Today, December 11, 2018, marks my 10th year as a Pastor at First Baptist Church Oloh. On Wednesday, December 10, 2008, I was voted in as the new Youth Pastor. As my previous place of employment was aware of my transition, I began my new post on December 11, 2008. On my first day, we were graced with a snow storm, one of which resulted in a power outage at the church. My dad said, “When Andy took a church job, all of Hattiesburg froze over.” He had a point, given my eclectic background before God radically transformed my life.
Nonetheless, the last 10 years have been full of transitions. When I arrived at FBC Oloh, it was only Elizabeth and I. Having suffered our first miscarriage just a couple of months before, we were anticipating starting a family soon. With that being the case, 10 months after we arrived at the church, our first child was born, Ava. This was a monumental moment in our lives and this church family occupied a tremendous role in this moment.
So here we were, young, inexperienced, new parents, still working my way through college, and everything in between. I was 21 years old when I was hired to be the Youth Pastor. I can assure you of this, if I were in the position that I am in now and I showed up to apply for the position 10 years ago, I would turn myself away. But James Moore, who had previously been my college pastor and then the Sr. Pastor at FBC Oloh, took a chance on me. As I began my time, I was just trying to figure it out.
I learned a lot during those first few years. I learned a lot about teenagers, the parents of teenagers, and myself. I did a lot of foolish things, said a lot of foolish things, and think to myself quite often, “what in the world was I thinking?” But I loved the students that had been entrusted to me. The Lord blessed our endeavors and I built relationships with students that I still maintain today. I walked with students through numerous issues that they would face: death, parents divorce, emotional battles, mental battles, spiritual battles, anger, bitterness, physical violence; you name it, Elizabeth and I walked through it with these students. It was very difficult, but I would do it all over again if I had to. I loved those students, and I still do.
During this time, I also began to build flourishing relationships with the people of the church. I began to get to know them, and they began to know me. I began to trust them, and in turn they began to trust me. We laughed together, cried together, and gathered around God’s Word together. At the time, I did not fully understand the value of these relationships.
As time went on, James Moore left FBC Oloh to take a pastorate in Texas. This happened in April 2011. At the time, we had three full-time staff members, so our worship pastor and myself were left to continue shepherding the flock. It was after James’s departure in which the church saw fit, and I pursued, occupying the position of interim Pastor as we began to search for a new Sr. Pastor. This meant that I would continue with my regular endeavors, with the added obligation of preaching on Sunday’s. This is where my life began to transition. As I began to preach on Sunday’s and do most of the pastoral duties, I found a great sense of fulfillmnet and pleasure in this role. God began to shape me, mold me, and formulate within me the desire to Pastor to this degree, so I pursued it.
Low and behold, this became one of the most difficult years I had faced up to this point in my life. I began my Master degree in January of 2011, therefore I was Youth Pastor, Interim Pastor, and full-time Master’s student. This was a heavy load. Additionally, in fall of 2011 I was met with some struggles that were trying, difficult, and formative. On October 31, 2011, my friend and colleague, Coleman Nichols passed away suddenly. He was Youth Pastor at a church down the road and we had done weekly ministry together. This was gut-wrenching for myself, my students, and his students, many of whom gravitated in my direction for comfort. Secondly, a friend, fellow-member, and father to one of my student’s passed away. The circumstances were difficult. I was a pallbearer in his funeral. Thirdly, two weeks later a member and husband to the sweetest lady you will ever know, died of cancer. This was my first funeral to preach. Three weeks after this, my parents marriage ended. Two weeks later, our other full-time staff member resigned. Indeed, a difficult season in life.
The following spring, I asked the church for some help, I was at the end of my rope. At the time, we had someone come in a preach twice per month and I would cover the other two Sundays until we eventually hired another interim who was there 2 months before we hired another Sr. Pastor. I applied and interviewed with the Pastor Search Committee to be the next Sr. Pastor, but they chose another individual. I was disappointed at the time. But I trust in the sovereignty of God, and I trusted every person on that committee and I was perfectly supportive of the decision they had made. Looking back now, I definitely was not ready.
Our next Sr. Pastor took the reigns, my job title changed to Associate Pastor, and I was back to my normal duties with our students with a few other added responsibilities. It was business as usual. But I still had that desire within my to shepherd the flock of God in the capacity that I had as the interim. With this being the case, I had a difficult time transitioning back to full-time student ministry.
Nonetheless, over the next two years I learned. I learned about myself, ministry, and life. During 2014, I began looking for another job. Things weren’t as I wished they would be, I was struggling with a few things at the church, and I was unsure about my future. However, even in my searching, I never had peace. I was offered different ministry positions, and turned them down because Elizabeth and I did not have peace about taking them. Then, after a few events, I became the Sr. Pastor at FBC Oloh in March 2015. When I was named the Interim, my first Sunday to preach in that position was Easter Sunday. Four years later, when I was named Sr. Pastor, my first Sunday to preach in that position was Easter Sunday.
During these last ten years, there have been many struggles. I have had many spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical battles. I have heard things that I never thought I would hear, and I have said things that I am ashamed of. I have received criticisms that I would have never expected, and I have made some decisions that were equally unwise. I have practically grown up at this church. My wife and I have welcomed three children that know of no other church family other than FBC Oloh. I finished my college degree, master degree, and now working through my PhD.
But here is what I know, this place and these people are some of the best people that I know. Over ten years of labor, mistakes, victories, failures, funerals, births, graduations, and every other event you can think of, these people became my family. In July, I did 3 funerals in 6 days. Two were church members, one was my grandmothers. I drove over 2000 miles over these 6 days between Mississippi and Georgia. During this difficult week, one thing that I told Elizabeth was how much more difficult is has become to do funerals for people in our church. I told her it was because they have become family over the last ten years. Burying friends and family is a difficult thing, and the longer we are here, the more difficult it is becoming.
A pastor cannot form the relationships that I have with this church family when they hop from church to church every 4-5 years. Not only have these people seen to it that I grew up as a Pastor, they have loved me through some of the most difficult events in my life. They have been there for me at times when no one else was, and they have always reiterated their love for my family. They are my family and I love them.
Together we have been exhorted, corrected, and encouraged by the preaching of the Word, and it has called us to make some hard and unpopular decisions, yet this church family has stood side by side with me as we plant our lives upon the inspired Word of God. In the face of criticism, in the face of hardship, in the face of tribulation, this church family has said that we are going to stand upon the Word of God no matter the cost. There are no words to describe the affection I share for these people. We do not always see eye-to-eye, but that is okay. Every family does not agree on everything. But at the end of the day, there is a mutual love that cannot be experienced from a worldly perspective. The patience that they have had with me at times is overwhelming. The continued blessing that they have been, cannot be expressed. I love them dearly.
These last ten years have been the most challenging, yet most rewarding, years of my life. I look forward to many more with this faith family.