By Lonnie Wilkey
CLEVELAND — In 2016 the average tenure of a Southern Baptist pastor was about six years, according to an article written by Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in March of 2017.
If that’s still the case a year later, Lake Walker is well above average. He might just be at the top of the chart.
On Sunday, Oct. 21, members of Bellefounte Baptist Church in Cleveland paid tribute to Walker, who has served the church as pastor since October of 1968 — yes, 50 years.
Walker, a native of McMinn County who was saved and called into the ministry after serving in the Air Force, served as an interim pastor for two years in nearby Athens before Bellefounte Baptist called him as their first full-time pastor. Previously, the church had “part-time” pastors.
Walker didn’t just show up and preach. He has led the church to grow significantly in the last 50 years.
In 1968 the church averaged about 50 in Sunday School. The church now averages about 120 in Sunday School and 200 or so in worship. The church’s budget has increased from $13,000 to more than $400,000 over the past 50 years, with inflation factored in.
Under his leadership, the church has given more than $682,000 through the Cooperative Program and the church’s total missions giving has exceeded $1,232,000.
In addition, more than 600 people were saved and baptized during the last 50 years.
The 80-year-old pastor gives all the credit to God and the members of Bellefounte Baptist Church.
“My 50 years here have been because of God’s grace,” he stressed. “Everything about my life has been about the grace of God in my life. He’s been extremely good to me.”
He is quick to give credit to his wife Sue and their three children and 12 grandchildren in addition to the staff he has served with and his congregation.
“I just felt this is where God wanted me to be. The people have been supportive. It doesn’t mean we have not had ups and downs, the fellowship has been good most of the time.”
Walker noted he “loves preaching and being a pastor.” Because of his tenure, he said the church members are like his immediate family. “I have married couples and (years later) I have married their children. That’s been a real joy.”
Walker’s tenure has not gone unnoticed in Bradley County or within the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Phil Taylor, director of missions for CrossNet Baptist Network, observed that Walker “is a dedicated man of God whose sermons are dictated by the Holy Spirit.
In addition, “pastors like Lake Walker serve as an excellent example of commitment for younger pastors,” Taylor said. “Lake has seen as many challenges as anyone and he readily credits the answered prayers of many, many faithful people that have brought him through five decades at Bellefounte.”
Taylor also cited the church’s support of cooperative missions. “It has always been his passion to lead a Great Commission giving church,” he observed.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, acknowledged Walker’s accomplishment in a letter that was read during the celebration. “We are thankful for you and the incredible work accomplished as you have planted your life in that great church. I pray that God will continue to bless you, your ministry, and Bellefounte Baptist Church.”
Walker acknowledged that he has “slowed down some,” but noted his health is still good. “I plan to keep preaching as long as I am able,” he affirmed.
“The Lord has really been good to me,” he added.
Church member and deacon Lawrence Cotton agreed. “God has blessed him. The older that he gets, the more determined he is to preach the gospel message and to be faithful to it and the integrity of the Scriptures,” Cotton said. B&R