As a pastor, Anthony Wilson’s other job gives him a close look at what’s at stake if churches don’t make a concerted effort to reach young people.
LOCUST GROVE — The Gospel has the capacity to change lives. Anthony Wilson sees this every day in the two worlds he inhabits. As the pastor in one, he preaches, teaches, and exhorts the people of Church 180 to live more like Christ. In this world he also packs his spare time mentoring young men on drawing closer to God.
The other world is quite different. Hope is a rare commodity, one that can be snuffed out as quickly as it’s realized. Work as a clinical chaplain for the Georgia Department of Corrections is all about planting seeds. He and fellow Georgia Baptist Bernard Miller see this daily as the only two at the Georgia Diagnositic and Classification System in Jackson. Miller serves as director for the Statewide Association of Baptist Assemblies.
“A lot of it is spiritual counseling,” says Wilson. “The worst part of what we deal with is passing along that the loved one of an inmate has died.
“But that’s part of being chaplains and pastors,” he adds. “This is an extension of my ministry over the last 23 years.”
Beginning with a body shop
Wilson, 46, attended church as a boy and at 13 years old was saved at Greater Ephesus Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. He admits he wandered in his teens but rededicated his life at 19.
Wilson answered a call to ministry at 24 while working in a Decatur body shop for Ford Motor Company. He also led a Wednesday afternoon Bible study at Greater Ephesus that grew from four to around 50 while taking a full load of seminary classes.
In 2005 Wilson planted Shiloh Baptist Church, which used facilities offered by another congregation before moving to Locust Grove in 2009. In 2015 a new name, Church 180, preceded a move this month to a new 6,500-square-foot building in Hampton.
“We’re a non-traditional Baptist church,” Wilson says. “We wear casual attire. I preach in jeans and slacks or a polo and rarely wear a tie. We only ‘dress up’ for Communion Sundays. All of that is a major step-out from African American culture.”
In addition to walking the aisle to make a decision for Christ, Church 180 connects with contacts also through email, text message, or filling out commitment cards. “We try to eliminate all the barriers,” he adds, “to where they get a one-on-one presentation of the Gospel. From there they go through new members orientation and on to a connect group.”
From 80s to babies
Church 180’s congregation consists of those “from their 80s down to babies.” Listen to Wilson talk and it’s clear his passion for reaching Millennials and young men with the Gospel. Bibles are just as welcome on phones for attendees as in print. The church is exploring another worship service geared toward younger people at a later time on Sundays or around noon on Saturdays. Man Cave Mondays give men a time to talk about leadership, health, marriage, and dating.
“We discuss those with a nontraditional approach,” says Wilson. “We take prayer requests. It’s a positive outlet for men at any stage of life.”
Denominational and community leadership
Last year Wilson was elected president of the African American Fellowship of Georgia Baptists. Since that time he says he’s “been getting [his] feet wet” in building relationships throughout that organization. He’s also been busy presenting Southern Baptist life to African American churches, both those affiliated with Georgia Baptists as well as those interested.
“We want those churches to know what the Georgia Baptist Mission Board offers in terms of resources and relationships,” Wilson says. “By this fall I hope to have a more clear agenda for the AAF.”
That includes listening sessions such as those led earlier in the year by Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond, Jr. Most recently, Wilson finished contributing a series of Bible studies for The Christian Index about the Samaritan woman, mentoring, pursuing godliness, and dependence on God.
In the meantime, Wilson will continue counseling the 300 prisoners he sees each month. He’ll also lead Church 180 in outreach projects and community partnerships. One is with Connect Henry – a coalition of businesses, non-profits, and churches in Henry County – for events such as backpack collections and food drives. The church also helps pay for children’s haircuts and is currently talking to area principals to assess needs in the immediate future. Plans are being discussed to host an after-school program.
Author and mentor
Personally, Wilson conducts seminars on relationships and is the author of “The Eve Effect,” available on Amazon. Currently he’s writing a follow-up, “The Adam Effect.” He is also involved in Real Dads Read and Fathers, Inc.
“Both of those groups are dedicated to making better fathers,” he says. “I also lead a monthly mentoring group, “Raising Kings,” at the church with 15 young men. “
That part of his ministry carries a personal note for Wilson, who has two teenage sons and a granddaughter. His oldest son, Anthony Jr., died in an auto accident in 2017.
“Our older guys speak to them about attire, etiquette, and life in general. We hope to get to offer that program through local schools.”