Holston Baptist pastors lead revival online
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
JOHNSON CITY — What began as a conversation to discuss reopening churches in northeast Tennessee has turned into perhaps a month-long revival.
“The revival vision was birthed out of a Zoom meeting of Holston Baptist Association pastors to discuss everyone’s thoughts and plans about ‘going back to church,’ ” said Craig Ponder, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church, Limestone.
He noted that as they discussed topics such as timetables, worship models, drive-in church and other factors in resuming in-person services, “the more the conversation began to lead towards one broad-sounding theme — revival,” Ponder said.
Lester Morelock, pastor of First Baptist Church, Jonesborough, agreed, noting that “people are looking for answers to recent events.” He recalled a statement made by professor and pastor Howard Hendricks who observed, “In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering.”
“In my heart, I know that the pastors in Holston Baptist Association are not stuttering and I felt sure they would support an online revival. When I mentioned the revival the response was immediate,” he said.
Rich Murray, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church, Johnson City, added that the idea of revival began to stir in the hearts of several other pastors as well. “Rather than choosing to see this pandemic as a curse we thought that it was an opportunity to minister to hurting and confused people,” he added.
“We didn’t let it stir long before we decided to start filming (the sermons). If we did not move quickly, we were afraid when all was said and done, there would be more ‘said’ than there was ‘done.’ ”
Murray noted the desire of the group was to include as many pastors and churches as possible.
“We did not want this to be about a single pastor or a single church,” he said. “We believe that God has called the pastors in our churches to preach the gospel and this is an opportunity for them to do that, maybe to a bigger audience than they have ever had.”
Pete Tackett, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, Johnson City, observed that the format may strengthen relationships in the association.
“Seemingly, we have all grown too busy to work much together and we certainly never get to listen to each other preach. Plus, we felt that some of our outlying pastors and some in smaller churches are gifted men and that our people should hear from them.”
Ponder added that some of the association’s churches have a limited online presence and limited streaming capacity.
“We saw this as an opportunity to spotlight some of our sister churches and pastors while, at the same time, drawing people both inside and out together in one place and one time, hearing one message.”
So far, the messages have been both encouraging to members as they deal with the pandemic and evangelistic as well.
“We have given the preachers a lot of latitude in that, but so far, it seems geared toward typical revival preaching with a message for the lost but also a call to believers. A common theme this first week has been hope,” Murray observed.
Ponder added that “as with any revival we’ve ever hosted at our churches or preached as a visiting evangelist, we’re simply asking the Holy Spirit to lead each preacher and that the message would be heard by those who need it most.”
The revivals are being filmed at various host churches and include an introduction, music and a message. The first message aired on Facebook and YouTube on May 4 and reached 1,850 people with more than 1,000 views, according to Jeremy Carlson, director of communications for HBA. Each video includes opportunities for viewer response including decisions for Christ, Carlson said, adding that someone will follow up on decisions.
While associational leaders are pleased with the number who viewed the first message (which was delivered by Morelock), that’s not what is ultimately important.
“We are trying to avoid being concerned about the number of views, hits, engagements and such,” Tackett said.
“We believe that it is worth the effort if one person finds hope, healing or heaven as a result of stumbling across it,” he said.
Ponder noted that due to social media platforms, the gospel is more readily available to the masses than ever before. I believe we’re going to hear stories of people ‘stumbling across’ the gospel and being saved much like we used to hear about people listening to old-time radio broadcasts or reading Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms.
“God alone knows just what kind of harvest is in store if we remain faithful to our calling to win the lost at any cost,” Ponder said.
All of the pastors agreed that they want to see Jesus Christ exalted during the revivals and for people to be saved and that the church will be encouraged during the difficult days of COVID-19. It’s basically what every pastor wants to see all the time, Morelock observed. “We want to see people saved, encouraged, challenged, surrendering, and, in turn, ministering to others,” he added.
“Our prayer is that this is only the beginning of a greater, grander revival,” Murray said. “Whether online or in person, we pray that we would see a great revival and a great awakening,” he continued.
Murray added that the Holston pastors would love to see other Baptist associations and other denominations in the state do similar services. “It just seems like there is no reason in letting a pandemic go to waste. Let’s glorify the Lord in the midst of it.”