First Baptist Church launches search to call a new pastor

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 1, 2004

The Rev. Dr. John Fain has left First Baptist Church, Selma, to take a call as pastor of First Baptist Church, Dothan. His last Sunday in the pulpit in Selma was Dec. 21 and his first Sunday in Dothan will be this Sunday, Jan.


How does a large and significant church such as First Baptist, which has approximately 1,200 confirmed members and an average Sunday worship attendance of 400, find a new senior pastor?

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Gordon Welch, minister of music began by pointing out that First Baptist will not be “hiring,” but instead “calling,” a new pastor. The distinction is critical, he said.

The pastor is not some kind of hired hand, but one who has been called by God to the office of pastor of a church. That call is made manifest in one’s sense of inner call, which is confirmed by the action of a church body.

In Baptist churches it is the congregation that elects the pastor, thereby confirming the pastor’s inner call from God.

Given the complex nature of transitions, ordinarily an interim period is observed, according to Welch, who has been at the church for 13 years.

First Baptist appointed a committee of three, led by Harold Speir, to make interim arrangements until a pulpit search committee can complete the search for the next pastor.

The very first thing the committee of three did, Welch said, was to line up pulpit supply preachers for the month of January. The Rev. Dr. Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s board of international missions, had been lined up for Sunday, Jan. 11, in advance of Fain’s announcement of his decision to move, so that Sunday was filled. That left three Sundays open.

After due consideration the committee decided to call back two former pastors during the first month of transition, pastors who had had positive experiences at the church and who could provide a good start-up for what could be a lengthy process of calling a new pastor. The two are Rev. Dr. Michael Brooks, now serving on the faculty of Judson College, to fill the pulpit on Jan. 4, and Dr. Henry Lyon who is living in Montgomery to do so Jan. 18 and 25.

After canvassing various possibilities for an interim, the committee hopes to have a candidate selected by mid-January, to begin Feb. 1.

In the meantime, a seven-member search committee for a new pastor headed by Deacon Larry Lewis, was put together by the Board of Deacons and affirmed by the congregation. The search committee consists of three women and four men and is very representative of the congregation, according to Welch. It will be this group’s first responsibility to determine what qualities are needed in the next pastor and then to commence a search. Welch said that congregations are often polled in this regard to get their input, though no plans have been announced. In addition, Welch said that there is focused prayer for the committee and the process all during the search.

The next step is for the committee to receive resumes from many sources, including the congregation itself and the expanded network of Baptist churches, pastors and leaders. It then begins to sift through the resumes received, looking for those candidates most likely to make a good fit according to the position description.

Contacts and reference checks are made and the list narrowed down until the committee believes that it has found the person that God has called to be the new pastor. That individual is brought to the church, meets the Board of Deacons and various individuals and groups in the congregation, preaches a sermon and then the congregation votes on whether or not to elect.

If the committee has done its work well, the vote will probably be nearly unanimous.

Welch described First Baptist as a very healthy congregation and he has no concern that a match made in heaven will not be forthcoming down the road.

Welch commended Associate Pastor Lee Tate, whose sermon last Sunday he described as upbeat and a call to the congregation to move forward, to stay in focus and to move forward together.

How long will the search for a new pastor take? Only the Lord knows, Welch said. He noted that another Baptist church in the area had been looking now for more than two years.

Welch said that he hoped First Baptist would not have to wait that long.

During the interim period, the interim pastor selected will preach on most Sundays and fulfill other responsibilities as assigned, including leading the existing staff.

First Baptist has three ministers who remain: Welch, associate pastor Lee Tate, who has served for three years, and Wes Patterson, minister to students and families, who has served 2 1/2 years.