Malachi Parker, 11, hands worship bulletins to James and Joyce Dawson, members of The Rock Church for 60 years. The Dawsons were among those who voted for the church restart and still attend. Over the years both served as Sunday School teachers in addition to James being a deacon and Joyce serving as clerk, treasurer, and other positions. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index
THE ROCK — In the early fall of 2018 things weren’t looking good for The Rock Church. A small group of those members remaining asked for a meeting with Steve Laughman, associational missions strategist for Centennial Baptist Association.
“This was not the first conversation we’d had about replanting the church,” Laughman told The Index. “But it was a definitive moment.”
Up to that point there had been resistance to outside help in terms of decision-making. But now, the church members were ready to make a change.
“In their words,” Laughman recollected, “they were tired and unable to continue as they always had.”
The start of The Rock
Tell someone you’re going to The Rock and they’ll probably think you mean a youth group hangout or the set of Dwayne Johnson’s latest movie. The Upson County town got its name by way of a how people received their mail in the early 1800s. More notably, a large granite boulder once sat on the town’s eastern edge. It contained a cavity where stagecoach drivers and trains would leave their mail on the Thomaston-Barnesville highway, prompting many to say they left their mail “in the hole in that rock.” Eventually, letters came to be addressed simply to “The Rock” in Georgia and they would, indeed, make it to their destination.
Over time, the boulder was dynamited to widen the road. A post office was built a little further away and historical marker placed on the spot where the boulder sat. Since the post office needed a town name, The Rock was the obvious choice.
The feel inside The Rock on Jan. 5 – its official launch Sunday – was one of vibrant expectancy, but not in a showy way. Worship Pastor Marty Gilow, who until this summer was serving with his wife as missionaries, used only a guitar. Laughman led in a Scripture reading of Acts 2:42-47, the time marked “Adoration” in the Order of Service. Lassiter preached out of John 20, the first of series of messages from that gospel. For the first time as a group, the collection of around 35 men, women, and children take part in communion.
Community leadership and accountability
“It’s cool how the Lord laid it out,” said Lassiter, who through most of last year was student minister at nearby Meansville Baptist Church. “I drove by the church every day to go to work and the Lord really placed it on my heart. … So, the Lord was really leading me here.”
Leadership from a group of “external elders” factored heavily in The Rock’s rebirth. That group is made up of local pastors who help in day-to-day decisions until the church is at a point to do that itself. “They’re available and invested in the church’s success, but not running it,” stressed Laughman, who began as one of the external elders but has since joined The Rock as a member.
Laughman pointed to a May 1 meeting last year with the remaining members of The Rock and Bob Bickford, associate director of Replant NAMB, as a turning point for the church.
“He was instrumental in suggesting some key steps we needed to take to move forward,” said Laughman. “He applauded the courage of the saints at The Rock for their willingness to trust God and our association with their legacy. We all left that meeting with a more defined plan of action.”
On May 26, The Rock suspended regular services and celebrated the work of the interim pastor, Brian Wright, as well as longtime music minister David Owsley. A few weeks later the church voted to hand over all day-to-day decision-making – including those related financial accounts and property – to the external elders and call Lassiter as replanter/pastor.
A lot of work has gone in to updating The Rock’s sanctuary and Sunday School space. The materials and muscle to get it there, Laughman shared, is evidence of God at work.
“On June 4 I had a meeting with local pastors and another scheduled with the elders of The Rock. I had about 30 minutes to run back to my office to catch up on a few things,” Laughman recollected.
“The moment I stepped into my office the phone rang. On the line was a man named Frank who said, ‘You don’t know me, but I have a mission team in need of a place to serve.’ As it turns out, Frank led a mission trip every year from North Highlands Baptist Church in Hueytown, Ala. The church where they planned to work that summer had some delays and could not use their help.
“Frank explained that he had 45 people ready to do construction with a date on the calendar and nowhere to go. I got his information and told him to expect a call later that day. I went to my meeting with the elders and about a week-and-a-half later, those missionaries were at The Rock working.”
First Baptist Church in Barnesville provided a place for the mission team to stay and eat. Meanwhile, the Alabama group completed major renovations: leveling the floor throughout the sanctuary, building new steps to the baptistery, fixing broken playground equipment, and cleaning out several classrooms in addition to other projects.
The next week was Centennial Association’s annual EQUIP Missions week. In addition to other missions projects throughout the community, students came to The Rock to put down carpet, clean, and organize materials.
On Sept. 8 Lassiter was ordained and commissioned at Meansville Baptist, where Pastor John Blackmon is one of The Rock’s external elders. The core group consisted of former members of The Rock as well as families from other local churches who agreed to be a part of the ministry. Sept. 29 marked their first Sunday together.
A celebration of the past and future
When Gilow and his wife returned to the U.S., he connected with Lassiter, who was looking for someone to lead music.
“We knew right away we wanted to be on board,” Gilow said. “We knew it was going to be challenging, but at the same time there was a good team here. It’s been really amazing to see how God has brought unity – all these different people coming from different places.”
In September, The Rock is planning a “huge celebration,” said Laughman, for its 100th anniversary. And while the church is technically a restart, he and others see it as an acknowledgement of the previous century of ministry while looking forward at what’s ahead.
Lassiter said his current series in John points to the church’s focus on what’s to come.
“We wanted to start with who Jesus is and that in this community in a rural area … Jesus is working to change lives and see lost people saved. We wanted to start our launch date with not only a remembering of what Christ did and coming together in communion but to launch this study … so we can proclaim Jesus to The Rock community.
“It goes beyond even us in the future. This is a church that is going to be healthy and established because we’re being faithful now.”
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.