FROM THE STATES: Two shifts in Georgia Baptist leadership; Crisis leads to openness for Alabama pastor
By Scott Barkley
DULUTH, Ga. (BP) -- Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond, Jr., has announced two high-level shifts in leadership, beginning June 1.
Mark Marshall, who currently serves as lead strategist in Church Strengthening, will move into the position of assistant executive director. Evangelism catalyst Levi Skipper will assume Marshall's position in the Church Strengthening leadership role.
The moves were approved by the Georgia Baptist Convention Administration Committee last week.
In an email to GBMB staff, Hammond explained how the need for Marshall's new role came about due to previous departures.
Marshall had originally been asked to consider the vacant assistant executive director position beginning in the fall of 2020. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however, the need for more immediate support on the executive level became apparent. Due to a current hiring freeze, Hammond noted, Skipper will continue to serve dual roles as Church Strengthening lead strategist and Evangelism catalyst.
A Georgia native, Marshall last year joined the Georgia Baptist Mission Board following a stint at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville and as pastor of The Glade Church in nearby Mt. Juliet, Tenn.
In his time at the GBMB, Marshall has worked in forming the five teams that make up Church Strengthening -- Discipleship, Evangelism, Missions, Next Gen, and Worship and Music. Skipper previously served as the longtime pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Clermont, Ga., and was a recognized leader in evangelism strategies before joining the GBMB last year.
"These personnel moves will allow us to continue serving our churches and strategically move forward during this pandemic," Hammond said. "They will also better position us to complete our teams once we emerge from this challenging time."
COVID-19 leads to Gospel conversations for Alabama pastor
BY Lauren Pratt
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP) -- In a season of social distancing, many believers are finding creative ways to engage the lost around them. Daniel Atkins, pastor of Taylor Road Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., is seeing firsthand how virtual conversations are leading to life-changing conversions.
Atkins, a 2011 alum of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), believes that one of the biggest lessons he's learned about evangelism during COVID-19 is that you have to make yourself available for these times. He learned this lesson firsthand this when a member of his church reached out to him about his fiancée, who lives far away and is not a believer.
He asked Atkins to share the Gospel with her via a three-way FaceTime call. As Atkins walked through the Gospel, the man who had grown up at Taylor Road suddenly realized he had been living a lie. That day, he and his fiancée were transformed by the Gospel and gave their lives to Christ.
That's not the only salvation story Atkins has witnessed in recent weeks. Another man called to tell him that after the church's virtual service one Sunday, he became overwhelmed by his need for Christ. In the privacy of his closet and through tears of repentance, he surrendered his life to Christ. It's stories like these that fuel Atkins in his preaching ministry and spur him on to minister to his community.
The coronavirus has certainly presented challenges for pastors and church staff as they navigate uncharted waters, moving to virtual small groups and church services.
"It's very discouraging some days, but it's worth it in the end," Atkins said.
Atkins and his staff have been calling each member at Taylor Road Baptist Church. But it's not just the staff who are reaching out. Atkins has been impressed by the way church members have cared for each other and for him and his family during this time.
"I've never been more loved at a church than I am here," he said. "I really feel that because it's not just [that] they're expecting me to call them. They're calling me and my wife to check on us and our kids. It's very reciprocal."
Moreover, giving among church members remains steady, including giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Cooperative Program.
The health of Taylor Road is striking considering the state of the church when Atkins came in 2016. Taylor Road had been experiencing a decade of financial and congregational decline, and Atkins was hesitant to accept the pastorate there.
"I'll never forget I was sitting in my old study at my old house in South Carolina, and I was wrestling with it, reading through the book of Joshua," Atkins recalled. "The Lord basically spoke to my heart and said, 'I'm going to do something at Taylor Road, and you can either hear about it up here, or you can be there to watch it firsthand.' For me, that was the confirmation."
During a time of uncertainty, the Lord continues to breathe life back into the congregation. The church is continuing to keep its office open from 8 a.m. to noon, conducting virtual home groups on Sunday evenings and broadcasting weekly sermons on public television. Broadcasting the sermons brings the potential for a much larger audience, which means opportunities for more people to hear the Gospel.
"You don't know where that seed's going to land," Atkins said. "And so we've been very intentional about doing an invitation even online and offering contact information to people who made a decision."
Atkins, who received his Master of Divinity at SEBTS, recalled how the seminary changed his outlook on the Great Commission.
"It gave me a more robust, Gospel worldview and an emphasis on the mission of God to all people in all places. That's why I'm so passionate about making the most of our online circumstance right now because you don't know where that Gospel is going."