Published April 8, 2010
THOMASVILLE — Dan Spencer has lived in rural Georgia long enough to know who its spiritual giants are. As he drives between Thomasville and other slightly larger cities bordering the Florida-Georgia border, he passes through dozens of smaller communities, some not even on the map.
The communities are home to the forgotten population centers as far as the evening newscasts are concerned, but they are the backbone of the state when it comes to delivering groceries to Georgia’s tables. Rural Georgia – not just in the south but statewide – is the breadbasket to much of the state, as well as home to scattered factories and chicken processing plants.
But it’s the largely forgotten heroes of the Georgia Baptist Convention who minister in those rural areas who provide the moral and spiritual backbone to its residents. And that is why Spencer, pastor of First Baptist Church who was elected president of the state convention in November, wants to give bivocational pastors their due respect at this year’s annual meeting in Albany.
“We’re going to be meeting in south Georgia this year at Sherwood Baptist Church and it’s not very often that the Convention comes to our part of the state. It’s quite a drive – several hours – for many of our pastors, especially bivocationals, to attend the meetings when they are so far north of here. That’s why I want to have a special emphasis to encourage as many of them as possible to attend this year’s sessions,” he said.
“I don’t see near as many of those guys at our meetings as I would like to because they are out there in the trenches, working a day job in the marketplace and making house or hospital calls by night. The majority of our churches would not exist without their faithfulness to that calling, and I want to give special recognition to them this year.”
Spencer will be inviting bivocational pastors to deliver theme interpretations for the sessions based on II Cor. 5:14. Theme for the annual meeting will be “Compelled.”
“When I think of bivocational pastors I think of men like Robert Crapps who owns an appliance repair business and serves as pastor of Capel Baptist Church, located halfway between Cairo and Pelham – hence the name,” he says with a smile.
“Robert is a good preacher and a good leader who feels called to serve a bivocational church. He’s not doing it for the attention or to be in the spotlight but simply because he’s compelled by the love of Christ. Those are the kinds of individuals I want us to honor at this year’s meeting,” he added.
Spencer said he wants to get the word out to as many bivocational pastors as possible so they can drive over to Albany to attend a day or two of the meeting. He even asked Executive Committee members, in their recent session, to take up a love offering to help cover the expenses of any bivocational pastor who takes a day off from their employment.
Spencer, 42, serves in two worlds – he’s young enough to be considered the next generation but with roots deep in Baptist life to want to respect the wisdom of those considered elders among Southern Baptists. M.E. Dodd, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Shreveport, La., and considered the father of the Cooperative Program, was his great-great-uncle. George Martin Savage, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., was his great-grandfather. His father, Jerry, now residing in Savannah, Tenn., is a noted pastor, evangelist, and former president of both the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists and the SBC Pastors Conference. He continues to travel extensively through his evangelistic preaching and singing ministry, Jerry Spencer Ministries (www.jerryspencer.org).
“While I am concerned with passing the baton to the next generation, I want to be sure we listen to the wisdom of those who have walked with God for a long time. I want to hear from men who have ministered faithfully for over a half-century,” he says.
With that in mind, Spencer has asked his father to open this year’s meetings by speaking at the Sunday night inspirational rally and has asked Alabama evangelist Junior Hill to speak at the closing session.
“That generation will be bookends to this year’s meeting, and I want to feature the bivocational pastors during the heart of the meetings,” he added.
Spencer has served as pastor of First Thomasville for a decade, coming to the church from an assistant pastor’s role at Ridgecrest Baptist Church of Dothan, Ala. He had served on that staff for five years under the leadership of his father, who was pastor.
Prior to that he served as associate pastor with responsibilities in music and youth at Tower Grove Baptist Church in St. Louis, Mo., from 1992-94, where he was ordained in 1993.
Spencer has been active in Georgia Baptist life since he moved to the state in 2000. During that period he served as a member of the GBC Nominating Committee from 2003-04; as trustee of the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation from 2006-09; as chairman of the GBC Cooperative Program Budget Committee for 2008; and is currently serving as a member of the GBC Executive Committee.
On the national level he served as a preacher for the SBC Pastors’ Conference in 2000 and as a member of the SBC Committee on Committees in 2005.
He served as a US-2 missionary for the North American Mission Board for two years beginning in 1990. Spencer has a Masters of Arts degree in religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va.; a Master of Science in counseling and psychology from Troy State University in Dothan, Ala., and a Bachelor of Arts degree in biblical studies from Hannibal-LaGrange College in Hannibal, Mo. He married the former Tresa Schulz of Hull, Ill., in 1989 and they have two sons; Jeremiah and Jacob, a senior and junior, respectively, at Thomas County Central High School.
Concerning current Southern Baptist life, Spencer says he hopes the Convention “can get to the point of determining who is the enemy and who is not. Sometimes I feel we are guilty of trying to see who can ‘out-conservative’ the other conservatives.
The Spencer file
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When asked how the denomination can regain its focus on missions and evangelism and move away from much of the political infighting that has characterized Southern Baptists in recent days, he says bluntly: “The answer is actually found in the question itself – we must focus on missions and evangelism and place everything else in the background.
“We need to lay aside our preferences and focus together on reaching our city, our state, our nation, our world for Christ. That’s why I chose the theme of ‘Compelled’ for our annual meeting in November. I want to have a theme that we can all agree on is our primary task. It’s time that we get together and stop talking politics and begin talking about our ‘job’ to reach the lost.
Spencer said he is proud of being a Georgia Baptist and the outward focus that characterizes its membership. “I’m so proud of the work we do through our partnerships, of the churches that participated in the Buckets of Hope project for Haiti. The closer I get to know our state convention staff the more I appreciate what they are doing to work with us to bring our state to Christ.”
First Thomasville is engaged in missions at home and abroad and has developed its own partnerships. It has a working relationship with First Baptist Church of Hapeville near the Atlanta airport that was made possible through working with Mike Gravette, who oversees Mission Volunteers at the GBC. The church has sent construction teams and plans to participate in a community pancake breakfast in the near future.
“The four-hour drive is not too far to go when you’re wanting to share Christ,” he says,
First Thomasville also has a partnership with the Appalachia-based Ocoee Outreach in Cleveland, Tenn., where it has sent five families to help conduct Vacation Bible School; and has had mission teams travel to Thailand, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
Spencer is a strong supporter of the Cooperative Program, with First Thomasville giving 10 percent to the funding channel.
“The Cooperative Program is the finest way I know to invest in Great Commission work – Acts 1:8 work. What we give through the offering plate touches people not just in Georgia but throughout the world – that’s powerful when you really think about it.
“Whenever we receive the offering I say something like ‘We are now going to worship God with our gifts – gifts that are an investment in Kingdom work here and around the world.’
“And I believe that with my all of my heart.”
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