Veteran Christian minister Tom Plank, 81, died April 1, 2023. Too often, the passing of a longtime servant of the Lord goes by with little mention. We are grateful that Nick Vipperman, who succeeded Tom as pastor of Galilee Christian Church in Jefferson, Ga., wrote to share his appreciation of Tom with us.
As described in his excellent obituary, Thomas Lee Plank was born in Salem, Mo., and, upon graduating from high school, moved to East Point, Ga., to pursue a degree in ministry at Atlanta Christian College (now called Point University).
At the end of his sophomore year in 1962, he was invited to supply preach at . . . Galilee Christian. It must have gone well because he was invited to return the following Sunday. At the conclusion of that service, Tom was asked by the elders to please step outside as they hosted a congregational meeting. A few minutes later, the elders emerged to say “congratulations, you’re our new preacher.” He accepted the offer, not realizing that he would dedicate the next 50 years of ministry there and experience a growing, thriving congregation here in Jefferson, Ga. . . . Tom [settled into] full-time [ministry] at Galilee in 1964.
As Tom Plank’s senior ministry with GCC was coming to a close just over a decade ago, the church underwent a two-year transition process. Nick Vipperman, Galilee Christian Church’s senior minister for the past 11 years, picks up the story . . .
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By Nick Vipperman
I co-preached alongside Tom from March 2012 till September 2012, when he officially retired. Tom stayed at our church at my request and he was a blessing to me and our church as a teacher and member until his passing [on April 1], 11 years after his retirement. . . .
There are many in our brotherhood who may not know Tom Plank, but he was the kind of man you would wish you had known. He earned his reputation as “The Bishop of Northeast Georgia”! He was a special leader and a special man. . . . Tom’s longevity and impact in northeast Georgia, and growing a little struggling country church into a large church with an even larger impact, shouldn’t go unappreciated.
Tom Plank—my good friend and mentor—was senior minister here at Galilee for 50 years (1962–2012). During that span, and over the last decade of his continued membership and service to Galilee Church, he impacted thousands of lives.
Tom was the consummate Bible teacher, preacher, and pastor. He was what professional baseball scouts would call a “five-tool player.” Tom could preach, teach, thrive at pastoral care, sing, and walk the walk and talk the talk. The Lord blessed him immensely with gifts and abilities, and he used what the Lord had given him to bless others.
Tom spent years pouring into other preachers in the area, working with Point University, helping to establish North Georgia Christian Camp, and serving at Bethshean Mexico Mission. He also buried or married within one degree of separation just about everyone in Jackson County! Tom and his wife Carol’s ministry at Galilee should be celebrated! . . .
When my family and I were considering our call to come to serve here, there was a good deal of hesitation to follow someone who’d been here for 50 years. Friends and family members, mentors, and ministry acquaintances all said, “Are you crazy? Don’t go there. It won’t last!” I explained to each of them, “I understand, I shared some of those same fears, but then I met Tom Plank. You don’t know the Tom I know.”
When my wife, Abbie, and I sat down for dinner with Tom on one of our visits down to the area, we both knew there was something special about this man. And most importantly, we could trust him.
Tom said to us, “I’m going to be your biggest cheerleader, and the worst thing I could ever do is meddle in your ministry. . . . I want to see you succeed, and I’ll support you in every way I can.”
Tom was a man of his word. I’ve never had a greater friend in ministry.
As I started my ministry at Galilee, Tom said to me, “I know that we are in the next big season of needed change [in our approach to ministry]. Every decade or so, I’ve had to lead those changes, [but] I’m not the right one to lead this next change; I believe you are!” This meant so much to me!
Tom and I shared a lot of meals, a lot of laughs, and some fun travels and services together. He and I officiated many funerals together through the years, and I loved to watch him work. I learned a lot just by watching and listening intently to him.
He took me down to the Bethshean Mexico Mission and invited me to sit on the mission board alongside him. Our travels and our leadership in this ministry were blessings to me.
He and I went to Bethshean and helped lay tiles in the medical clinic (which is now open and serving that community). Tom could no longer easily lift these heavy tiles, but he joked with me, “You have the knees for the job, and I have the knowledge.” He was right. Tom would tell me how to do it and we got it done!
I thought about Tom at our sunrise service on Easter morning. It was the first in approximately 62 years here at Galilee Church where Tom Plank wasn’t here to greet the sun.
Some of the best advice Tom ever gave me was to “not chase the next big thing.” Tom said this was a frustrating temptation for him during his early years of ministry. He eventually committed to “just stay up on this hill and do what the Lord tells me to do.” The Lord blessed this commitment immensely, and Galilee Christian has thrived because of it.
Tom was faithful to the Word of God and to his Savior. And while I’ll miss him immensely, I’m so glad he is now rejoicing with Jesus. I believe with all my heart he heard the words he so longed for, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
I’ll be forever proud that Tom was pleased with the newest chapter of Galilee Christian Church. He was proud of what we’ve continued to accomplish, and he had confidence the Lord was just getting started here . . . yes, even after 153 years, the Lord is just getting started!
I’ll miss my friend very much.
Nick Vipperman serves as senior minister with Galilee Christian Church, Jefferson, Ga.