A Man After God's Own Heart

Reflections on Bob Williamson’s Ministry at First Baptist Church of Decatur

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 Outlook (monthly newsletter).

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Call to Ministry

Like many, Bob’s call to ministry was unexpected. While attending First Baptist Church of Athens and nearing the end of his tenure at the University of Georgia (UGA) where he was studying Forestry Resources and Business Administration, Bob felt that “Divine pull” into pastoral ministry.

“I just had this overwhelming sense that I was supposed to be doing something else. Initially, I dismissed it, but eventually I couldn’t put it off any longer,” he said. “I mentioned it to Margie and my mother, and they both said, ‘Yeah, we knew that.’” It was one of those instances where others knew what Bob was ultimately called to do before he did.

I just had this overwhelming sense that I was supposed to be doing something else. Initially, I dismissed it, but eventually I couldn’t put it off any longer...

Bob’s grandfather and uncle were both pastors, and his mother served as school director on a church staff in addition to attending church nearly every Sunday. So, Bob was no stranger to church or ministry. 

Through a family friend’s guidance, Bob adjusted his studies at UGA and then found his way to Southern Theological Baptist Seminary where he graduated in 1976.

Early Experience

After graduation, Bob took a job as the Youth Pastor at Bull Street Baptist in Savannah. A few years later, he took over as the Youth and Activities Director at FBC Chamblee before working in education at FBC Conyers for a short season.

Bob ended up at First Baptist Church of Tucker for roughly nine years as their Minister of Education. While things started well, the pastor eventually left, and they entered into a rough interim season.

“It kind of became a defining characteristic of life in ministry for me,” he said reflecting on interim seasons. “We lost multiple staff members and I ended up kind of being in charge.” 

When the new pastor came on and started calling new staff, Bob knew it was time to move on. “The church ended up going in a new direction after that, so I was a little more open to going somewhere else, and somebody floated my resume toward First Baptist Decatur.”

Coming to FBCD

Bob started at First Baptist Church of Decatur as the Minister of Education and Outreach in the early 1990s. The church was rapidly growing at the time. “At one point, we had four new Sunday School classes start over a six-week period because there were so many people coming.” Bob also told of how the church would weekly bring in young adults from Gwinnett County at the time because so many wanted to attend FBC Decatur.

“And even though there were larger numbers then than there are now, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s less commitment today,” Bob notes. “The DNA of the church is the same: we’re still mission-minded, moderate, open, accepting, caring, and a leader in changes happening in the denomination.”

Changes Along the Way

Reflective of Bob’s prior experience, ministry challenges eventually found their way to FBCD as senior leadership left, budgets became tighter from a collapsing national economy, and tensions arose from within the denomination. 

Bob recalls that there was a stability lost along the way when some of the internal structure at FBCD began shifting. As more people left, he took on more responsibilities. “It became a ministry of crisis versus the ministry of priority at that point,” he said.

The DNA of the church is the same: we’re still mission-minded, moderate, open, accepting, caring, and a leader in changes happening in the denomination.

Eventually, the church began to find its grounding again. “We always had great preachers, even during the interim,” Bob said, indicating that a strong pulpit always helped maintain a hopeful morale. “In some ways, we’re more prominent and recognized in the [Decatur] community now than other places that have had similar struggles. We were still able to become the ‘front lawn’ of Decatur where so many in the community find connection.”

When asked how he became so involved with the senior adult’s ministry, Bob responded, “[the senior adults] requested it, really, but part of that began because I just knew them. Interims are a little bit stressful, but if you get through it together, it does something for the group.”

There have been other changes and challenges along the way. Bob cites technological improvements and growth as one of those. While technology has changed the way churches can positively communicate with non-church-goers, “we’re still trying to regain a little bit of personal connection outside of it,” he says. 

Despite the changes, the church has stayed fairly healthy during Bob’s tenure. “Staff members come and go, but the congregation’s identity has stayed the same. In some ways we may be a little stronger in our [Baptist] identity because of the challenges along the way.”

Ministry Highlights

The people at First Baptist Decatur and the shared memories are what have made Bob’s ministry experience so valuable. When asked for some of his favorite memories at FBCD, he is quick to jump to community-wide experiences.

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“The 150th anniversary celebration was cool.” He led the celebration planning and remembers the church being so full that almost no one else could get into the building. 

“We had 650 people packed in the gym for the anniversary luncheon after the service, and I had to turn people away at the door,” he remarked. “I heard about it for weeks! It was such a great experience though.”

In addition to the anniversary celebration, some of Bob’s other highlights include Young at Heart trips to Alaska and Greece, staff retreats, hearing Walter Brueggemann speak, and the evolution of a more recent program, Christmas on Clairemont.

