Church Hill pastor Gary Gerhardt retiring after 38 years of ministry
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
CHURCH HILL — Members of First Baptist Church, Church Hill, have heard their pastor Gary Gerhardt reference “the dash” for 38 years.
The “dash,” according to Gerhardt is the period of time represented by the dash on a tombstone between a person’s date of birth and death. In other words, the dash represents the individual’s life story.
Though the dash on his life is in the Lord’s hands, the dash on Gerhardt’s tenure at First Baptist is drawing to a close. He will retire on Aug. 29 after 38 years of ministry at the church.
In an interview with the Baptist and Reflector seven years ago, Gerhardt noted that he came to First Baptist fresh out of seminary. “If we were here for five years and I left with people who still loved us, I figured we would have been successful,” he said at the time.
Gerhardt has far exceeded those five years and he is still well loved and respected, according to members of the congregation.
“He has led with love, compassion and humor grounded in the Word of God,” observed longtime member Carol Junot.
During his 38-year tenure, the church has shown steady growth, even through last year’s pandemic.
Among the milestones of Gerhardt’s ministry at First Baptist are:
• Worship attendance has increased from 195 in 1993 to as high as 447.
• Sunday School attendance has increased from 163 to averaging 302, prior to the pandemic.
• Annie Armstrong Offering in 1983 was $420 and in 2021 was $9,178.
• Mother’s Day Offering in 1983 was $508 and in 2021 $15,076.
• Lottie Moon Offering in 1983 was $1,224 and in 2020 was $32,260.
• Cooperative Program giving has increased from $8,087in 1983 to $52,000 per year.
• Holston Valley Baptist Association giving is $23,000 per year.
• 646 baptisms during his tenure.
First Baptist’s strong support of missions is not surprising, according to Junot. “Bro. Gary has always promoted and supported mission opportunities for our church,” she said. “First Baptist has a heart for missions that is led and shared by our pastor,” she added.
Junot also noted that Gerhardt always has led by example. “He has never asked the church to do more than he was willing to do himself. Bro. Gary has been a servant leader to our congregation and our community.”
Steve Holt, church services director for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, is a longtime friend of Gerhardt.
“I have known Gary for 36 of his 38 years as the pastor of FBC. He is a friend, co-laborer and a role model for me as a pastor,” Holt said.
“He came to Church Hill when the church was at a low point and worked hard to foster a strong fellowship that is characterized by unity, consistency and effectiveness in fulfilling the Great Commission,” he observed.
Holt noted that Bob Dale wrote a book several years ago about what he called “perennial churches.”
Dale defined a perennial church as one that has grown and stayed vital for 25-30 years or more, Holt said.
“When you look at FBC, that church has grown numerically, expanded its facilities, sent out leaders to other churches and grew hundreds of healthy disciples throughout Gary’s tenure as pastor. The church has never experienced a significant decline in attendance in his 38 years, but has experienced several seasons of expansion and growth.
“However, what the congregation will remember about Gary is his caring heart and passion for the Lord and His church. They will remember his presence during the significant moments in their lives, both pleasant and painful. He is truly a ‘pastor.’ ”
Scott Gilbert, chairman of the personnel committee at FBC, is appreciative not only of Gerhardt’s ministry and love for the church, but also that Gerhardt has never sought credit or recognition,
“Bro. Gary has always been quick to point out that all of the credit for the accomplishments of the church goes to God and not to him. He reminds the congregation that First Baptist in Church Hill is God’s church and to never rest or rely on past achievements and to always focus on God and have a vision,” Gilbert said. B&R