In 2006, Brad Atkins left an associate pastor position at a church with 800 in attendance to lead a church that had about 80 members present to vote him in as pastor. Though only three decades old, the church had already walked through a lifetime of highs, lows, and drama. Its founding pastor had run off with the church secretary. And in the years immediately prior to Atkins’ coming to First Baptist of Powdersville, South Carolina, church attendance had plummeted from 300 down to 30.
“They were about to fold,” Atkins said. “They were in talks with a neighboring church about just signing over the property–26 acres, buildings, and all.”
Instead, they called Atkins as pastor–for one year.
Why just one year? Because chances were good that the church would be broke in a year.
“The committee told me, ‘Look we figure we have enough in the bank to pay your salary for a year. If it doesn’t work, we’ll just go our separate ways,'” Atkins recalled. “I told them that they really knew how to sweet talk a guy.”
Things got a bit worse before they got better. But with the blessing of God and one month at a time of faithful ministry by Atkins–things began to turn around. Eleven years later, Atkins and his wife know that they’ve witnessed something special happen at Powdersville. And the church that was once about to close has been just about the only church his now nearly-grown kids have ever known.
“You never know what you’re coming into,” Atkins said. “I could talk to you for hours–God just does a work. I mean it’s been like a modern day Lazarus project. The church was dead and about to be pulled off of life support. Now, the church is debt free. Our services are full. We’ve done multiple projects, bought transportation vehicles, remodeled. I tell everybody it was almost like God called me to a church plant, but it was a church plant with facilities.”
Q&A ABOUT BEING A PASTOR & THE PUBLIC SQUARE
You are a pastor who is active in the public square. How did that come about? Has this always been the case?
No, I was brought up believing in the separation of church and state–as currently talked about by people and pastors. The idea that you can’t preach anything about political issues or get involved with policy issues.
In January 2008, doctors found a cyst at the base of my brain–about the size of a baseball. The first thing I thought was that I had a tumorous cancer–but it was just a cyst that I needed surgery to take out. The surgery went fine, but when I was in the hospital, I contracted spinal meningitis and spent the whole month of February in the hospital.
It was my “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” moment in my life. I went in at 240 pounds and came out at 198. And it is amazing how close you get to Jesus when you come close to meeting Jesus.
Fast forward to November of that year. I attended the annual meeting of our Baptist state convention–something I rarely did prior to that. I was pastoring my church, just doing my thing. The pastor at the meeting preached a sermon that just impacted me like you wouldn’t believe. I really got convicted that if I was going to be a pastor of a Southern Baptist church, I needed to know what’s going on in the Southern Baptist Convention.
So I got active. Fast forward to 2010, I served as second vice-president for the South Carolina convention. In 2011, I was first vice-president. Then in 2012, I got elected president.
Now, when it’s a U.S. presidential election year, because of South Carolina’s part in the flow of events, South Carolina became a very hot topic. Newt Gingrich and all the different candidates were coming in. I started getting on the media and being exposed to all these different things.
And that’s when Gary Miller [of Talk Less, Pray More ministries] came into my life– through the Pastors and Pews events of the American Renewal Project. Then I started meeting all these different people–like David and Cindy Lane, Chad and Dana Connelly. God just started bringing them into my life while I was in that position of being nobody–but everybody thinking I was somebody. I was the president of this Convention, though half the people in the convention didn’t know who I am.
In the sovereignty of providence, God put me in that position. And then through just having a heart for what the Renewal Project was trying to do, Gary and David asked me to serve as a state chairman–and I’ve done it ever since.
In what ways did these new involvements with the public square enter into your ministry in the church?
Previously, I had never encouraged people to vote, let alone had voter registration Sundays.
For example, one of the joys of being here for so long is that I’ve had children and youth that have grown up under my ministry–now I’m doing their weddings. And when they graduate high school, I have them do their voter registration.
We’ve also got people in their fifties and sixties that have never registered to vote–but now they go out and vote biblical values.
People can register to vote at our welcome center every Sunday. And I’m not afraid to give a biblical message on a moral or political issue, because I know what separation of church and state is– and what it isn’t. Through the American Renewal Project, David Barton, and others, I’ve come to find out that my calling to pastor a congregation is not just to call them here into the church building, but to call them into the public marketplace of ideas. To get out there and actually be a voice of truth and to bring biblical values to the marketplace.
Eight years ago I was very apathetic. But now, I’m very passionate.
Yet still, a lot of pastors I talk to have been scared into silence. I’ve told them, “You need to understand that you’re a pastor but you’re also a citizen. You’ve got skin in the game. What happens in our elections affects my family and my church family.”
If the body of Christ would ever truly unite and say, “We’re taking back the marketplace of ideas with biblical truth,” it would change our country.”
We’ve seen a little bit of the paradigm shift in the past election, but the Titanic has been heading in the wrong direction for so long that one Presidential election is not going to change the course of our nation.
How do you make discerning decisions about candidates?
You have to take each candidate individually–what they say and what they’ve done.
The Bible says “As a man thinks in his heart so he is.” Which means that you can take all the rhetoric that you hear on a campaign trail and set that over to the side. Instead, look at who this person is, man or woman, whatever the position is they’re going for, and look at their track record. Look at their core beliefs because that’s what’s going to rule.
Examine how, for example, the last time they ran they said they believed this and they got elected. But then in office, they did something this. Well, that pretty much tells you, whichever way the wind blows of public opinion, that’s how they’re going to go.
So, for me, you’ve got to look at each candidate, look at yes what the platform is of their party, but then what have they done as an individual.
Any final word for pastors who are considering being more engaged in the public square?
Remember the old saying, knowledge is power. Ten years ago I was uninformed, ignorant about what I can and can’t do as a pastor.
Of course, young pastors must understand that, yes there are some things you can’t do. I mean I can’t send a check from my church to a campaign. You can’t make endorsements from the pulpit.
But once I step outside that pulpit, and we’re in the parking lot or they’re at my house or we’re talking on the phone or we’re texting or emailing–then as a citizen of the United States I have the freedom to speak what I believe. And to tell them, “Look, this is what I’m going to do. Now if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we’re going to serve the Lord.”
And the way we’re going to serve him is by not sitting at home when it’s time to get out and be a voice and go vote. Not only are we going to go vote, we’re going to be informed. We’re going to be intelligent and we’re going to vote for the candidate that most closely aligns to what we’ve professed that we believe.
Then, we must encourage other people to do the same.
I believe that guys that want to lead but don’t have anybody following them–they’re not leading. They’re just walking. Guys that truly lead set the example and say, “Look. You can do this. You can be a voice. You can take a stand.” And it won’t always be the most popular thing to do.
I love Churchill’s quote, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
I’m not called for everybody to like me, because if everybody likes me I must be doing something wrong.