“Our music ministry is at a newer level than it’s probably ever been,” he said. “I’m really proud of our church and its people. We’ve come a long way and have done a lot of good things.”

Retirement Plans

Now, after 28 years of serving the community at First Baptist Decatur, Bob is looking forward to retirement. When asked what his plans are he replied, “My last day is a Wednesday, so on Thursday I plan to be in the woods.”

An avid outdoorsman and lover of nature, Bob is eager to get back into green spaces. In addition to planting seedlings on their tree farm, he hopes to revamp his involvement with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club and spend more intentional time on hiking trails. 

“I plan on spending a lot of time with my kids and grandkids, too,” he said. “I have a lot of reading to catch up on and I’m even thinking of picking back up the guitar!” There are also numerous volunteer opportunities in Decatur that have interested Bob over the years, and he hopes to invest some of his energies in making even more of an impact in the local community. 

Hope for the Future

I hope [First Baptist] becomes a center of spirituality for people, a place of support, encouragement, connection – and a place where they can find belonging.

When asked about the future of FBCD, Bob remains infectiously hopeful. “There is a sense of stability in the church now, and historically, stability has indicated growth for this church. We have a great opportunity to continue that with the staff we have here.” 

And with that growth, Bob hopes the church can draw more people in. “I hope [First Baptist] becomes a center of spirituality for people, a place of support, encouragement, connection – and a place where they can find belonging.”

It has been that place for Bob for almost three decades now, a sanctuary where his faith has not only been tested but refined. “There’s a different kind of depth there now,” he said reflecting on his relationship with God. “It’s easier to see where things are headed now and why. But it’s like any relationship though; it has to be an intentional pursuit.”

Last Day

Bob’s last day on staff at FBCD will be Wednesday, October 31, 2018. Like several staff members before him, Bob and Margie will take a few months off from the church before returning. “This is our church home and we don’t ever see that changing.” 

Bob’s pastoral leadership and warm compassion has transformed more lives than one could count. His presence and contributions to our ministry staff will be greatly missed.

We love you, Bob! There are not enough words to express our gratitude for your ministry in our community. From the bottom of our hearts: thank you!


There will be a retirement celebration in Carreker Hall for Bob on Sunday, October 28th following the 11:15am service. The church is currently collecting a love offering to give to Bob. If you would like to contribute, please contact Dilshad Premji at the church finance office at dpremji@fbcdecatur.com or by calling 404-373-1653.

Return on Investment - Jamila Edwards

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Last week we heard Damon Corn speak about dividends paid in his life as a result of the investment First Baptist Decatur and its members had made in him and the Decatur Community. This morning I want to speak to you about another financial concept, return on investment. Particularly, I want to speak with you about the returns I have received since investing my time and resources into this church and the Decatur community.

In December of 2011 I walked through the doors at the back of this Sanctuary on holiday music Sunday just before Christmas. I can recall being greeted by Scott Pyron and sitting in the back near some nice women who introduced themselves. I can remember those women telling me that I needed to come back the next week so that I could hear Pastor Julie preach as she was a phenomenal preacher. I did return that next week and have continued to return for the nearly seven years since then.

What is important to understand about that time in my life when I first got up the courage to walk through the doors of this church is that I was what I would describe as spiritually broken. I was going through a period of underemployment after finishing graduate school earlier that year and approaching the anniversary of a time when I had suffered multiple pregnancy losses in a matter of months. I had lost faith and came here seeking the hope that seemed so far away from me in that time.

What I found in this church was a community and small groups where I could rediscover my faith and a theology that helped me to be grateful for what I had rather than mourning what I didn’t and a call to step outside of my own sorrows to try and do something positive for others. So very early on I committed to a habit of giving to the church. As I said, I was underemployed and couldn’t afford to give much, but I settled on a number that I knew I could give consistently and did so. When I found full-time employment I increased that giving as I have with each subsequent raise or promotion.

The next thing I did was to begin volunteering with conversations ministry and then with the Children’s ministry for Wednesday night missions bible study and eventually the Sunday pre-K bible study class. I have even served as a Deacon here.

I have been investing my time and resources into this church and Decatur for some time now, and the returns I have received are considerable. My career has thrived and I even completed my doctoral degree last December, but I have maintained perspective about those achievements and any financial gain due in part to what I have learned at this church about what is truly important in this life.

Thanks to the enormous amount of time I have spent getting to know and love so many of the children in this church as I volunteered with the Children’s ministry God had an opportunity to work on and open my heart. My husband and I became approved foster parents in the state of Georgia this past spring and almost a month ago we had our six-month old son KJ placed with us. We are planning to adopt him.

