By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
NEWPORT — Not many people leave a 36-year old, successful pastorate to begin a new ministry career at the age of 69, but that’s exactly what Mike Hensley did.
And, he has a simple explanation why he left Swannsylvania Baptist Church in Dandridge to become director of missions for East Tennessee Baptist Association, based in Newport.
“I prayed about it and began to feel a sense of peace that this is what God wanted me to do,” he affirmed.
Hensley began serving as interim DOM on Oct. 4 and served for 10 days before he was officially elected to the position during the annual meeting of the association on Oct. 14.
He succeeds longtime DOM and friend Horace Brown who died on Jan. 1 of this year at the age of 79.
“Horace did a great work here,” Hensley affirmed.
Hensley acknowledged he was approached several months ago about the position but initially felt it was not for him. After prayer and the encouragement of Christian friends he trusted, he began to feel the Lord leading him to make the move.
He said leaving the only church he has served as pastor was not easy, but he felt it also was “the time for new leadership at Swannsylvania Baptist.
Though the church hated to see him leave, Hensley said the church was supportive of his decision and felt “this was what God really wanted for my life.”
The church held a reception on Oct. 17 for Hensley and his wife, Lynne, who also was very supportive of his decision to transition into the DOM position. “She also had a sense of peace about the decision.”
He noted the new position will allow him to spend more time with his family while still offering him ample opportunities to preach in the association’s churches.
Hensley said his desire is to build on the foundation laid by Brown and those who preceded him.
The ministry is led by Julio Hernandez, pastor of The River of Living Water Baptist Church. The association holds a service for the migrant workers with a meal during the harvest season. This past year saw 18 commitments to Christ, Hensley said.
“Our churches have grabbed hold of this ministry,” he observed.
Hensley also hopes to lead churches in the association to adopt a local school to pray for and to support. “If we can get our churches and young people excited about Christ and sharing their faith, good things can happen,” he maintained.
The new DOM also would like to see the association become involved in ministry at local campgrounds and to reestablish a jail ministry in the association that was derailed by COVID-19.
And, speaking of COVID, Hensley said he wants to do all he can to encourage the association’s 37 churches and pastors. “The last 18 months have been tough,” he acknowledged. “Many of our pastors are discouraged. Several of our churches have not yet returned to their pre-COVID attendance.”
Hensley has a heart for the churches and a desire to see members return to services. “People need to realize how desperately we need each other,” he said.
Though he does not yet have a plan on how to get people to return to church, Hensley knows who does.
“God will show us what we need to do to revitalize our churches,” Hensley affirmed. B&R