The baton, or gavel, of leadership is being passed from Stan Berrong to Brady Howard at Glen Haven Baptist Church. GERALD HARRIS/Special
MCDONOUGH — When a Baptist church asks a pastor to resign or retire, the church generally forms a search team to begin the process of finding a successor to the departed spiritual leader. In most cases the search team is made up of the most respected laity in the church. Once in a great while, a search team is composed of some members who manipulated their way onto the team because they want to be in control and get someone who will satisfy their personal wants and concerns.
Godly search teams bathe their responsibilities in prayer and seek to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. They often seek wise counsel and the kind of training provided by Baptist associations or conventions. Search teams that fail to devote themselves continually to prayer and seek godly training are more likely to struggle in finding the pastor God has ordained to serve their church.
Glen Haven Baptist Church in McDonough has been in existence for almost three-quarters of a century and has never had a pastor search team and has never had to call an interim pastor.
The continuity of Glen Haven’s pastoral leadership and the seamless process by which the church has now called four pastors in 73 years has proven to be both effective and remarkable. The church’s policy for calling pastors has eliminated the need for pastor search teams and interim pastors.
Glen Haven was founded in Decatur in 1947 by Pastor Randy Hardeman and a small group of people from the area. James A. Wilson, former associate pastor at Glen Haven, wrote a “case study” on the church for his doctoral dissertation and commented, “Randy Hardeman served as pastor of Glen Haven for 36 years. Most churches go through a great turmoil when a pastor of great longevity steps down. When a man’s ministry spans an entire generation, the people begin to view him as larger than life. It is very difficult to find a new pastor who would be ‘worthy’ to follow in the footsteps of the man who had become the spiritual father of the church.”
Hardeman had a succession plan in mind long before he concluded his ministry at Glen Haven. During his first year as pastor, a 12-year-old boy started going to church there with his mother. That young boy was Ralph Easterwood. When Easterwood’s father died, Hardeman adopted the boy as his son in the faith. In 1967, the 32-year-old Easterwood became the associate pastor of Glen Haven.
As the years passed it became evident to the congregation that Easterwood would take over the reins of leadership at the church. In June, 1983, Hardeman announced his retirement and the next Sunday introduced Easterwood as the new pastor.
In his dissertation Wilson noted, “Pastor Hardeman became Pastor Emeritus and remained an important part of the church … The congregation watched as the Holy Spirit worked out the transfer of leadership … Ralph Easterwood became the unquestioned leader of the church.”
In 1971 Stan Berrong, a 17-year-old teenager, accepted Christ as his Savior at Glen Haven. After receiving his education at Lynchburg Baptist College (now Liberty University) and pastoring in Virginia and Florida, Easterwood called him in 1985 and asked him to come back home to Glen Haven. He taught Sunday School and worked for Eastern Airlines, on a construction job, and as a custodian for Glen Haven Christian School.
However, in 1986 Easterwood asked Berrong to serve as youth pastor, a position he held until 1996. Berrong recalled, “My first paycheck from Glen Haven was for cleaning the toilets at the school. I may be the only senior pastor in the country who started on a church staff by cleaning bathrooms.”
In 2007 Berrong became the co-pastor with Senior Pastor Easterwood before becoming senior pastor in August 2010. Once again, the transition was seamless and welcomed by the congregation. Easterwood remains in the church and teaches a Sunday School class that has as many as 200 in attendance on a typical Sunday morning. He is a gracious Christian gentleman and has been Berrong’s staunchest supporter.
After almost ten years as senior pastor with 34 years on staff, Berrong announced to the congregation on Jan. 26 that he would retire in August of this year. He also announced that Brady Howard, pastor of the church’s student ministry since 2011, would become the senior pastor. In addition Warren Green, who has been in the church since his salvation in 1978 and is currently pastor to families and young adults, would become the executive pastor.
When the announcement was made the congregation stood and registered their approval with a sustained applause. The unanimous and enthusiastic response of the congregation was first for Howard and Green; and a second thunderous applause was given for Berrong and his wife, Jacki, who has served for 13 years as the church office manager.
Howard grew up at Glen Haven. His parents led him to Christ when he was 8 years old. He sensed that God was calling him into the ministry at age 14 after hearing evangelist David Nassar preach at a Georgia Baptist Youth Evangelism Conference. Both of his grandfathers were pastors. Howard and his wife, Savannah, have two children, Beau and Adaline. Howard (as well as each of his three predecessors) met his wife at Glen Haven.
Berrong explained the current transition process thusly: “First Warren, Brady, and I were in communication and agreement that we should move forward with our succession plan. Prior to the announcement to the church on Jan. 26 we began the process of telling the pastoral staff what we planned to do and everyone was in agreement. On the next day we met with all the staff, communicated our plan to them, and all were in perfect accord. Then we met with our advisory board which includes our executive staff and the deacon chairman and vice chairman and two deacons at large.
“On Sunday, Jan. 19, we had our afternoon deacons meeting with all the deacons and informed them of my plan to retire and the new roles for Brady and Warren. They were in unqualified agreement.
“After we shared the plan with the deacons, we were prepared to provide the information to the congregation the following Sunday, Jan. 26 during the 10:30 worship service. That is when the church heard the succession plan and responded with a jubilant celebration. Then on the following Wednesday evening at our church conference the church had the opportunity to ask questions and vote on the proposal. There were no questions and no objections to the proposed staff changes. The vote was unanimous.”
Berrong stated, “I think the response of the congregation shows how much they trust us. With the help of the Holy Spirit we have tried to make wise decisions. We try to keep each other accountable so no one will mess up; and we have a process that makes sense for our church.
“Occasionally someone will ask us why our constitution and by-laws are somewhat different from most Baptist churches, and I try to politely tell them, ‘You came to join us; we didn’t come to join you.”
Brady Howard, 30, received his undergraduate degree at Luther Rice Seminary and is well on his way to completing his Master of Theology degree at Liberty University. He will assume the role of senior pastor upon Berrong’s official retirement in August. He readily admitted, “I was mentored and prepared for this role as pastor by Brother Stan.” It is obvious that these two men have a deep friendship and it is virtually inconceivable that there will ever be a breach in their relationship.
Berrong will also remain in the church and continue to teach his large and thriving Sunday School class and serve his new pastor with encouragement and wise counsel.
Glen Haven, a healthy, vibrant church, moved from Decatur to McDonough in 2002 with approximately 230 members. But the church has flourished in their new location. The Christian Index noted the church’s growth in November 2015 and published an article about the building of their new 1,600-seat worship center.
Glen Haven may have an unorthodox way of calling their pastors, but it surely works for them and they have never had a day without a senior pastor. And there has never been an interim period when churches often lose their focus and momentum.