OUR 20TH PASTOR’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY

        

REFLECTIONS FROM A DEACON
Frank is my brother in Christ and Pastor, but most of all I’m proud to call him my friend. First, some history:

On April 3, 1996, the Church appointed a ten-member Pastor Search Committee to nominate the 20th pastor of our church.

This was a wonderful group. We worked together for almost 18 months. Those remaining with us are: Dr. Norma Baker Gabhart, Mary Lea Roselle, David Miller, and me.  Bob York and Vern Powers have gone on to be with the Lord. Cathy Duffy, Judy French, Ellen Oldacre (now Dunn), and Marvin Schoenecke have moved away.

On September 21, 1997, the committee brought a unanimous and enthusiastic recommendation that Frank be called as Pastor.

But, when we started the process 18 months earlier, the committee was anything but unanimous. The Church had appointed a Pastor Search committee that represented all aspects of church life and opinion on how the Church should move forward.

In any Pastor search, there are important issues that have to be addressed—such as theology, the role of the Pastor, leadership style, finances, and so on. But at this particular time, there were two additional issues that loomed large over the process. First was the denominational war between moderates and conservatives that was then playing out in its final stages. Our Church had managed to not allow it to divert us. Second was the so called “worship wars” playing out in evangelical churches around the country. This was a real issue for us, and there were strong opinions on all sides.

Someone once asked Harold Smith and me how we would characterize our Church. Our answer: “We have one of everything.”  After only a few Pastor Search committee meetings, I realized that finding someone who could navigate these issues would be a tall order. I concluded that if the committee ever came to the place that we could all agree on one candidate, we would know it was the Lord’s leading, because it would be a miracle. So, the process went on. By the time it was over, we had considered over 170 potential candidates.

Early on, several Church members who attended the Gathering, the contemporary service meeting here in Fellowship Hall, suggested that we look at the young supply preacher preaching most Sundays there. That was Frank Lewis. He had come from Green Valley Baptist Church in Las Vegas, which he had grown from 16 to 850 Members, to the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway).  The Gathering was doing well and Frank was well liked. But, how could a hot shot young preacher from Vegas majoring in contemporary worship style be the Pastor here? The idea met some resistance—strong resistance. And, it met resistance from Frank as well. I called him and asked if he would consent to putting his name up for consideration. He gave me a cordial, “No thanks,” so we moved on.

Over time though, the committee members got to know Frank and Frank got to know First Baptist. And a miracle did occur. The committee member most in opposition, without any request or conversation about the matter, requested that we ask Frank to reconsider. I was shocked! The entire committee came together, independent of any pressure, politicking or requests from anyone. My private conclusion that this is how we would know the Lord’s leading, had been fulfilled. There was no question about it. The committee instructed me to call Frank and ask him to reconsider. I did, and he allowed us to move forward with him as our candidate. The Church voted overwhelmingly in secret ballot on Sunday, September 28, 1997, to call Frank as our 20th Pastor.

What kind of man did we call 20 years ago? Here’s what 20 years of experience with Pastor Frank has shown me:

  • He is a peacemaker. He is able to navigate difficult issues without drawing lines. He exemplifies and upholds the truth of God’s Word without using it as a club.
  • He is unselfish and an excellent teacher. His ego does not get in the way of what is needed. You see this in how easily he and Brandon share the pulpits in our services and work week in and week out together to give a consistent Biblical message. I’ve seen this close up in the CLC group with 12 men Frank and I led. I’ve seen this in the mentoring and witnessing relationships Frank has intentionally developed over the past 20 years that most will never know about. But, it’s a part of who he is.
  • He is forgiving and doesn’t play favorites. You can be for him or against him and it makes no difference. He is your Pastor no matter what.
  • He is a devoted family man who loves his wife, children and grandchildren. We’ve seen this in good times. We’ve seen this in adversity. He has been open with us about his family’s difficulties and has given hope to many who face similar situations.
  • He’s a respected leader in the Downtown Community. My law partner George Crawford is past Chairman of the Downtown Partnership and is still heavily involved. Every meeting he comes back and tells me about something Frank did or said there.
  • He is tough without being hard. Those of you in vocational ministry know that the pastorate is not for the faint of heart. It’s a tough business and is only for the called. Frank Lewis knows this and he is tough. I’ve seen him stand up to pressure, time and time again, without backing down or giving in. Yet he does this with grace and gentleness.
  • Kids love him and he loves kids. Is there anyone better at baby dedications? Or at counseling children on making a profession of faith? Stand out in the foyer at the Pastor’s Reception, and you will see how open he is to children, as they are to him.
  • If you lose a loved one, you want Pastor Frank. Is there anyone more empathetic, who understands better, who knows more the right thing to say and how to express the hope of the Gospel, than Pastor Frank?  I am thankful he was there for my family in the loss of my father and my uncle Bob. I know many of you have the same testimony.
  • If there is a marriage or a family issue, you want Pastor Frank. Many in and out of our Church owe a great debt of gratitude to Pastor Frank’s counsel and guidance in difficult family situations.
  • He preaches the Bible as the inspired Word of God with conviction and compassion. There are preachers who preach with conviction and there are preachers who preach with compassion—but the truth demands both. We are fortunate to have a Pastor who presents the uncompromising truth of Scripture with the compassion of Christ.
  • He is a student of the Word. He values rightly dividing the Word of Truth. When we called him, the Church said this was the main thing we wanted him to do, and he does it.
  • He loves First Baptist Church and always puts her interests first and foremost. A Pastor who loves his Church is a wonderful thing. He does and we are fortunate.

Last month, your Deacon Chair, David Clay, testified in Deacons Meeting that he is optimistic and upbeat about things in our Church.  So Am I. David is Right!

  • We are reaching young adults and young families. Look in on the third and fourth floors of the South Building on Sunday mornings if you don’t believe me.
  • We are engaged in more mission endeavors outside the Church than in any other time in my 39 years here, probably in the history of the Church.
  • Numberswise, our Sanctuary Service is holding its own. Fellowship on Broadway is maxed out, and growth is limited only by its space.
  • We have strong children’s, youth and choir ministries.
  • Our annual budget giving has tracked or exceeded Budget for several years now. Our Budget giving is stronger consistently than at any time in my 39 years at the Church.
  • Our designated and estate giving is unprecedented. On top of this, the extra blessing of the parking revenue is an amazing thing.
  • We have the leadership and resources in place to build the new building to help position the Church for the long haul here at Seventh and Broad.
  • We have the Pastor and staff to lead us confidently into the next century of church life and ministry.

Are there challenges? Sure: traffic, congestion, high land values, passing of long time members. But there have always been challenges, and we are called to be here at the heart of the City.

Frank, thank you for 20 years of Ministry as our 20th Pastor. I echo the words of our Pastor of generations ago, Dr. W.F. Powell:

The Past is Prologue,
The Present is Unparalleled,
And the Future is as bright as our Faith in God.

Wesley D. Turner
Deacon