THOMASTON — Spend a few minutes with Stephen Morgan and you’ll find out he’s a pastor serious about evangelism, passionate for teaching others to make their faith their own, and a fan of the phrase “Jiminy Cricket” when he gets excited.
All three of those were evident in a phone interview from a hospital bed – more on that in a moment – as he explained the recent increase in spiritual growth and attendance at Hendricks Baptist Church. A bivocational minister with a career in electrical and carpentry work, Morgan became pastor of Hendricks in September 2014 after a time of being the interim.
“A deacon at the church, Houston Story, was working for me painting a house,” says Morgan. “It was a Friday night when he said they’d just lost their pastor. Someone pointed at me and said I preached. I began to fill in the pulpit and eventually stayed.”
The connection was of a struggling church in need of a shepherd and a pastor who’d been looking for a church for 21 years, both in need of revival. Morgan had left another denomination over differences regarding evangelism and preached here and there, but never felt a calling to a specific congregation. That changed after occupying the pulpit at Hendricks.
He’d heard that at one point the church had six people meeting. There were around 30 when he started. This summer he baptized 12 people in the Flint River. Attendance is approaching 80 each week, with a goal of seeing the high 90s by Christmas, he adds.
There’s the figurative story of how the church got to the river, but also a physical one. “Miss Sherri, a church member who I call a 60-year-old teenager, mowed grass and killed rattlesnakes for us to have a place to stand on the bank,” Morgan laughs. “We had two pre-teens among those baptized. The rest were between 30-79.
“It was a fun time. We sang that song from ‘O Brother Where Art Thou.’ There were so many people gathered at that river back in the woods, we looked like a bootlegger’s convention.”
Using objects – even live ones – for lessons during worship isn’t out of the question. Once Morgan asked a friend to bring a hen to go with a sermon on how God wants to gather His people protectively under His wings. “Instead he brought a game hen – a breed of roosters known to fight. We kept it in the cage,” he remembers. “The next week someone asked me if I was going to bring snakes.”
Morgan adds that growth hasn’t been from people switching churches. “We’re seeing people who haven’t been to church in awhile and are rededicating their lives. One of those was a man who brought his whole family with him.
“People say we have something different here. I’m not polished, and they’re patient with me.”
Morgan admits he can be a bit of a workaholic, and that became evident yesterday after church. Driving home, he had time to tell his wife, Jennifer, he wasn’t feeling well before passing out at the wheel. She was able to pull the car over and call emergency services as well as friends. Around a dozen concerned church members beat the ambulance to the scene. The diagnosis was exhaustion, at least partly to blame on some previous health issues of Morgan.
As someone from a different denominational background, he’s excited about the cooperative possibilities he sees among Georgia Baptists. “I tell our people how through the association we can do more to spread the Gospel.”
Settling down over the need to preach and teach is tough, though. “I tell people that for 70% of them their Bible knowledge is here-say. You listen to your preacher or Sunday School teacher but don’t study it for yourself.
“We’re going to be worshipping and praising Jesus, but when someone asks us why we’re going to be ready to answer.”