The Old Time Preachers Quartet sings at Sand Spring Baptist Church on March 5, 2020.
Old Time Preachers Quartet focused on ministry, regardless of the situation
By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
When we sat down to talk that night in early March, it’s doubtful that Les Butler, Mike Holcomb or I had any inkling of the significance of what was intended to be an interview about the ministry of the Old Time Preachers Quartet.
We met at the group’s product table about 30 minutes before the group was to take the stage at Sand Spring Baptist Church near Lawrenceburg, Ky. A big crowd would be on hand as the Old Time Preachers were opening the 2020 season of the church’s popular concert series.
As we brought the discussion to a close, I mentioned to both that due to some personal business and the fact that I anticipated being quite busy working quite a bit of high school basketball tournament action in the coming days and weeks, it might be a couple of weeks before I posted the interview. Life quickly changed and the interview was a piece that was never published.
A few minutes after we ended the chat, the Old Time Preachers Quartet brought the house down with a concert that included a mix of familiar old songs and new tunes. And true to the group’s name, there was a challenge to make Christ the Lord of one’s life.
Life has sure changed since March 5. The COVID-19 crisis has sent just about everyone home, including the Old Time Preachers Quartet and this writer. In a follow-up, I asked Butler when the quartet’s last performance as a group had been.
Les Butler sings during a concert at Sand Spring Baptist Church in 2019. (All photos by John Herndon)
“Well, actually, it was at Sand Spring, the night we did your initial interview,” Butler wrote in an email.
But the ministry has not stopped as Butler, Holcomb, Tim Owens and Adam Borden have continued to uplift in any way possible, including social media.
It’s just in the DNA of the Old Time Preachers Quartet. “All four of us preach. All four of us sing,” Butler said when we first talked. “We travel together as a quartet then all four of us have our own evangelistic efforts.”
The group does not have a bus, opting to converge on venues like Sand Spring directly from preaching opportunities and then scattering to spread the gospel again. Butler had been in West Virginia the day before at a church he says was “literally five miles up a little one lane road in a holler….It was full every night. A hundred people every night. They came and wanted to worship.”
Owens and Borden had come from Tennessee while Holcomb had been in Georgia, then drove to central Kentucky and was planning to head south to Florida and Georgia the following week. “It’s just us. It’s what we do and our calling in life,” he said.
Bass singer Mike Holcomb makes a point during a song in the Old Time Preachers Quartet concert at Sand Spring Baptist Church on March 5.
Holcomb did quite a bit of preaching during his 41 years with The Inspirations, a tenure that saw him become one of gospel music’s most beloved bass singers.
“I was 24 years old,” he says of the time he answered a call to preach. “We are called to preach first. We are given an opportunity to sing. The gospel with music added to it puts wheels on it and puts us in places where people would never listen to a preacher but will come to a concert or a place where a group is singing. If you get the opportunity for them to listen to you live, then you’ve got their attention. So this is ministry for us, trying to reach hearts and lives for Him.”
The quartet relishes opportunities to combine music and preaching. “What we really like to do is a church will book us to hold a revival and sing,” Butler said. “I might preach one night and the quartet sings. Then Mike Holcomb might preach the next night and the quartet sings. The next night, Tim might preach and the quartet sings. And the next night, Adam preaches and the quartet sings. It just depends on the situation.”
Butler says that of the group, only Owens, who sings tenor, has any seminary training but, “I think I can speak for the other guys that we wish we had more, but when God called us, we just started hitting it right there.”
Holcomb smiled, saying his training was from “the school of hard knocks” and that most of what he knows has come from “listening and letting God speak to my heart.”
Sharing the gospel from the heart is the group’s mission and has endeared the Old Time Preachers Quartet to gospel fans across the nation. An evening or a week with the OTPQ offers a respite from the pressures of the world and brings one to face the reality of Jesus and salvation through him.
Tim Owens (left) and Adam Borden put their emotions into a song during the Old Time Preachers Quartet concert at Sand Spring Baptist Church on March 5.
“We hope that when they come to us, we give them some refreshment, that we give them some water,” Butler said. “That is one of our goals. Our main goal, of course, is to go into the highways and byways and compel them to come in, sinners and saints alike. When they get there, give them Jesus and then Jesus will take care of the rest. If they need saving, he can save them. If they need uplifting, then He can uplift them.”
When the world started shutting down the following week, the Old Time Preachers Quartet’s mission might have become greater.
“I believe I am speaking for every member of the quartet when I say we are excited to see how God is going to take care of his children,” Butler said in the followup on March 31. “And, based on the authority of God’s Word, He IS going to take care of his children. So we feel strongly that we are going to have a testimony unlike any testimony we’ve had in times past. This is a serious and disconcerting time for sure, but it’s time we put into practice what we sing and preach about every week. Psalm 37:25, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread (KJV).”
Like every other musical artist, regardless of genre, the life the OTPQ knew has come to a halt. There are no concerts. There are no preaching engagements. There is nothing happening and that also means little to no income.
“I don’t say this flippantly, but all we can do is pray,” Butler said in his email. “All of our concerts and services have been shut down for the past three weeks and for the next two months or more. Singing and preaching makes up the overwhelming majority of the income for our four group members. Adam has some side things, as do I. However, speaking for myself, 90 percent of my businesses (Butler Music Group and Family Music Group) are shut down. All of the artists I work with are in the same boat as us: Out of business, for now. So I’ve come full circle. I go back to my first comment: We are praying.”
Like many other artists, Butler is also finding out that venues are often hesitant to reschedule, opting for a “wait-and-see” approach to the coronavirus crisis.
But even with no public appearances, the ministry opportunities abound.
Les Butler on the keyboard at Sand Spring Baptist on March 5. He says all anyone can do during the COVID-19 crisis is pray.
“We have never seen businesses and churches shut down on a national and international level like this before,” Butler said. “We’ve never been ordered to not leave our homes. This is uncharted territory for sure. However, I see the hand of God at work here on many levels. Ministry continues. I know my home church, Middle Tennessee Baptist, has been doing Facebook Live services with our pastor and a small group of preachers and singers (less than 10). And, there has been great liberty in every single service. We have preached and sung like there’s a thousand people in attendance. This virus hasn’t stopped the hand of God moving on His people! So until we get back together in service again, let’s continue to push social media, using it for good, getting the message of the gospel to a lost and dying world!”
Butler has begun hosting a Facebook Live show from his home on an almost nightly basis, drawing on his 42 years in the gospel music business to share humor, interesting stories, interviews and more. “I have enough Southern Gospel memorabilia to start my own museum,” Butler said. “Sometime during the day or night, I go live with a piece of memorabilia and talk about it. I also play a song from my vast vinyl collection that ties into that piece.
“This has been a ton of fun. I always end each segment by tying in the Word of God with the song I play or the piece of memorabilia. I am trying hard to turn it into a ministry tool. It’s a different bent, but I believe God is going to use it.”
It’s what the Old Time Preachers Quartet is about.
And that connection to what Butler had said as we wrapped up our interview on March 5 can only be described as God at work. “In today’s world, with what we see in the news and what we experience ourselves, it’s easy to get beaten down badly,” Butler had said. “We have to get ourselves up out of the ashes and follow the Lord.”