The summer of 1989 found me approaching nine years of preaching for the Baldwin church in Milledgeville, Georgia. It was an excellent first full time work in many ways, opening doors to different opportunities for service in the kingdom, but challenges exist everywhere. By that time discouragement had taken me down to the point that I was trying to get out of full time preaching and into the chaplaincy with the Georgia Department of Corrections. With a little experience as a contract chaplain for the Rivers Correctional Institute, and being heavily involved in prison ministry, I felt that I at least had my foot in the door to move in that direction. I had just graduated from the Alabama Christian School of Religion (now, Amridge University) in Montgomery, Alabama with my Master of Arts degree. The next step was the M.Div. I had begun my first quarter of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in preparation for the chaplaincy when Brooks Boyd called saying that the church in Mabelvale, Arkansas was looking for a preacher. He asked if I might be interested in considering it. I said, “No. I’m trying to get out of preaching and into the chaplaincy.” I asked, “Where is Mabelvale, Arkansas, anyway?” He recommended that I send his dad my resume and a sermon tape. I reluctantly did so. Not long after that I received a call from Johnny Boyd and came to try out here on September 24th. I taught the auditorium class and preached for both the morning and evening services. The thing that most stuck in my mind was Roger Horton asking me if I had any “bad habits.” Only later did I learn that by “bad habits,” he meant hunting, fishing or playing golf, which according to Roger are good habits to have. I struck out on those.
As I recall, there was one other preacher to try out after me, and then the elders would be in touch. Toward the end of the summer my first unit of CPE was a real eye-opener. It made me question if a move into Clinical Chaplaincy was right for me. I was glad that I had accepted Brooks Boyd’s offer to contact the Mabelvale elders. By the middle of October I received a call from Dale Morris offering me the work. Thus began the transition to work with the Mabelvale church. Mabelvale was a congregation of about 240 at that time, a big change from working with a mission church of about 45 for nine years. On Wednesday, November 1st I said goodbye to the church in Milledgeville. Despite the discouragements we left a work that was good in so many different ways, but looking forward to new horizons. I came here on my own for a few weeks. I preached a gospel meeting with the church in Evans, Georgia (November 12-15) and then moved my family to Mabelvale.
This fall will mark my 30th year of preaching for the wonderful Mabelvale church. When I came to Mabelvale I had no idea of staying three decades, but I am so glad that the Lord has blessed me with such longevity here. Preachers and congregations have their own personalities, and it’s always nice when the two get along well. I have often thought that my association with the Mabelvale church has been a “good chemistry.” Whatever has worked well in my association here has compounded the blessings I feel have been mine. Admittedly, many advantages have been placed in my path by the benevolent hand of God Almighty! I have never had to deal with an undercurrent of discontent that typically spells a death sentence for the preacher. I have never had to deal with an eldership that actually worked against me rather than with me. I have never had to deal with a brother who has deep pockets and knows how to make things work his way. I have never had to deal with an eldership that tied my hands in the pulpit by telling me what to preach and what not to preach. I have never had to deal with a she-elder who actually wielded the authority that belongs to an eldership. On the other hand I did not come here with the know-it-all attitude of a preacher who is actually his own worst enemy. I did not try to tell the elders how to oversee the congregation. I did not come here with a chip on my shoulder saying, “If you like me it must be that I’m not doing my work.” I did not come here with the attitude that if things don’t work out for me that it must be that brethren “cannot handle the truth,” and count it as a notch in my gun if they fire me. Words cannot express my gratitude to God, to the Mabelvale overseers and the brethren here for the love, patience, endurance, encouragement, and support that has been shown to my family and me in the last thirty years!