The return on my investment in this church is evident in the peace and perspective I now possess and the beautiful little family that we have created which helped me heal from the heartbreak of years of unsuccessful fertility treatment and multiple pregnancy losses. Often when we give, we are not just helping others, but making room in our hearts for God to work on us in our brokenness.

Please pray with me:

God allow our hearts and hands to be opened this morning so that we can give of ourselves in that name of working for your kingdom both in us and through us.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen


The above is a part of a 10-week series spotlighting the effects stewardship has in our congregation at FBCD. We love these stories of transformation and life-change! If you're interested in exploring financial stewardship at FBC Decatur, click here.

Church Family – Ronnie Jowers

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I appreciate the church asking me to give my God Story.  Now first you may say “Isn’t that the guy who, in the past, presented the quarterly church financials, presented the next year’s budget, MAP, and served on the pastor search committee that recommended Dr. David to be our pastor?  Well, yes – that’s me – just now with a lot less hair.  However, today I don’t want to focus as much on the finances of the church.  Now don’t think you are getting off scot free – I’ll get around to that before I finish but today I want you to think about something.  Think about what are the most important things to you in your life. 

I have recently reflected on this and find that my answers parallel a recent survey that said people ranked three things as the most important in their lives. 

1.     God
2.     Love – toward family, friends, and others
3.     Family

With us being in God’s house today, my guess is many of you picked God first.  Many of you, like me, may have intertwined #2 and #3 – Love and Family.  Today, I want to talk about family. 

Kay and I are blessed with a wonderful family of a son, a daughter, 5 grandchildren and daughter in law.  As we were raising our son and daughter, I repeatedly told them that I was doing the best I could because they didn’t come with an instruction manual.  Kay and I found that our main responsibilities as a mother and father were to:

1.     Love them unconditionally
2.     Have them love and care about others
3.     Learn right from wrong
4.     Education them to fulfill their mission and goals in life
5.     Provide food and shelter for them
6.     With the Ultimate Goal: Be Christlike

Well, in 2009 Kay and I joined FBCD and found a church like none other in which we’ve attended.  In no time, we knew so many of you as friends.  We were immediately asked to participate in many church activities – it was like we had been here 20 years.  We were a part.  We had found a church home.  FBCD was special, inclusive, loving, and focused on teaching the Bible.

But in March of this year, I added a new word to FBCD as my church.  I realized more than ever that FBCD was my church family.  You see, in March, I was in the hospital for about 2 weeks while the doctors tried to figure out why I was in such pain.  They kept saying I was not a text book case.  They concluded that I had B-Cell Lymphoma Cancer and that I was in it for the long haul of 8 cycles of major chemotherapy and, in my opinion, every medical test known to man. 

From that first day in the hospital, the love and support that FBCD has shown me has shown me that you are far more than my church, you are my church family.  A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get a card, an email, a text, a call, a visit from one of you telling me that you are praying for me daily and asking what I need.  The food, books, snacks, drinks, and other wonderful gifts you have given Kay and me have been overwhelming.  I know that I am loved by this church.  It has made all the difference in my spirits, my health, and my hope. 

Now a minute ago I listed 5 of the top things that Kay and I felt were our responsibilities as parents of our children.  I wondered if the responsibilities of being a member of a church family any different?  The things we tried to do as parents were:

  1. Love them unconditionally – where better to do that in church where we do have an instruction manual – the Bible.  But we need people like our wonderful staff who dedicate themselves to teaching us, guiding us, counseling us, and loving us as Jesus would have us love others.  To have a wonderful staff takes money for their salaries and benefits. 
  2. Care for and do for others:  Our church does this for its members, such as me, but also for the community whether in Decatur or on the other side of the world.  Our mission efforts take money to send us or others as missionaries and/or to provide supplies to those in need.
  3. Educate us and Learn right from wrong – our Bible study groups provide us an avenue to socially gather with others whether like or different from us in social, economic or other arenas.  But we need a place to build these relationships.  And for our education, learning more about Christ and his purpose for us is a never-ending process whether you are an infant, me or Pastor David.  We need a church home to provide all of those avenues for learning.   Where better than FBCD?
  4. Provide food and shelter for them – We eat at FBCD a good bit.   We meet here even more.  For that, we need a church home that represents our Love of God but that is structurally sound, safe, and welcoming.  Our church facility is large.  We ignored it for decades and have much to fix.  This will take a lot of resources.    

I love this church and seeing what it has done in loving me through this, I am more convinced than ever that everyone needs a loving church home/family.  FBCD also needs to be here for the generations to come. 

