By Randy C. Davis
President and executive director, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
Not all classrooms have four walls and desks. Sometimes they have steering wheels and fabric seats. And not all professors carry gradebooks and give tests. Sometimes they are kindly pastors full of wisdom and practical advice.
Both are invaluable, but I definitely needed a Dr. Fred Wolfe.
The long-standing influence of Fred Wolfe on my life is immeasurable. Brother Fred, as he was affectionately known, was a longtime pastor of Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. He was quite a bit older than me, a real character and a lot of fun to be around. Cottage Hill was what we would today call a mega-church with several thousand in attendance on any given Sunday.
The first two churches I pastored averaged less than 100 when I became their pastor. One of those was about an hour away from Mobile.
Back then, churches all over the Gulf Coast wanted Bro. Fred to preach for them on Monday and Tuesday nights (because he never missed Sunday or Wednesdays at Cottage Hill).
I volunteered to drive Bro. Fred to those weekday appointments and spent hours with him in the car picking his brain, seeking his advice, and watching a man of deep character and biblical conviction live his life.
God knew that I desperately needed some coaches and mentors for the thousand things the seminary wasn’t going to teach me. Looking back, I realize Bro. Fred didn’t need me driving him as much as I needed Bro. Fred speaking into my life. And he knew that.
It never crossed my mind that a pastor of such a large church may have had better things to do than to pour his life into this young preacher.
And it wasn’t just me. There are dozens of men like me whose lives were shaped by Bro. Fred. He was our Paul, and we were his Timothys. His humility powered his desire to serve us.
His counsel continued for decades, and over the years I invited him to preach for me at the four churches I pastored.
Thirty years ago this spring, he recommended me to First Baptist Church of Morristown. Jeanne, our daughters, their children and I have been Tennesseans ever since.
Bro. Fred recently went home to heaven. I miss him.
Tennessee Baptists are fortunate to have several Bro. Freds pastoring large-member churches across our state. I have found it true that most mega-church pastors have the same kind of mentor’s heart as Bro. Fred.
In the years just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 118 of the churches in the Tennessee Baptist Convention averaged more than 500 in weekly worship attendance; 22 of those had an average weekly worship attendance of 1,000 or more; and 18 had an average worship attendance of 2,000 or more. That’s only 158 of our 3,200 TBC churches. Mega churches are anomalies.
Being the pastor of any-sized church will be lonely at times. Pastors can experience decision-fatigue like any leader. While I believe Satan has placed a target on every pastor, it appears the more prominent, well-known and influential the pastor the bigger the target is to bring him down and embarrass Jesus Christ. That is why every pastor needs prayer warriors, Barnabas-like encouragers, and Nathan-like accountability partners around him.
A couple weeks ago I wrote a column titled, “Pastor at ‘Crossroads,’ Thank You.” (baptistandreflector.org/pastor-at-crossroads-thank-you/).
It was a word of gratitude for Tennessee pastors ministering in over 95 percent of our churches; churches with smaller memberships.
But now a word of gratitude to our large-church pastors.
• Thank you for preaching the word of God with compassion and conviction.
• Thank you for modeling the right priorities of the Master, in your marriages, families and ministries.
• Thank you for your availability to your staffs, church members and community; and also to your fellow pastors who you encourage, advise and mentor.
• Thank you for your financial generosity to Kingdom ministries, especially through the Cooperative Program and Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
• Thank you for your willingness to help when I, TBMB staff or your Associational Missions Strategist, calls with a request that involves your time, energy and influence.
• Thank you for going the extra mile to guard your hearts and your reputations as you are keenly aware of the glass houses in which you reside.
• Thank you for being there when Christ followers need to stand shoulder to shoulder to counter the latest cultural challenge or to seize the next Great Commission opportunity.
Brothers, you make me proud to support your ministries and call you friends. Know that you are appreciated and prayed for. It’s been quite a ride the past decade-plus as TBMB executive director, and I can truly say it is a joy to be on this journey with you. B&R