CEDARTOWN — For weeks the rumors at Young’s Grove Baptist Church swirled about its pastor and his wife.
All of it came into the open July 21. Tiffani Dodd assumed her regular spot with the praise team. However, it became clear to everyone something was wrong in the way she left the stage soon after they finished. Her husband, Blake, preached his message. Then, at the end he addressed the elephant in the room.
Yes, he confirmed, the couple were expecting their first child.
“When I said that,” Dodd laughs, “they just started applauding and shouting. People had been asking us about kids for awhile.”
Preachin’ and singin’ in the backwoods
Dodd is only 26 years old. But for many throughout northwest Georgia and into Alabama, it seems he’s been around much longer than that.
Young’s Grove’s current pastor started there as a baby, literally. Saved and baptized there in 1999, he answered a call to preach in 2003 at ten years old.
“I know that sounds a little strange to people, but I had a confidence in that calling,” he says. “Having stuck with it since then, that confidence hasn’t wavered.”
When Dodd was 10 he, an uncle, and some cousins formed the gospel group “The Holbrooks Family,” using the last name of the family matriarch. They would sing and Dodd would preach 35 weeks out of the year, he estimates. “We never went to a church with more than 50 people; we ministered in the smaller churches. Once I preached at Roopville Road Baptist and there were 300 people there. I felt like I was in a megachurch.
“We were always in some backwoods place, preachin’ and singin’.”
Soon, though, Dodd felt a call to be rooted in a local church. Preaching when the opportunities arose, he also led the music at Young’s Grove and directed the choir while attending Cedartown High.
Finding a mentor
Upon graduation, Dodd began attending Shorter University. By this time he considered practicing law while continuing to preach as an evangelist or wherever a pulpit needed to be filled. However, the urge to serve the local church vocationally was too strong. For that purpose he decided to find a mentor.
“I moved to Second Baptist Church in Cedartown to do collegiate ministry, but my main reason was to learn from their senior pastor, Patrick Latham. I’d heard him preach one day and thought, ‘I want to preach like that.’ I’d never been exposed to expository line-by-line preaching. It was captivating to see someone unpack the text in that way.”
Indeed, Dodd has adopted that style of preaching at Young’s Grove, examining and presenting the Bible in the same manner as his mentor.
Latham also taught Dodd in some more practical aspects of ministry, such as making visits to members and prospects, how to manage church committees, and forming an overall structure of ministry. “I was his shadow for about two years,” he says.
On Jan. 4, 2014, Dodd preached his first sermon as the pastor at Young’s Grove. He had recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from Shorter, needing only 3 ½ years to do so. His move to Young’s Grove was followed a few months later by Latham’s move to be pastor of First Baptist Church in Lawton, Oklahoma.
“Now he’s more than a mentor.” Dodd says, “He’s my best friend in ministry.”
Joining with Southern Baptists
Young’s Grove Baptist Church celebrated its 118th anniversary this year. Its status as a Southern Baptist church, however, is much younger.
Shortly after he became pastor, Dodd began to explore the church becoming part of the Georgia Baptist Convention. So, he asked then-Executive Director J. Robert White to preach on Sunday. A few months later, Georgia Baptist state missionary Buck Burch spoke on a Sunday night.
Each one’s address was different, but important, says Dodd.
“I view Dr. White as a great statesman. He came as the face of Georgia Baptists and gave a positive representation to our church. He got the whole process started on the right foot.
“Buck spent his time answering questions about Southern Baptists and allayed every fear. He made my job a thousand times easier and talked about the Cooperative Program, seminaries, the IMB, NAMB and other aspects of being Southern Baptist. I can’t remember if any questions were even asked, he was so thorough.”
The church went six months of allowing time for further questions. In the spring of 2015, Young’s Grove voted unanimously to become part of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
A historical church with a new way of ministry, Young’s Grove is active in missions locally and beyond. A monthly outreach, Loving Our Neighbors, has provided soup and sandwiches on Cedartown’s Main Street, 250 Thanksgiving dinners, and school supplies and hygeine products for local children. This summer, the church joined Southside Baptist in Cedartown to operate a medical clinic and Bible school for over 300 children in Nicaragua. A women’s conference hosted at the church earlier this year saw 200 attendees. Jennifer Tucker, a member of Young’s Grove, and Laura Ford, of North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, were the Bible teachers.
“Right now we’re finishing out the classrooms in our Life Center,” says Dodd. “We held our Back to School Bash in there a few weeks ago to give the supplies to students.”
The brand new building poises Young’s Grove to have an even bigger impact in the community. If the church’s recent history – and Tiffani Dodd – show anything, it’s that “new” is just a way of life, and a way of ministry.
Blake Dodd is currently providing the Sunday School commentaries for Index readers.