By Todd Deaton
Greg Sweet and his two sons, Neal and Nathan, together form what one fellow pastor termed a “trifecta” in ministry. Collectively, they’ve served eight South Carolina churches and a North Carolina congregation.
Greg is two years shy of having served 40 years in pastoral ministry. He previously served River Falls Baptist Church in Marietta, El Bethel Baptist Church in Greer, and Lugoff First Baptist Church. He has been at his current church, Spears Creek Baptist in Elgin, for 10 years.
He and his wife, Lisa, even before they started having children, prayed for them, Greg recalled. “We prayed that they would become, once they were grown, men who would serve the Lord in whatever capacity God called them to serve Him.”
When each of their sons began to sense God’s calling, Greg and Lisa continued to pray. “We encouraged both of them as they were growing up in a pastor’s home,” he said, noting that they saw “the good, the bad, and the in-between” of being a pastor. Still, he counselled them to be sure that they were called into the ministry, and not just following, somehow, in his footsteps.
“So we’re thrilled” they became pastors, Greg said. “I’d rather have them do what they are doing than for them to have signed multimillion-dollar contracts and be playing a professional sport somewhere, because what they’re doing has not only current value in the lives of people, but it has eternal significance.”
Sweet also advised his sons not to try to be like someone they weren’t in the pulpit. “God doesn’t need another … (name any great pastor). He needs you to be the person Christ made you to be, and you don’t need to be in competition with anybody else,” he told them.
“Just be yourself. Be faithful, be a man of integrity and consistency, and seek to leave a legacy of faith,” he urged them. “To me, that’s a successful life, no matter what your vocational choice is.”
Neal, who has been pastor of Northside Memorial Baptist Church, Sumter, for five years, has been in the ministry for 14 years. He started out as an elementary school teacher, serving bivocationally as youth pastor at Hermitage Baptist in Camden for six years. He then served as pastor of Home Branch Baptist in Manning for three years.
“To be completely honest, I didn’t want to go into the ministry,” Neal confided. “But the Lord had different plans.
“Dad was always a great influence, and I learned a lot from him,” Neal said. “He’s a pastor who loves his people, but he also loved me and my brother and spent time with us. He always made sure that we were his top priority. I probably wouldn’t be who I am today without him.”
Source of encouragement
His father always has been a source of encouragement, he said. Neal, who holds degrees from North Greenville University, Liberty University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, remembers how his father encouraged them to be “tentmakers,” like the Apostle Paul. So he has an elementary education degree and a public teaching certificate. His brother, Nathan, holds a degree in computer engineering from South Carolina as well as two degrees from Southeastern Seminary.
“Obviously, teaching for me and computers for him could be avenues of ministry as well,” Neal explained. “We could be witnesses for Jesus in those fields, too, if we need to do so.”
With his own family, Neal tries to imitate his father’s example. “I not only appreciate his service to the Lord, but even more than that, I appreciate who he is as a father,” Neal said, “… and how much he loves the Lord and wants to see people come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.”
Meanwhile, Nathan has been pastor of First Baptist Church of Surfside Beach for two years. He previously served as a student pastor and intern at Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., for seven years.
“My dad is a faithful teacher of God’s Word,” Nathan agreed. “However, Dad is more than just a preacher, he is a pastor — meaning that his preaching is saturated with his love for people. That love is demonstrated in the kindness by which he preaches even difficult truths, but more demonstrated in how he serves his church.”
‘The real deal’
That trait has influenced Nathan’s life and ministry as well. “Dad taught me to love Jesus,” Nathan said, adding that he often heard him say that “you can fool many people, but you can’t fool those who live in your home.
“I can say that I lived in his house for nearly 20 years and saw that he is, in fact, the real deal,” Nathan added. “I saw that what he preached on Sunday, he lived on Monday.”
And the impact that his dad made on him, Nathan said, is threefold:
- Authenticity: “Sunday mornings weren’t a performance. How he treated his church wasn’t a show, but it came from the overflow of his life.”
- People matter: “He showed me that being a pastor isn’t just preaching on Sunday, but it’s about loving people every day. Dad was there whenever anyone was in need and always dealt with people with the utmost love, patience and kindness.”
- Sharing Christ: “Dad didn’t just preach about sharing the gospel, but he modeled through his life sharing Jesus with others.” As a teenager, Nathan remembers he was blessed to go on at least six weeklong mission trips with his dad.
But Sweet also demonstrated the role of a father and the need to be involved in a son’s life.
“Dad taught me that the church matters, but at the end of the day my most important ministry is always my family,” Nathan said. “I have great memories as Dad intentionally carved out time to play Legos with me, coach my soccer team, or take me to karate. Now that I have two children of my own, I look back on the time and sacrifices he made for us with so much gratitude.”
A father’s influence
The church is no replacement for what a parent teaches at home, Nathan said. “What a child needs is to see their father walking with God, faithfully involved in the local church, and setting the example of Christ,” he observed. “I have found that people often shape their view of God by their relationship with their father,” he continued. “A father who is involved, kind and loving shows his children that God is also near, kind, loving.”
His father’s influence may also be seen in how he is raising his own children, Nathan said. “Like my dad, my goal is to love my children so that they will grow to love God and love the church,” he explained.
The senior Sweet said he was blessed to also have had a Christian father, who lived to be 93.
“My dad only had a high school education. He worked hard. He worked in textiles, and then later on he did warehouse work,” Sweet recalled. “But I saw at a young age, even before I came to Christ, the connection between church on Sunday and life on Monday. Both my mom and dad — my mom is still living — are authentic believers. I saw their faith in real life,” he said.
As a result, he has come to realize that the most important legacy one could leave on this earth is the legacy of godly children, Sweet said. “We tried to lead them as much as we could toward Christ, and it’s a joy to see where they are, and now we are blessed with six grandchildren, some of whom have already come to Christ,” he said. “We’re praying that the baton of faith gets passed on to the next generation, and even beyond that.”
Editor’s Note — This article first appeared on baptistcourier.com, which is the news service for South Carolina Baptists.