher in 1981, Larry participated in an evangelistic crusade to the Philippines.
Larry, as pastor, and Sandy, as nurse, also participated in many mission trips with the Singing Church Men of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Baptist Youth Choir
“I am optimistic about our future as Southern Baptists. We haven’t lost our calling to fulfill the Great Commission and to do missions,” Larry once said. “The world around is chaotic and out of control. Satan is throwing everything he can at us to defeat us. The time for the Lord’s return is drawing near. Therefore, we must pick up the pace to work harder, and to encourage all of our churches to get involved.”
Larry also was heavily involved in state convention activities. He served on the Convention’s board of directors and the board of trustees for OBU and Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children and was very active in Kay Association programs.
“I am thankful for all the ways I got to serve in the state convention and the national convention,” he said. “Every pastor needs those same opportunities to get involved, to learn, to grow, and to lead. God will always need great leaders and pastors to serve Him and do His work until Jesus comes. Sometimes, I wish I could have done more, but I am thankful for how God has used me through all my years of ministry.”
Larry always was a faithful supporter of the Cooperative Program (CP). And his commitment to missions giving filtered down to the members at Ponca City, Northeast.
“As we’ve remained faithful to our level of giving, God has continued to bless, even in times of economic turndown,” he commented.
Larry said when he came to Northeast, the congregation was giving about 8 percent to the CP.
“We kept plodding forward, increasing a half percent here and there until we got up to 16 percent, our present level of giving,” he said. “We felt this was a high mark for us, and other than on one occasion, we’ve never looked back.”
That one occasion occurred a few years ago when some young couples in the church, who didn’t have an understanding of the CP, wanted the church to cut back on its giving.
“We were having some budget constraints at the time, and these young couples were pushing to cut our CP giving to around 10 percent,” Larry recalled. “But I preached on stewardship, the importance of the CP and our history as Southern Baptists. We talked about it and prayed about it, and when it came to the floor of the business meeting, it was soundly defeated.”
He said the church felt cutting the CP would be a last resort, and hopefully it would never get to that point.
“At the time, the monies were pretty tight, but we didn’t cut back, we stayed the course and the Lord continued to bless,” he said. “The good thing is those younger folks got educated on what the CP is all about. God proved our faithfulness by helping us meet all our needs.”
In 1996, in the midst of the downsizing of the Conoco refinery, Ponca City’s largest employer, Northeast voted to build a $2.5 million auditorium.
“There was a possibility we were going to lose our refinery, but we pressed forward and decided to build in spite of the economics around us,” Larry said.
Then, when Conoco and Phillips merged and Phillips took about one-half of the employees from Ponca City to Bartlesville and sent others to Houston, the church decided to build a Family Life Center.
“People told us we were crazy to venture out and build a multi-million-dollar building with this kind of downturn,” Larry recalled.
But even with people leaving Ponca City and the average Sunday School attendance dropping from 420 to 370, the church moved forward with its plans. Northeast broke ground for its new $1.34 million, 14,350-square-foot, two-story family life center on June 15, 2009. The project took nine months to complete.
Larry challenged the church to do a one-day fund-raiser every other year.
“We did one the day we moved into the building,” he said. “We had 600 people who worshipped on the gymnasium floor, and we raised $245,000 that day.”
Two years later, the congregation had another fund-raiser, and in the fourth year of the program, the church was able to pay off the loan and be debt-free two years earlier than the six-year challenge.
“I’ve told our church over and over it’s just another classic example of how God provides as long as we are faithful to Him,” Larry said. “Not only has God met our needs, but we also recently experienced our first million-dollar budget.”
In addition to paying off the Family Life Center and maintaining the 16 percent CP giving level, the church remains the highest in Kay Association in giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Edna McMillan State Missions Offering.
“Now that we are debt-free, we have money to do other improvements around the church, and we have put $50,000 into a missions fund, which opens the door for greater work in missions,” Larry said.
He added that he doesn’t have to preach a CP sermon on an annual basis and no Sunday is set aside especially for CP giving.
“Our people knew the importance of the Cooperative Program through the years,” he said. “We do show the convention’s CP video clips on Sunday mornings, use mission inserts in bulletins and have literature available throughout the building, but it’s inbred in the church, and we do it by example.”
Larry’s philosophy of giving was that it honors God.
“I feel the church needs to do as the individual Christian does, making the tithe our beginning point of how we give back to God,” he said. “We ask our people in the pew to give, and we in turn want to honor God with our church giving. We feel if we do that, we help Kingdom causes, help reach people for Christ, honor His Name, and as a result, our Lord and our church is blessed.”
Larry Nigh was faithful to his calling. He passed away on Feb. 27, 2023. The worship center at Northeast was packed at his funeral on March 3. May his dedicated service inspire each of us also to serve the Lord in such a magnificent way.