Longtime First Baptist Vidalia Pastor Bucky Kennedy recently resigned to respond to God’s call into fulltime evangelism. Kennedy, who served as the president of the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2008-2009, has been a successful pastor and one of Georgia Baptists’ most effective preachers. This interview by Editor Gerald Harris highlights his response to God’s call and his transition from pastor to evangelist.
Index: Bucky, You have a profound sense of God’s call upon your life and you prepared yourself well to serve Christ as a minister. What is your educational background?
Kennedy: I am a graduate of Brewton-Parker College (Assoc. Psychology) and Georgia Southern College (B.S. Recreation). I also attended Mid-America Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN for two years.
Index: You have had a wonderful ministry in local Baptist churches. I know you served in several staff positions in Georgia and Arkansas Baptist churches prior to becoming a senior pastor in 1994. Tell us about your last two churches.
Kennedy: Well, you are right. I did serve several churches as student pastor, but I was also in vocational evangelism for a year. However, I was called to be pastor of Riverbend Baptist Church in Gainesville in 1984 and served there for nine years. However in 1993 I was called to be the pastor of First Baptist Church in Vidalia where I have served for 13 years. One of the joys of being the pastor in Vidalia was assisting the Vidalia High School football team as the chaplain.
Index: I know your church and the Vidalia community loves you. How do you think you will be able to handle this significant transition?
Kennedy: First Baptist Vidalia is a wonderful church. It was wonderful when we came here and I believe it will remain so until Jesus raptures His Bride. Since coming here, we have completed over $8 million dollars in facility and land acquisitions (our existing debt is below $600,000). We have partnered with ministries to start churches in Iraq, Los Angeles, Mexico, Canada; and we have been engaged in mission trips to India, Uganda, Mexico, Canada, Iraq, Argentina, and Moldova (formerly Russia).
The church has started a crisis pregnancy center called First Choice Georgia. We have partnered with the Paul Anderson Youth Home to establish a Christian counseling center by donating the use of a building on our property. We also provide office space and monthly support to FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and we partner with four other community ministries in the way of financial support and volunteering. Our total missions giving is close to $250,000 per year and in the last three years we have baptized over 200 and seen our worship attendance increase from 300 to over 600 in the last ten years.
Vidalia is a city with a population of about 18,000 people in a county of about 25,000. As I answer this question, I am overwhelmed by the work of God and the obedience of the people in this church. We have doubled our staff and our budget and increased our scope of ministry to reach people from across the street to across the world.
In March of 2014, in preparation for a Life Action “Thirst” meeting at our church, I asked God to take away anything in my life that would keep me from hearing Him clearly so that I could serve Him most effectively. It was then that God started working to prepare me for this calling.
There were some dark days, as I had allowed strongholds of “good things” to keep me from the things of God. I listened to a sermon on the “Fear of Man” by Del Fehsenfeld Jr. (founder of Life Action Ministry). God used that sermon to expose my insecurities and arrogance. He also used some tough circumstances to expose my weak faith, demanding dependence on Him to persevere. In all of this, He reminded me that He alone is my security and sufficiency. I certainly didn’t like any of that work, but I don’t know that I could have gotten to this place without it. I also realize it is a continuous work until the day He completes it.
Index: I know that you are leaving a secure position as pastor of First Baptist Vidalia to venture out in faith in a ministry that may provide you more freedom in some ways, but which does not provide the consistency and financial security of a successful pastorate. I admire your faith, but this will be quite a venture for you, will it not?
Kennedy: One of the books that really challenged me in this process was The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. In it, Ripken gives real-life accounts of believers following and serving Christ in some very dark places where their loyalty to Jesus constantly placed them in harm’s way. The one thing these persecuted believers feared most was disloyalty and disobedience to the One they loved most, Jesus.
God began to show me that some of the things I was depending on most were distracting me from the One I needed the most. Obedience is always liberating but it doesn’t mean that you’re free to do what is easy; obedience is freedom to please God regardless of the circumstance or adversity.
Again, I’m still learning and growing. The morning after I resigned I looked at Stacey and asked, “Am I crazy? I just resigned from a church I love deeply and that has been so gracious to us to go into a ministry that hardly anybody uses.”
Her response was great, “Yes, you’ve always been crazy but no, you didn’t make a mistake.” Faith is dependence on God. The measuring stick is not whether anyone invites me to his church to preach; obedience is success.
In America we’ve allowed the world to determine the standards of successful faith as prosperity, but there are many places in the world today where the most successful people of faith live in poverty and pain because of their faith. I don’t see what I’m doing as heroic because there are men who have been in evangelism for many years. I’m not going because there aren’t some very capable people doing it already, I’m going because I can’t stay in Vidalia and be obedient.
Index: I know your church loves you and this had to be a difficult decision not only for you, but for the church as well. How have they responded to your resignation and call into vocational evangelism?
