Over 16-years ago a pastor by the name of Eric Daniel Harris (no kinship to my knowledge) pled guilty to a charge of arson that burned down a Kentucky Missionary Baptist Church in Saline County, Arkansas. According to a federal prosecutor, Harris said he did it because "there was a division among church members, and they needed a project to unify them.”
Alpharetta First Baptist Church pastor and GBC president Thomas Hammond strongly believes in the importance of unity, but doesn’t think that drastic measures like the one to which Eric Harris resorted is necessary at the present time.
However, Hammond is fervently emphasizing the biblical principle of unity in Georgia Baptist life – particularly among pastors. He believes that harmony, togetherness, and accord are absolutely necessary before we can accomplish all that God wants to do in our churches, our communities, our state, our nation, and our world for Christ.
Hammond has selected “Unite Georgia” as the theme for the annual session of our convention this November in Savannah. He has also chosen Philippians 1:27: “… striving together for the faith of the Gospel ….” as the guiding biblical challenge for the convention. The operative word in that scriptural admonition is “together”.
The GBC president has invited all Georgia Baptist pastoral staff personnel to attend one of five luncheons to encourage pastors to pray for one another. The first three luncheons have been marvelously well attended and Hammond already has hundreds of pastors engaged in praying for fellow pastors.
Hammond has stated, “My dad was a Baptist pastor here in Georgia for 33 years, first in Augusta and then later in Crawfordville. I was at home one night when he got a call from someone in distress. He patiently and lovingly helped guide the caller through the troubled waters he was experiencing and after a long conversation the call ended.
“When my dad had completed the call, I said to him, ‘You get lots of calls from people who are hurting in some way or other, don’t you?’
“My dad responded, ‘Yes, I have taken multiple calls like that through the years.’”
Hammond then commented, “Then I asked my dad, ‘Who do you call when you need a pastor to hear your concerns and problems?’
“My dad hung his head for a moment, then looked up at me and said, ‘I don’t have anyone.’”
The Alpharetta pastor used that illustration to explain that he wants to use prayer to establish a spiritual atmosphere, build meaningful relationships, create a spiritual camaraderie among pastors, and invoke God’s blessings upon the work of Georgia Baptists.
Years ago, the revivalist Vance Havner said, “Christians, like snowflakes, are frail, but when they stick together they can stop traffic.” Hammond believes that if Georgia Baptist pastors can stick together they can mobilize a mighty army of believers to push back the lostness in Georgia.
Hammond has even taken an advanced step in attempting to bring unity to our state convention. Many Georgia Baptists have heard or perceived that there has been a breach in the relationships of some of our finest pastors – a breach within a steering committee that was established years ago by grassroots Georgia Baptists during the Conservative Resurgence.
The reasons for the rift are inconsequential at this point, but Hammond succeeded in calling the pastors involved in the conflict together on September 12th for a meeting to create understanding and a renewed commitment to unity. Most of those who were essential for the success of the meeting were present. The gathering was marked by an honest discussion, genuine fellowship, and reconciliation.
Time will tell if the meeting accomplished its intended purpose, but the immediate results were positive and encouraging. The meeting was significant enough for me to share it with Georgia Baptists across the state.
At the Executive Committee meeting the next day, one Georgia Baptist missionary stated, “There was such a great spirit at the meeting today. It appears to me that the political agendas have evaporated.
One pastor declared, “Today’s meeting was obviously free of any personal agendas, Kingdom focused and ruled by the Spirit.”
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