By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
LAFAYETTE — When Johnny Beaver moved to Tennessee several years ago, he thought he would never serve as pastor of a church again. God had other plans.
Beaver readily acknowledges that he and his wife moved to Tennessee from Pascagoula, Miss., to rebuild their life and marriage. He was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Pascagoula when Hurricane Katrina struck. He lost his home and watched as people in his congregation struggled to recover.
“I thought I was done,” he said.
But in 2009 Beaver began filling in for G.B. Howell who was then interim pastor at West Lafayette Baptist Church in Lafayette. The church had been without a pastor for quite a while and each time Beaver preached the crowd was smaller. “I was approached by several in the church that the church was about to vote to disband,” he recalled. “My wife (Candie) spoke and we concluded that we could not let a church die,” he added.
Beaver accepted the call from the church and in the beginning he also led worship and Candie played the piano. “The people at West Lafayette were tired,” Beaver recalled. “Some of those families had already visited other churches thinking that the church was about to close. What they needed was a little vision,” Beaver said.
When he accepted the call, the church, a former church plant of First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, had about 20 people left. “The first thing we did was reconstitute the church,” Beaver said, noting they cleared the roll and brought everyone through a membership class where they discussed mission and vision. “Everyone signed a church covenant,” Beaver said.
He noted the members voted to change its name to Calvary Baptist Church. “The one thing that we had in the beginning was a very good core group. The people that were still at West Lafayette were gems,” Beaver said.
He noted the congregation began to slowly grow until it was averaging about 75 people every Sunday. Space soon became an issue and an attempt to purchase another building failed. “We were in a pickle for space but knew that we probably were going to have to purchase land and build a church,” the pastor said.
In June of 2013, Chris Davis, then interim pastor of New Life Baptist Church, located between Lafayette and Red Boiling Springs, approached Calvary Baptist about the possibility of a merger.
New Life had been a strong congregation that was begun about 20 years ago by pastor Randy Roper who is now director of missions for Big Emory Baptist Association, based in Harriman. In recent years the church had fallen on hard times.
“We had people and a pastor and they had a building that they were struggling to maintain,” Beaver recalled. “They agreed to essentially die and come through our membership class to become members of Calvary Baptist.
“It couldn’t have gone smoother,” Beaver said of the merger. He noted that New Life did not have any debt and that a missions team from Ohio came and helped make repairs to the building.
By January of last year the church had grown to about 135 in worship and decided to call Beaver full time. He had been serving as a bivocational pastor up to that point. “We haven’t looked back,” said Beaver who also serves as a chaplain for the Tennessee Highway Patrol and is moderator of Bledsoe Baptist Association, based in Gallatin.
The church is now averaging around 200 each week. The church set a goal of 30 baptisms in 2017 and to date has 13. The church is rethinking how it will do ministry due to space issues again. “Thinking we would have plenty of room in a sanctuary that seats 240, we are now pressed for room once again,” Beaver said, noting there is a strong likelihood that the church will go to two services.
Mike Pennington, director of missions for Bledsoe Baptist Association, said it is amazing what God has done at Calvary Baptist. “It’s a great story of church revitalization and a church having a vision to do something new,” Pennington observed.
What makes their growth so impressive, he continued, is that the church is not located in an area where large subdivisions are being constructed. “You have to drive to get to Calvary,” he said.
Pennington said the merger has been successful thanks to Beaver’s leadership and the fact that he “inherited” some good members from New Life to go along with those already at Calvary. “They melded really well,” the DOM noted.
He also observed that the church began to do different things in order to reach the community, including the food distribution in the summer to needy families (see story on page 1). “They are really ministering in the community. It has made a huge difference,” Pennington said.
Beaver is appreciative of Pennington and the association. “Mike and the association have been invaluable partners helping us get on our feet when things were down.”
Beaver described Calvary Baptist as a story “about God’s goodness and grace.
“I honestly didn’t think I would pastor again. God has been good to me and my family. He has been good to my church. Our story is certainly not about a great pastor. This pastor had great people around him every step of the way.
“God has been good to us.”