Kennedy: From the first time I shared my decision, our church has affirmed and embraced Stacey and me in this move. The vast majority of folks said they weren’t surprised and have been incredibly encouraging. There have been some extremely emotional moments shared with the body as we prepare to leave, but this church and its staff are incredible! The leadership responded, “You’re not leaving us, we are sending you.”
It is important to understand that FBC Vidalia has been greatly impacted through the office of the evangelist. From Jesse Hendley in the early eighties to Sam Cathey, Ron Herrod, Jon Reed, Life Action Ministries, and most recently Rick Coram — this church has seen God move mightily in these meetings in which souls have been saved, marriages restored, believers brought to repentance for their sinfulness, and people called into all sorts of ministry.
FBC Vidalia sees the office of the evangelist as a gift to the body and has shown their appreciation for that gift by desiring to be a blessing to the people God has called to serve in that strategic role. I sincerely believe that it is because of the blessing this church has experienced through the ministry of evangelists that they have responded to us so graciously.
Index: Are you planning to continue to live in Vidalia or do you have other plans in mind?
Kennedy: While Stacey and I were in Gainesville for Thanksgiving with her parents and our children, we got together with some very dear friends of ours. In the midst of the conversation they offered Stacey and me a house to live in if we ever felt compelled to move back to the north Hall County area. At the time we had not mentioned anything to anyone about the direction in which we felt God was leading us. Stacey and I were blown away by their generosity, which God used to move us forward. I’m not sure we would be at the point we are now if they had not been obedient to the Lord and made that offer. God used that couple in an incredible way to affirm the direction He was taking us.
Then, the day after I resigned, the family who bought the house Stacey and I had built during our time in Gainesville called and asked if we would like buy our old house back. It was built on land given to Stacey and me by her parents. Even though the price was reasonable, we knew that we simply could not afford it at this time.
Stacey told her Dad, Raymond Dover, about the decision. We were both very content with the house the Lord had already provided for us. Raymond called back and informed us he had bought the house! I told him there was no way I could pay him back for that house at this time and I wasn’t sure about any other time. He responded, “I didn’t ask you to. I just wanted to be a blessing to you.” Stacey and I just cried. God uses the obedience of His people to encourage the obedience of others.
Index: I know you have a passion to see the lost saved and the church revived. What will be the major thrust of your ministry in the days ahead?
Kennedy: I truly believe that until the church is broken over sinfulness she won’t be burdened over lostness. A time of preparation precedes every successful harvest meeting. I have seen God call us to personal repentance, to intentional intercession for lost and the backslidden, and challenge us to write out the names of people to invite to church. I believe that God has compelled me to challenge the church to a spiritual awakening that will result in the harvest of souls. I also want to encourage pastors and churches to understand and embrace the need for men to be spiritual leaders in the church and in their homes. A concise purpose would be harvest days, spiritual renewal, leadership, and men’s meetings.
Stacey and I also do a date night talk for married couples entitled “Spreadsheets and Bed sheets.” We have counseled with many struggling couples during our 32 years in ministry, and have concluded that most of their issues revolve around money and sex, both of which are dealt with in the Bible. Our presentation is filled with laughter and the incredible truths of Scripture, which sometimes lead to tears of brokenness. We’ve done this about a half a dozen times and have seen God do some great work.
Index: What would you like to see God do in the churches where you minister?
Kennedy: When I go to a church, I want to see lives changed and I know that won’t happen without the aid of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to fill a calendar nearly as much as I want God to fill the altars of our churches. I have no truth to preach but His – the infallible truth of Scripture – and I have no hope of change outside the movement of the Holy Spirit. I won’t offer anything original but I will strive to be fresh in my faith and in my walk with God.
Index: Your wife, Stacey, is beautiful inside and out. I know she has been a great partner in your ministry. How has she handled you decision to enter vocational evangelism?
Kennedy: Stacey had a front row seat to my struggle. She was so loving and patient through dark days when God was dealing with some stubborn sins. She never wavered in her support and always listened as I tried to explain what I was thinking. She gave me the freedom to talk about things without ridicule or criticism. We came to the same conclusions together.
On February 29th, Rick Coram preached a revival message at FBC Vidalia entitled, “Let Go and Let God.” Rick said he had not preached that message in five years, but was overwhelmingly compelled by God to preach it that night (even after promoting another message the previous day). In that message, he shared the story of how God called him out of the pastorate into full time evangelism.
As he shared, Stacey and I looked at each other with tears as she asked me, “Are we going tonight?” I am so very blessed with an incredible wife and family. My daughter and son-in-law, Mike and Hannah Parker, along with my son Ivey have been such a blessing in this process and on this journey.
Index: How can pastors and churches contact you if they want you to come to minister the Word of God in their church?
Kennedy: I hope to have a website up and running in the next few weeks, but I can also be contacted by calling (678)725-9237 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am very thankful that my daughter Hannah is helping me with calendaring.