By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The “pastor’s heart” in Kevin Ezell would not let him say no when Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville asked him to serve as their interim pastor.
The North American Mission Board president had intentionally not taken any interims after he joined NAMB in September of 2010 although he has filled the pulpit on occasion at First Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., where he is a member.
With as much traveling as he does for NAMB, he felt interims would put “too much wear and tear on his family.”
Yet, the offer from Long Hollow was one he had to consider.
Long Hollow lost their pastor David Landrith last November after his gallant fight with cancer.
During Landrith’s illness, Ezell occasionally filled Long Hollow’s pulpit so he was well aware of their situation after Landrith’s death.
On top of that, he considered Landrith one of his “closer”pastor friends.
“We go back a long way,” Ezell said, noting they both considered themselves “blue collar type pastors with a tinge of redneck. We had a lot in common,” he reflected.
Ezell believes it may have been in God’s plan for him to be available at Long Hollow in one sense.
A year ago Ezell felt he was traveling “too much” so he intentionally planned his schedule for this spring in order to be home more on weekends.
Ezell said he and his wife Lynette and their children prayed about the decision to accept the interim as a family.
“We felt it was the right thing to do, but not necessarily the easiest thing to do,” he recalled.
Since late last year Ezell normally drives to Hendersonville on Saturday evenings to get ready to preach four times on Sunday.
And, occasionally he does more. For example, he preached nine times during the Easter weekend.
Ezell stressed that his work with Long Hollow is done on his personal time, but that he is able to do a lot of business for NAMB (primarily by phone) as he travels back and forth on Saturdays and Monday mornings.
In addition, what he is doing at Long Hollow best fits his natural gifts, Ezell said. “I don’t have as much a love for preaching as I do for pastoring people,” he explained. “I love pastoring people. That’s really what I miss most.”
Taking it a step further, Ezell observed that “some guys pastor so they can preach. I like to preach so I can pastor.”
The NAMB leader readily admits “there are far better preaching options” for Long Hollow than him.
The opportunity to minister to a people who were hurting and to help them prepare for their eventual new pastor lures Ezell to Tennessee each week.
And pastoring is what the Long Hollow congregation needed after their beloved pastor died last year. Though they had walked with him and his family throughout the entire process, his death left a void, Ezell said. “Everybody loved David.”
From day one Ezell said he made it clear that the church would not forget its past but that it was time to move forward.
“We are going to appropriately appreciate the past and expectantly look toward the future,” he said.
He used this theme from day one and reminds them of it often. “We are going to walk through the valley but we are not going to wallow in it.”
Ezell said through his sermons he is attempting to help the church establish a “new normal” in order to help them move on.
He considers his primary task, in addition to helping guide them through the healing process, to prepare them for a new pastor.
He said he told them that he planned to preach the worst sermons that he could. “I’m trying to get them desperate for their new pastor,” he laughed. “They get a kick out of that.”
Seriously, Ezell believes the church is beginning to heal.
“There are no books on how a church goes through this type of grieving process,” he observed.
“But they have done extremely well.”
Jeff Lovingood, senior associate pastor for spiritual development at Long Hollow, agreed.
The church is walking through the grief process as well as could be expected, he observed.
It has been tough, he continued. “David was pastor here for 17 years. God is getting us through this. He is so faithful,” Lovingood acknowledged.
Lovingood noted that God has worked through people like Ezell in a “huge way.”
The Long Hollow minister credits Ezell for his role in helping the church to heal.
“His giftedness and transparency have been huge in helping the church get through this grieving process,” he noted.