Having a pastor's heart has greatly helped Richard Blue in his transition from pastor to a leader of pastors.

The former longtime pastor of Walker Baptist Church has settled into his position as the associational missions coordinator of the Walker-based Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association. The association assists about 45 member churches in the Livingston Parish area in their cooperative effort to undertake missions, evangelism, leadership and ministry support.

"I have the privilege of being in my association that I've been a part of for 20 years, and I'm blessed," said Blue, who stepped down in September after 20½ years leading Walker Baptist and 39 years in pastoral ministry. "It's the first time I've changed jobs that I didn't have to move somewhere."

The new position enables Blue to be a resource and consultant to pastors.

"I love pastors," said Blue, a Shreveport native. "When pastors have burdens, I'm there to be able to bear their burdens with them. They can come and share with me what's on their heart, knowing that it won't go any further, that I will pray for them."

Blue, 63, said his new role is a calling.

"It's been a blessing to me because I still get to be a pastor," he said. "I'm just doing it to about 50 to 65 people whether they be music ministers, associate pastors, youth directors or whatever. I'm able to minister to them because I understand where they are all coming from."

Blue said his experience with church administration, legal regulations, constitution and bylaws in addition to being a pastor has equipped him for the position.

"I am a pastor to the pastors. I am an adviser to the churches," he said. "I consult with them and advise them and do whatever I need to do to help them in a tight spot. … It's exciting to me."

Excitement may not have been Blue's first emotion.

"When you've been a pastor for as long I had been, it is a culture shock and a shift," he said.

As the pastor of a single church, Blue was the "go-to" guy and responsible for every family and everything that went on in the church.

"The night I walked out, I felt the burden of the responsibility fall off my shoulders for a church," he said.

The association was a different kind of burden, and an adjustment period was needed.

"Now my concern is for the health of all of the churches," he said. "My job is to help provide training and help provide direction. … I've been doing this for eight months now, and the first six months of this was a culture shock to me."

That adjustment has developed into a solid working relationship.

"Working with the churches, it has been a joy and a delight," Blue said.

Knowing that churches are independent has relieved some of the burden of responsibility, Blue said.

"I want them to succeed. I want to help them succeed," he said. "At the end of the day, it's their responsibility to take the ball and run."

Although the churches are independent, Blue said the Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association gives churches an opportunity to work as a unit.

"We do things together that we cannot do ourselves — because Baptists are independent-minded people," he said. "Yet, we know we need to do some things together. So the association is the place where we come together to cooperate with one another to do the work of the Lord."

Blue's work in ministry for the Lord started early. He followed his oldest brother in the preaching ministry after some hesitancy.

"That rubbed off on me," Blue said. "I guess watching my older brother was an influence on me, but somewhere along the line, the last thing I wanted to do was be a preacher."

After questions about following in his brother's footsteps, Blue sought an answer from God.

"From that point forward, the Lord began to steering me in that direction," he said.

It was at a prayer meeting with senior adult women at a housing project in Shreveport where Blue got his first real taste of ministry. His brother and father led the meetings before him.

"I got to cut my teeth preaching with about 20 ladies that were here in our church that loved on my brother and loved on my father. ... Then, all of sudden, I'm here doing it," Blue said. "God uses all ways to bring people around."

Blue went on to East Texas Baptist College to earn a degree in religion. At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he earned a master's of divinity degree in 1988 and a doctor of ministry degree in 1995.

At age 24, Blue's first pastorate assignment was at First Baptist Church of Castor, about 55 miles from Shreveport in Bienville Parish. He pastored three more churches before landing at Walker Baptist in 1998.

"I was looking for a church where I could make a long run, and the Lord provided me that opportunity," Blue said.

Even then as a pastor, Blue and others saw the potential for him to be a mission association leader.

"About three years ago, I really felt led by the Lord that I've got to do something," he said. "The church needed a younger pastor, and it was time for me to get out of the way so the church could go forward."

Blue moved forward and is enjoying the opportunity to serve pastors and churches and even continue to preach. He's visited 39 of the association's 45 churches in the past six months.

"I love it," he said. "I think God has put it in my heart to be able to do this. I have a call to do this."

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. To reach Terry Robinson, call (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.