The following was written for the upcoming centennial celebration of the Central Baptist Church of Waycross, Georgia. Central Baptist is my home church. I am thankful for the opportunity to share these thoughts with the readers of this blog.
What Central Baptist Church Has Meant to Me
By Nathan Finn
I am thankful for the opportunity to write these reflections and meditate on the many ways that God has used Central Baptist to shape me into the man he wants me to be. In many ways, I am raising an Ebenezer (1Sam.l 7:12) to remind myself of where I’ve been, in the hopes of better appreciating where I am now–all of it by God’s grace. My family began visiting Central Baptist when I was in the seventh grade, though we did not join the church until my freshman year of high school. Whereas Boy Scouts was probably the most influential activity in my life during my elementary and middle school years, once we joined Central the youth ministry became of central import.
Many of my fondest teenage memories are tied to youth summer camps at places like Carson-Newman College, Panama City, and Palm Beach Atlantic University. Sunday evening youth choir and Wednesday evening meetings in what was then called the “Activities Building” were weekly highlights. I remember participating in a couple of Judgment Houses, several youth dramas and musicals, and a youth mission trip to Cleveland, Tennessee. The annual Youth Evangelism Conference was my favorite event during my first couple of years at Central, though by the time I left Waycross I had become a huge fan of the annual DiscipleNow weekends we held each spring. The youth group provided me with some of my best friends, including Philip Tyre, who remains my oldest and dearest friend to this very day.
My own views about the ministry continue to be shaped by what I learned from my youth ministers, Rhon Carter, Joe Fambro, and Michael Smith. These men were of great encouragement to me as I began to sense that the Lord was calling me to the gospel ministry. Michael in particular nurtured me as a leader and allowed me to chaperone youth ministry events and sometimes teach the youth group during my two years at Waycross College. Pastor John Clough continues to be a key role model for me, while Pastor David Drake opened a number of ministry doors on my behalf. It was during David’s ministry that Central licensed me to the gospel ministry and then ordained me shortly before I moved to Kentucky to attend seminary. And speaking of seminary, I opted to attend Southern Seminary upon David’s recommendation, and I later moved to Southeastern Seminary with his blessing and encouragement. Porky Haynes was a source of constant encouragement, long before he joined the church staff during my college years. Porky is still one of my favorite people on earth.
There are certain individuals–too many to name–who have been such an encouragement over the years. There was the lady who used to tell me every time I returned to visit Central that she prayed for me every day. I think she has gone on to be with the Lord. There is the deacon who periodically reminds me that he wrote my name in the flyleaf of his Bible as a reminder to pray for me. There is the deacon who used to listen to me spout off about everything at a weekly prayer meeting when I was an ignorant 18 year old, only to tell me later that he was pleased by how much I had matured when I was a somewhat more circumspect (but still ignorant!) 22 year old. There was the adult Sunday School class that gave me so much encouragement when I taught them one morning during a “Youth Sunday” my senior year of high school. There were the two different couples that would occasionally give me tapes by some of their favorite preachers. And this list could be multiplied tenfold.
In my own ministry, some of my fondest memories of preaching and teaching have been at Central Baptist during trips back to Waycross. There was this one Sunday night in particular, during the summer of 2006, when I taught on the topic “What Baptists Believe” in the chapel. There were more folks at that meeting than in many of my Baptist History classes at the seminary. My grandparents brought a posse of folks over from First Christian Church, which made that evening all the more delightful. We laughed a lot that night. Hopefully everybody also learned a little bit as well.
I would not be where I am today without the kindness of many dozens of people at Central Baptist Church over the years. I have been forever shaped by the almost decade (1993-2002) that I was a member. Leah and I continue to enjoy worshiping at Central once or twice a year whenever we are visiting my parents (we’ll be there around Christmas, if not sooner!). I especially enjoy getting to introduce folks from Central to our children, who I hope will one day come to appreciate the role that Central has played in their daddy’s life.
God has shown much grace to Central during this past 100 years. Should He tarry, I trust He has even greater things in store for her during the next century. To God be the glory, great things He has done!