By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRIENDSVILLE — Mention the name Charles Bailey in the Tennessee Baptist Convention and some people remember him as one of the primary leaders of Concerned Tennessee Baptists during the mid-1990s and early 2000s.
Concerned Tennessee Baptists was a conservative organization comprised of Baptists across the state concerned about what was happening in the state convention, primarily at the educational institutions. The organization, which helped elect a number of TBC presidents, eventually disbanded because of satisfaction with the direction the convention was headed.
Mention Bailey’s name at Laurel Bank Baptist Church here and everyone will remember him as a loving pastor and friend.
Bailey, 69, preached his last sermon at Laurel Bank on Sunday, July 24, as he stepped into retirement.
In an interview with the Baptist and Reflector on July 27, Bailey laughed that for the first time in about 40 years he was looking for a place to attend church for Wednesday night prayer meeting.
A native and lifelong resident of Blount County, Bailey served as pastor of Laurel Bank for nearly 26 years. His only other pastorate was Oak View Baptist in Walland where he served for about 13 years.
Though he was reared in church, Bailey did not begin preaching until his late 20s. Bailey’s first wife, Jane, died in 1975 leaving him with two small boys. He recalled that churches began asking him to speak and share his testimony. “God used that to deal with my heart about preaching,” he said.
Bailey later married his current wife of 40 years, Joann. “She has been my rock … the perfect pastor’s wife,” he said.
He has fond memories of Oak View. He began there as a bivocational pastor. A former high school teacher and coach, Bailey was the principal of Greenback School, a K-12 school. The church later called him full time and he led the church in building a new auditorium.
While at Laurel Bank, Bailey helped lead the church in constructing an educational building. “It’s a joy to watch a smaller church grow,” he observed. Laurel Bank averages around 100 people in Sunday School and worship, he estimated.
The congregation of Laurel Bank “is my family,” Bailey affirmed. He noted that in 25 years he spent a lot of time with members in both the happy and sad times, particularly when members were facing major illnesses or death. “That makes for a bond that will last a lifetime,” he affirmed.
He admits those situations “took a lot out of me, but I wouldn’t swap it for anything.”
Though he was active in the state convention and advocated for change, Bailey said most of his congregation did not know of his involvement. “When I got to the church I was there to preach,” he said.
Over the years, health issues forced him to cut back his involvement with CTB. Looking back Bailey feels he was “doing the right thing. I don’t regret anything except that some people took personal things that I didn’t mean to be personal,” he said, referring to the fact that CTB challenged positions of people on the convention’s boards and committees. The challenges were normally because the churches of those people challenged had multiple people on boards and committees, he shared.
Decades later, Bailey is pleased with the Tennessee Baptist Convention today. “If I played a part in anything I hope it was for the better,” he said.
Though he never served on the Executive Board of the TBC, Bailey is proud that his son, Lee Bailey, associate/executive pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville, currently serves on the Board. His other son, Jackson, is a Christian entertainer with Bean and Bailey.
What Bailey hopes most is that his two churches will remember that he tried to do what he promised when he accepted each pastorate.
“I told them that I was not a dynamic personality but I would promise to do two things: preach the Word and love the people.
“I feel like I kept my word,” he affirmed.