By David Dawson
KNOXVILLE — Before any motions were made or any votes were taken, the tone and tenor were established for the annual meeting of Tennessee Baptists.
An estimated crowd of 2,000 people gathered at First Baptist Church, Concord — host of the 2019 Summit — on Sunday night for a “pre-convention” service of worship, praise and fellowship. Rick Barnes, head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, was the featured speaker.
It was the fourth year in which a worship service was held on Sunday night prior to the “official” start of the annual meeting. Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said the Sunday night gathering has become a “wonderful tradition.” Davis said the service — along with the “All Nations Worship Celebration” that is held each year at a separate venue (see related story HERE) — helps establish the spirit of unity that he hopes will permeate the convention.
The service at FBC Concord included praise and worship music, along with the presentation of the Eagle Award, which was given to the late John D. Wallace for the Kingdom impact he made during his lifetime.
The service concluded with a time of testimony from Barnes, who is now in his fifth season as head coach of the Tennessee men’s basketball team. Last season, Barnes guided the Volunteers through an historic season in which the team was ranked No. 1 in the nation for several weeks, won a share of the SEC regular-season championship and eventually advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Barnes said he regularly attended church throughout his childhood, but said he didn’t develop a personal, daily relationship with Jesus until about 15 years ago. He said the turning point in his life came when he had a conversation with his daughter that truly jarred him.
“Basically, she sat me down and said, ‘Dad, if you died today, you would go to hell,’” Barnes recalled.
Barnes, who was coaching at the University of Texas at the time, said his daughter’s words initially made him angry. But over time, he began to realize that she was right.
“I was living a lie,” said Barnes. “I was on the ‘fast track’ (in terms of his coaching career), but my priorities were not in place. I was living for all the wrong things.”
Barnes soon began attending church in Texas on a regular basis, and his life started to change. The coach said he started to develop a new relationship with Jesus, one that continues to grow stronger and stronger even now.
“Once Jesus Christ gets a hold of you, he’s not going to let go,” Barnes said, later adding: “(It’s about) abiding in Him … and sharing Him with others.”
Now firmly grounded in his faith, Barnes does not hesitate to share the gospel with his players, other coaches or anyone connected with the UT basketball program, past or present.
“I’ve reached the point that when people ask me what I do for a living, I don’t like to say I’m a basketball coach,” he said. “My real job is to tell people about Jesus.” Barnes added that being a basketball coach “is just a side job.”
While interviewing for the head coaching position at Tennessee, Barnes said he was very clear about his faith. “I told them that I am different coach (than I was earlier in my career) because my priorities have changed.”
Barnes has helped lead several players to Christ in recent years, and said he considers those moments to be “bigger than any win I’ve ever had” on the basketball court. “The (on-court) victories are fleeting,” he said.
Barnes said he encourages his fellow believers to “start every day in the Word” and he personally sets out each day to make an impact for Christ.
“I sometimes ask people — what do you want someone to say about you at your funeral?” Barnes said. “For me, I hope all they say is that he loved Jesus Christ.” B&R