CARTERSVILLE — Talk with those who have served longest with Tabernacle Baptist Church Senior Pastor Don Hattaway and you’ll hear a stream of adjectives as consistent as the man himself.
“He has such a strong commitment to the Word of God,” said Don Startup, worship pastor. “It’s evident in everything he does and appears in all ministry endeavors at the church. It’s been one of the keys to our success.”
On Sunday, Feb. 5 – moments after finishing his sermon “Finishing the Race,” based on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – the church recognized Hattaway’s 15 years of service leading Tabernacle. Rodger Hassler, chairman of the personnel committee and recent chairman of deacons, presented Hattaway and his family with gifts commemorating the event.
Notes and a treasure chest
“Don is a man of integrity,” remarked Steve McCombs, who began at Tabernacle the same day in 1994 as Startup. “He means what he says. He’s a great companion in what we do at Tabernacle and one of the finest pastors I’ve ever served with. When it comes to stability, he preaches God’s word and walks the walk.”
Karen Carp served on the search team that eventually brought Hattaway to Tabernacle. As a show of appreciation, she went to 15 Life Groups (small Bible study groups at the church) and asked them to contribute 15 notes of appreciation to the pastor, commemorating his 15 years at the church.
One afternoon Carp and her husband, Joe, cut the notes into strips and added some others from individuals to a small treasure box. Later the box was presented to Hattaway at the close of the service Sunday.
“We love our pastor and are so thankful for him,” said Carp. “So many pastors don’t stand on the word of God, but he speaks truth.
“We wanted to put something together for those days when things are frustrating. We all need a little encouragement.”
(Spoiler alert, but just for Hattaway). The notes vary from sentiments written above to “He’s a sharp dresser.” At least one child contributed “He’s such a dude.”
Personally, Hattaway and Tabernacle became especially close to Carp after her daughter, Kyra, died in an auto accident while home on furlough serving as a missionary in Italy.
“Don played a special part in our life during that time,” she said.
Running your race
Hattaway’s message on the day he was honored mirrors many of the testaments to him. Recalling a day as a high schooler participating in a track event, he remembered a teammate sprinting to the front of the pack in a race.
You guessed it. The race wasn’t a sprint. His teammate didn’t maintain the right pace, and exhausted himself too early.
“It’s important how you begin a race,” Hattaway preached, “but it doesn’t mean you finish well.”
“God’s desire is we grow and mature in our faith. … We’re to continue to pursue His goal for us – be conformed in the image of Jesus.”
Startup said personal focus has become a Hattaway hallmark.
“Accountability is important to him. He holds himself to high personable standards,” he pointed out. “He leads the church staff to do the same, whether it’s through sharing our faith or in our personal ministries.”
There’s the importance of collective accountability, but it ultimately falls on the individual and his or her relationship with Christ. Later in his sermon Sunday, Hattaway warned of comparing to others. Instead, focus on the race God put before you.
“God isn’t going to hold you accountable for how Billy Graham ran his race,” he proclaimed to the congregation. “… God is going to hold you accountable for how you ran [yours].”