Here at First Free we believe God has given the church elders, men who have been chosen by God to know, lead, feed, and protect his flock. Over the next year, we’d like to help you get to know our elders better through an in-depth interview with one of our elders each month. This month we’re talking to Jeff S.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What brought you to First Free?
I was born and raised here in Wichita. I went to Bethel College on a basketball scholarship and that’s where I met Sue. We married the summer after I graduated and moved to Topeka where I attended law school. After graduating in 1987, we came back to Wichita, and I joined my father’s law firm while Sue worked hard raising and managing our family. I eventually took over first chair and practiced law for twenty years. I am now a District Court judge. I was elected to my fourth four-year term in November 2020. While having served in the Family Law, Civil, Juvenile and Traffic departments, I have spent most of my judicial career in the Criminal department, where I am currently serving.
When Sue and I returned to Wichita, my mother encouraged us to check out First Free. She knew of the church’s reputation for a commitment to God’s Word, and how important that foundation is for a young couple. It did not take long for us to integrate into this new church family. We have been members here since 1988.
Tell us a little bit about your family.
My job brings with it certain concerns which require me to skip this section in an online setting. It is not because I value privacy over transparency. I will simply “plead the fifth” here, with the invitation to contact me privately and I will happily share this most important part of my life and story.
How did you come to faith in Jesus Christ?
I was raised in a Christian family. We attended a small neighborhood church that was an extension of our home and where I was first exposed to God’s Word. I really don’t remember a time I didn’t believe in Jesus. My early spiritual life was marked by regular prayers of confession and rededication, motived as much by the fear of hell as it was by the love of Jesus. I did respond to an altar call at a Christian basketball camp in the ninth grade. Even then, I went forward as much to support a friend as I did for myself. But I meant every word I prayed that evening.
My “sign behind the barn” (where I take Satan when he causes doubt in my faith) was my junior year in high school when I was baptized by my older brother who recently graduated from Fuller Seminary. It was then, before my family and my childhood church, that I publicly professed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. By that time, I had a much better understanding of my sin, the fractured relationship my sin had caused with God, and the grace that was mine in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I understood I was God’s adopted child—an heir and beneficiary of his unmerited favor. I was born again!
How has First Free impacted your life?
First Free has been the ministry portal in using and exercising my gifts, resources, and energy toward growing the grace of the gospel in my life, our family, and in the life of others. In other words, when I think ministry, I first think First Free.
First Free has been the biblical and cultural center of life as Sue and I raised our family. It has been where we have experienced the deepest joy and the most profound sorrow with our church family. It is the place where, with the help of friends, we raised our family. First Free is the place Sue and I learned and grew in God’s Word. It is the place I learned to teach and even on occasion, to preach God’s Word.
How long have you served as an elder? What’s that been like?
This is my eleventh year as an elder. I have been church chairman for one year and elder chairman for nine of those years. As with so many things, being an elder is both a blessing and burden. It is rare that I don’t leave an elder meeting feeling inspired and challenged to live up to the godly standard exhibited by the men I serve with. This church has such a rich heritage of godly leaders. It is humbling. The burden comes from continually entering the pain and brokenness of individuals, couples, and families in our church. Carrying other’s burdens just gets heavy at times.
As an elder, what words of encouragement or exhortation do you have for First Free?
It has become clear to me just how important and necessary the witness of the local church is to its surrounding community. In their devotion to fellowship, teaching, and prayer, unified with one heart and soul, God added believers to the early church every day. The effect the first church had on the watching world was incredible as they practiced koinonia by gathering, eating, providing for, and growing together. As they loved and cared for each other, the world could not help but notice. These early Christians demonstrated the gospel in such a way that their preaching of the gospel had a transforming effect on their community at large. Simply stated, when the world saw the early church, they saw Jesus (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37). May that be so of First Free!
How can we as a church be praying for you personally? For the Elder Board?
For both myself and the elders, that we would aspire daily to live lives above reproach. That we would love our wives as Christ loved the church. That we would find our true position of strength on our knees. And that we would be relentless in our efforts to know our people, and to be known by them.