JESUP – Josh Stafford is pastor of Anderson Drive Baptist Church in Jesup. His journey to the pulpit of the Wayne County church is far more than interesting; it’s remarkable.
Stafford was saved at age seven at Winterville First Baptist Church and rededicated his life to Christ as a young teenager. But at the age of 18 he felt the Holy Spirit calling him to preach.
Stafford commented, “After months of trying to live out my call as a senior in high school, I began to realize I was being alienated from my peers. Perhaps I was trying too hard or just had no idea what to do, but being rejected by your peers is not fun for a high school senior. So one day, I just said, ‘No thanks, God. I can’t do this. I don’ t want to do this.’
“I had enjoyed being invited to parties, being thought of as a great athlete, and having a large circle of friends. I wasn’t willing to lose my social status. This attitude began a downward spiral in my spiritual life for the next 16 years.
“I married my first wife at age 21. We made our home in the metropolitan Atlanta area for the next five years. I played the part of a Christian. I woke up on Sunday and went to church. I was a decent family man, but had dark secrets I had allowed to fester inside of me that I was too proud to confess.
“My wife worked during the day as a schoolteacher and I worked at night in the restaurant business and other odd jobs. We were almost never at home together. I ventured into places that I should have never gone and amassed large amounts of debt.
“We had two children together and they are the apples of my eye. However, our marriage ended in divorce as the result of continued sin. I remarried in 2007 to my wife, Elise. And, although we have had our failures in the past, we have been redeemed and restored by God and called to serve Him.”
Josh and Elise attended Ludowici’s First Baptist Church, where Josh connected with a great group of men and Pastor Eric Rentz. Josh said, “Eric is my age, full of enthusiasm, and has a great passion to see men know the Lord and grow in His grace.”
The Staffords then served under the leadership of pastor Jack Lee at Altamaha Baptist Church near Jesup. Josh stated, “Jack opened his arms and church to us. He welcomed us to serve God as we felt led by the Spirit. Jack was the first person to show me what it was like to truly love the unlovable by accepting us with so much understanding and grace. He continues to be a mentor to me to this day. Timothy had Paul: I have Jack Lee.
“On January 23, 2014 I was dining in a restaurant with a friend when I began to sense the presence of God and hear His still, small voice. It was the voice I heard 20 years earlier. But, I had hurt so many people including my parents, children, and wife. I questioned God, even argued with Him, but finally came to a point of surrender.”
Stafford was like Jacob wrestling with the angel at Peniel. He said, “God, I don’t know how you could ever use me, but I need the calluses of my heart to be peeled away. I need a heart broken over the things that break your heart. I need compassion for people. I need cleansing.”
No more running
Stafford made a list of things that needed to take place in his life and went to bed. When he got up the next morning he discovered God had given him a loathing for those things that had crippled his witness, heard his plea, delivered him, and answered every request. He stated, “It was as if God had miraculously delivered me from everything that was hindering my walk with Christ.
“I also told God that if He would do all I had asked Him to do for me that I would simply say ‘yes’ to any door that He chose to open before me. I knew that I had been running from God’s call to preach, so I began to study the Bible and prepare sermons. I didn’t know if I would ever be called to preach, but I wrote sermons and catalogued them by book, topic, and date. I began to get calls from churches to fill in for a Sunday or two here and there. I said, ‘Yes.’
“Then one day the phone stopped ringing. For six months it didn’t ring. But I kept preparing, studying, and remaining faithful to my calling.”
However, in late July 2015 Stafford received a call from Anderson Drive Baptist Church in Jesup to fill the pulpit for one Sunday. That one Sunday turned into several Sundays.
Loving, caring, praying
“We had been looking for a house in three counties and finally reached an agreement to buy a house on a Saturday afternoon,” Stafford explained. “The very next day, after the morning service, Elise told me, ‘You need to be prepared if they call you to be the pastor at Anderson Drive.’
“I told her she had lost her mind. However, that Sunday afternoon they did exactly what she predicted. Interestingly, the house we chose to buy is less than ten minutes from the church.
“I have been the pastor at Anderson Drive now for over a year. We have an old, small church; and my first impression wasn’t particularly favorable toward the church. But, honestly, we have the most loving, caring, and praying church you could ever imagine. We are experiencing spiritual growth and our people are busy for God. We have had 22 salvations so far in 2016. We are taking small steps – updating our logo, remodeling our facilities with the help of some mission-minded churches, and hosting a youth rally September 24. We are expecting 300-500 youth to come to the rally.
“I am so humbled to be in God’s service. I just ‘stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, the Nazarene, and wonder how He can love me a sinner condemned, unclean’. My Lord has just blown me away with His love and grace.”
Turn around, go to Jesus
Josh Stafford has been like a prodigal son who has returned to the Father and found His favor. To those who, like Josh, have been in the wilderness and run from God, Josh says, “God loves you! He may not love what you are doing in your life, but He loves you!
“His Word tells us that we are to ‘lay up treasures in heaven.’ The way we do that is by serving God.
“Stop on a dime. Turn back and run as hard and as fast as you can toward Jesus. He will be waiting with His arms wide open. And when you say ‘yes’, not even knowing what that response may require of you, when you fully and fearlessly trust in Jesus, your life will be more abundant and blessed than you have ever known.
“He will change your heart so you will desire godly things. Go to Him now! If you don’t know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, do not waste another minute, but turn to Him. The price of failing to do so is too costly and the reward of finding His forgiveness and peace is too great.”