Stephen Williams insists that the best churches inevitably make discipleship a priority


CALHOUN, Ga. — Wayne Bray and Stephen Williams have been great friends for more than 20 years. Both pastors served churches in Georgia and developed a deep love and respect for one another. They are now serving together in one of the most dynamic churches in the Southeastern part of our nation.

Stephen Williams grew up in Newland, North Carolina, about 30 miles southwest of Boone. He commented, “My father was a pastor in Newland for 22 years. In addition to being a preacher’s kid, I spent a lot of my childhood working on my grandfather’s farm. I came to Georgia to attend Luther Rice College and Seminary. While in seminary I met Alicia, who became my wife, and we started ministering at Sunset Hills Baptist Church in Douglasville."

Wayne Bray served as pastor of Georgia Baptist churches for over fifteen years. His last church was Beulah Baptist Church in Douglasville, a fellowship that experienced significant growth during his pastorate. In 2015 Bray was called to be the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. In the eight years that Bray has been pastor, the church has doubled in attendance from 1690 to over 3400 in Sunday worship across six campuses throughout the Upstate of South Carolina.

With the conviction that churches must produce fruit that remains, Bray places a priority on discipleship. In recent months he felt like he needed someone who could help him nurture and develop both staff and members to have a deeper and more effective walk with Christ. He turned to his friend, Stephen Williams to fill that strategic slot, saying, “He will be the Executive Pastor of Disciple-Making at our church. This role is such an important role, I had to have someone I could trust with my life. God has worked it out to yoke us together for this season of ministry.”

Bray continued, “Stephen is going to be the teaching pastor for all six campuses, as we are committed to live (not video produced) teaching. He will also lead a team of four men in the area of spiritual formation, specifically discipleship, connections, and evangelism. He will also be over my teaching team, serving as mentor to eight other teaching pastors, four of which are in their 20s and 30s.”

Williams announced his call to the South Carolina church to his congregation at Belmont Baptist Church in Calhoun on June 4 after seven years of service to the Gordon County congregation. Both Bray and Williams were intricately involved in the life and work of the GBC while serving in Georgia and faithfully supported the work of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and the Cooperative Program.

Williams has saturated his soul with a biblical understanding of discipleship in recent years and will undoubtedly be an asset to Bray, the staff, and the members of the Simpsonville/Upstate church.

The new Executive Pastor in Simpsonville explained, “Discipleship is following Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, leading to a growing relationship with Him. As we follow and as we engage in His mission to point others to a relationship with Jesus. We also learn how to be Christlike through discipleship in our everyday walk. The blueprint in Matthew 28: 18-20.”

Williams continued, “Essentially disciples trust Jesus Christ for salvation, connect with a community of believers, and engage in the mission of Christ to make other disciples. People begin the discipleship process when they are introduced to Jesus and end when they reach heaven. The result is to introduce people to Christ and help them go from an individual being fed to an individual feeding others.

“Discipleship requires a personal walk with the Lord. The essential tools the Spirit works through are the Word of God and the local church. The Bible is our sole authority for faith and practice. Additionally, the local church engages in Christ’s mission and offers opportunities to grow through small groups, sermons, personal relationships, etc.”

It is good when preachers practice what they preach, but it is infinitely better when they preach what they practice. Williams has given us an example of being a genuine disciple.

He testified, “As of late, I am enhancing my relationship with the Lord by reading through the Bible. Sometimes we read through the Bible as an accomplishment. However, during this reading, I desire to see the magnitude of God’s work through His providence and grace. Reading through the Bible strengthens my faith and renews my confidence in God’s purpose for my life.

“I also just finished reading a book by Tony Evans, The Kingdom Man, which affirms God’s intentions for manhood.

“Furthermore, I meet with a friend weekly to discuss the Bible and life. We laugh, cry, and keep one another accountable. My friend is an excellent husband and father, so naturally, God uses him to strengthen my relationship with my family. Finally, I meet with a small group to study the Bible and encourage one another as we fulfill the Great Commission.”