When the members of First Baptist Church Van Alstyne read the church bulletin these days, they find a new name at the top of the list. In the slot for Senior Pastor is Mike Lovely, who fills the spot made vacant two years ago when Brother Jimmy Tarrant began his retirement.
“It’s been a long process,” Russell Moore said. Moore was one of four deacons who served on the search committee, selected through a church-wide vote
“I’m excited we were patient and found the right guy for our church. We could have easily hired somebody a long time ago.
“I didn’t worry that it (the search process) was taking a long time but we started getting word from people in the church that they were concerned. I was comfortable that God was leading us and overjoyed at how it came together regardless of the amount of time. Our new pastor is a perfect fit for us — a better fit than we could have found ourselves .”
Lovely said it’s pretty common for a search like this to take more than a year and that when he was contacted by Dennis Smith, a member of the search committee, he wasn’t looking for a new church, but “felt God was telling me I should talk to this guy. God made it clear I should go down that road until it closes.”
So, after an 11-year tenure at First Baptist Church of Queen City, he’s starting over with a new congregation.
Lovely stated he and wife Kristie had said they would not ever want to move until their children were through high school, and Ashley, the youngest of their school-aged children, graduated in May. Then the details of making the change began falling into place for the family. Matt, 23, was able to transfer his job to Durant which turned into a raise in pay, and Tim, 20, is also working close by. Ashley starts Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., in the fall. And then there is Addy, almost 4.
Lovely said his oldest three children basically grew up in Queen City and now Addy will grow up in another community. She’s excited to be starting Wee School this fall and her biggest challenge right now may be accepting that she’s no longer a Bulldog (the Queen City mascot); now she’s a Panther.
Lovely said he doesn’t have a radical agenda for change in his new church, but he realizes the community is changing as a type of urban sprawl is reaching the area. He said he feels the church is at an identity crossroads. He was careful to distinguish he doesn’t mean an identity crisis; just that things are changing and the church needs to be able to meet the needs of a changing community.
“The church has to determine how we are going to go forward to spread the message of Jesus Christ,” he said. “I understand the emotional attachment to the building. I like to preserve the history, too.”
But the church as a whole across America has changed, according to Lovely.
“It used to be a dinner-bell mentality (people come only for worship times). People aren’t attracted to the church like they used to be. A lot of what we did for years was dictated by the times in which they were started,” he said.
Lovely used Sunday School as an example saying it started from a need for youth to learn because they had to work in factories during the week.
“It was born out of necessity and people trying to be innovative,” he said. “We need to take the church to the community and build relationships with people.”
Suggesting the traditional times to meet at the church don’t have to be the only time. “There is never a bad time to study the Bible with people.”
John Williamson served as chairman of the pastor search committee of nine regular members and two alternates. He said the process lasted 22 months. “When you get a task that big, and we went for so long, it was kind of ingrained in us. We wanted people to feel good about the work we were doing.”
Williamson said he and others also noticed the church changing during the time there was no pastor at the helm.
“I think for years we were dependant on our pastor as the guy who initiated things and we sat back and let him do that,” said Williamson. “In the two-year interim, people began to realize they needed to get up and get things done. We changed because we took it on ourselves to do what God wanted rather than relying on the church staff. We’ve seen growth in the lay leaders. We had different people with different interests and skills doing what God wanted us to do for the church.”
For the search committee, one of the most difficult things was the fact that people didn’t understand the process of searching for a new pastor, Williamson said. “People didn’t understand the process and therefore patience of many were tried. We didn’t really understand the process either at first. Also, there were some times we had to be closed mouth to protect peoples’ privacy and that was frustrating for all. I really think, though, if we had found Mike Lovely at the first of our search, it wouldn’t have been the right time. We had to go through some development as a church.
“As we look back, we see how God used that time for everything to work out just the way it needed to for us to get where we are today. It was an eye-opening blessing for us to see that 22-month process take place. The process worked perfectly.”