Houston-area pastor Phil Lineberger, a former president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), died May 31 at age 69.
A son-in-law, Brian Seay, told the Baptist Standard newsjournal that Lineberger “lost a battle with depression and took his own life.” Lineberger had been on medical leave from the pastorate of Sugar Land Baptist Church, since mid-March, the Baptist Standard reported.
Lineberger had led the church, formerly Williams Trace Baptist Church in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, since 1995 during his 48 years in the ministry.
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “I’m deeply saddened to hear of this tragedy. My wife and I were members of Travis Ave Baptist Church many years ago when Phil Lineberger was associate pastor. He was a kind, happy soul.
“As a person who has walked through this valley of suicide in the family, my prayers go out to his wife and family,” said Page, who lost one of his three daughters to suicide in 2009. “I’ve expressed and promised to his brother, Rick, and asked him to convey to the entire family, the prayers and support of our convention.”
The Baptist Standard quoted several paragraphs from a eulogy Lineberger delivered four years ago after the suicide of a friend in the ministry, John Petty, former chair of the BGCT Executive Board and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Kerrville. Petty ended his life after a lengthy struggle with depression.
“The Bible says we see through a glass darkly,” Lineberger said. “We don’t know how dark the darkness is in someone who is depressed. Through the darkened glass, they can’t see the light of life or the love of others. They can only feel the pressure of the darkness of despair in their own mind. That darkness is visible to them and often invisible to us.”
The Baptist Standard recounted that Lineberger, as president of the BGCT in 1991, presided over a contentious annual meeting in a bulletproof vest with a bodyguard nearby as 1,100-plus messengers deliberated over a revised relationship with Baylor University. Baylor’s board of regents had revised the university’s charter to remove the institution from BGCT governance, and Lineberger and other BGCT officers helped reach an agreement with Baylor by which the convention would to elect one-fourth of the university’s regents. Messengers affirmed the compromise.
In addition to Sugar Land Baptist Church, Lineberger had led churches in Tyler and Richardson, Texas; Little Rock, Ark.; and Huntsville, Ala. He was a longtime board member of Texas Baptists Committed, a Baptist moderate organization, serving as co-chair in 1994.
A native of Texarkana, Texas, Lineberger held doctoral and master’s degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and an undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas. He became a Christian at age 10 after attending a revival led by the late evangelist Freddie Gage.
Survivors include his wife Brenda; three adult daughters; and 10 grandchildren.
A memorial service was held June 4 at Sugar Land Baptist Church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)