Tabernacle and First Baptist: Pastors Wanted

Cartersville’s two largest Southern Baptist Churches are facing the same problem at the same time. Both are in need of a new pastor. In September, Pastor Jeremy Morton left First Baptist Cartersville (FBC) to become the “co-pastor” of First Baptist Woodstock, an SBC flagship megachurch in Cherokee County. From a standpoint of salary, influence, and congregation size, it was an upward career move for the 36-year-old pastor. Morton had served at FBC for 5 years. Don Hattaway, the current pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church (TBC) and former President of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, announced this month that he was leaving to become the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Douglas in South Georgia. Unlike Morton, Hattaway is in the twilight of his career. After serving at TBC for almost seventeen years, he leaves Cartersville to serve a church closer to his family in his native South Georgia. His exit leaves a second lucrative professional pastoring opportunity in Cartersville. It is not hard to imagine that the pulpit committees and FBC and TBC will end up interviewing some the same candidates to replace their vacant pastorates.

Both Morton and Hattaway are products of the same small Georgia Baptist College, Brewton-Parker. They are also products of the same Southern Baptist Seminary, New Orleans Baptist. Both men left other Southern Baptist Churches to come to Cartersville. Both men are leaving their Cartersville Churches for new jobs at other Southern Baptist Churches. On the net, the Southern Baptist Convention (which is not a church and has no authority over its member congregations) is not losing any pastors in these transactions. Local Cartersville Churches, however, may come out on the losing end in trying to replace these men. Both Morton and Hattaway are fine preachers. During Morton’s time at FBC, the church’s attendance more than doubled. The church also raised over $3 million for a building project. During Hattaway’s time at Tabernacle, a financial campaign to move the church to a new location stalled, but a new education building was constructed and the church’s preschool has thrived.

The direction of the careers of these two men is not unlike those of professional athletes and coaches. The young and vigorous Morton has proven that he can grow a church and raise money. He’s essentially signed a big “free agent contract” with the New York Yankees of the Southern Baptist Convention. For him, the sky is the limit and the “smaller market team” he leaves behind is left looking to rebuild and replace. The older and experienced Hattaway has taken a “home town deal” to finish out the rest of his professional days. His old “ball club” is left looking for experienced leadership. The league plays on despite the differing successes of individual teams. Market trends like these are not optimal for “mid-market” ones like FBC and TBC. I suggest that both of these churches follow a different path in replacing their pastors. Continuing to play “Moneyball” with the pulpit is a losing proposition.

Both FBC and TBC are over 100 years old. Surely, in that time, the Lord has raised up men capable of pastoring the flock from within FBC and TBC themselves. For some reason, the trend in pastoral ministry over the last few years has been to hire “free agents” to come in from out of town and manage churches. When a pastor is such a free agent, he will almost always move to work for the highest bidder. Churches, especially smaller ones, set themselves up to lose any successful pastor they develop. Rarely do the Scott Frosts of the world not leave UCF for Nebraska. Optimally, churches should be pastored by church members, not hired men who only moved to town to take a job with the church.

“Senior pastor” does not need to be one man’s full time job. In fact “senior pastor” is an extrabiblical title. In New Testament times, elders were appointed in every city. They were not hired from denominational job lists. I suggest that the elders of FBC and TBC (I’m not sure that TBC has “elders” but all local churches should) look within to pastor the church. Rather than hire another free agent from the Southern Baptist Pool, these churches should use a plurality of elders to rule the church and shepherd the flock. Preaching responsibility can be shared between qualified local men who have existing roots in the church. Imagine what they could do to spread the gospel in Cartersville if 40%-60% of their revenues weren’t tied up in paying staff pastors and secretaries. Now is the time for both of these influential Cartersville churches to buck the trend of hiring external vision-castors and look from within for pastoral leadership. A multitude of educational resources exist to equip local elders who are already church members to take on teaching a preaching duties. Quite frankly, anyone who can’t already do this is not qualified to be an elder (“elder”, “pastor”, and “overseer” are different names for the same church office). FBC and TBC should, so to speak, promote from within. These churches should use the qualified men they already have to fill the pastoral office.

If such leadership cannot be found within churches who have been baptizing and proclaiming the gospel for over 100 years, exactly where can it be found?

*I would also suggest that both of these churches take this time to rethink their Cooperative Program giving. To my knowledge FBC and TBC give 6% and 8% of their general revenue, respectively, to the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program. This program is a bureaucratic waste that churches often neglect to question. For more information about the Cooperative Program, see my book the The Cooperative Program and the Road to Serfdom.

**Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.


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