Let me conclude with one MAJOR example of what this church means to Kay and me.  Early in 2018 Kay, who many of you know is an artist, was invited to have her first ever art show at a gallery in Marietta in early August.  I was so excited for her.  Then I got sick and she became my major care-giver – spending every third week with me in the hospital, taking care of me night and day when we got home, running back to Emory once or twice every week.  Doing her art for the show took a back seat.  It weighed on my mind every day – I wanted her to get ready for her show but she wanted to take care of me.  As we approached the summer, 4 angels from our church called and said for us not to worry.  They were handling all the show’s food preparation, set-up, flowers, decorations, everything.  Their husbands quickly joined in with staging, photos, manual labor, clean-up - you name it.  And then another FBCD angel called and asked if she could help Kay carry her art to Marietta and help hang it in the gallery since I was unable to help.  I can’t tell you what a burden was lifted from Kay’s and my shoulders when these angels called. 

Then the night of the show, a FBCD bus pulls up and out pours a bus full of Young At Heart members followed by many cars from our FBCD family - all coming to love and support Kay and me.  The Gallery owner told us later that he had never had a bus, period, pull up and have so many people come to one of his artist’s shows. 

So, let me tell you that I wouldn’t be standing here today without the loving and sustaining support and encouragement you have given me over the past 5 months.  I still have 2 more chemo cycles to go each taking about 3 weeks.  God heard your prayers, I felt them and I am so happy to say that recent tests say I am in remission.  I understand I am cancer free but chemo whipped.  Hopefully by early November, I’ll be through with this, start getting my strength back and be more able to be with you.  The constant through all of this has been you, my church family.  Words cannot thank you enough for what you have meant to Kay and me.  I knew that I loved FBCD from the time we joined but what you have shown and done for us is beyond love as we typically think of it.  What you have shown to me is the love that Jesus wants us all to have and to share.  You, my brothers and sisters in Christ, have that kind of love.  I am forever grateful. 

My Prayer:  May FBCD be your church family and the church family for the many who need it now and for the generations to come.  As you allocate your time, focus, money and resources, think of FBCD as your church family as you do your other family.  May God Bless You.  Thank you.

– Ronnie Jowers

Dividends - Damon Corn

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My name is Damon Corn, and as always, I count it both an honor and a privilege to be before you today.

This morning I’m gonna talk about Stewardship, and over the course of the week as I thought about what I wanted to say related to this sometimes delicate subject, I decided rather than going to the Bible and digging poor ol’ half- hearted  Ananias and Sapphira back up out of the grave, or even seek to inspire you today with the New Testament account of the courage and faith of one iconic old widow woman who was down to her last two pennies by the time the offering plate came around, [I would spare you that].

Instead, I figure I’ll just keep it real simple this morning and talk about Dividends’, especially Dividends as they relate to my own personal journey here at First Baptist Church [of] Decatur, Georgia.

Now in a corporate setting a Dividend is that portion of the profits that the corporation gives back to the shareholders: a return on their investment, if you will.

But here at FBC, we’re a Church, a not-for-profit organization; therefore, the return on our investment comes in the way we impact the lives of the people we encounter. In other words, changed lives.

And I’m fairly certain this morning that way back in the Fall of 1862 when the idea for this place was first hatched, or for the next 10 years after that, that it took for them folks to finally get enough people and resources together to move into their own building, nobody in that early congregation had any notion that they would still be getting a return on their investment 148 years later on that Sunday morning when I walked through the doors of this Church lost, looking for the A.A. meeting downstairs.

But I want you to know it was a member of this Church that day [who] stopped me in the hallway and asked me if I needed help, and it was her kind demeanor and absolute graciousness that prompted me to want to come back a few Sundays later for an official visit.

Dividends
And on that Sunday that I came back after the Fresh Start service, again, it was a member of this Church that day [who] pointed me down the hall to the Seeking the Kingdom Bible study where I would encounter Liz and experience the first spark of a relationship that has lasted almost seven years from that day to this one.

Dividends
And it was a member of this Church way last year that encouraged me (ME) to apply over at McAfee Seminary.

Now let me tell you something you might not know: When somebody – anybody – puts an application in over there at that “Fancy School Of Theology,” the very first thing they do is run a thorough background check on that individual.

And when they pulled my background up on that computer screen and hit print and those 13 pages of my Criminal History come rolling out, it was that same member of this Church, our former [interim] Pastor, the Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics, [who] they called to the front office. And they looked him right square in the eye and said, “Dr. Gushee, no matter what’s in this background [check], are you willing to stand in the gap for Damon Corn?” And he looked right back at ‘em and said, ”yes.”

Dividends. Big Time
I start my second class over there on the 20th of [August].

And this past November clear out of the blue it was a member of this church [who] nominated me (ME) to be a Deacon. And then it was all of you, the members of this Church, [who] voted me into that office. And on that day I knew what the Apostle Paul, a man who called himself the “Chief of Sinners,” must of felt like when God got a holt of him on the Damascus road. He couldn’t believe it, but it was real. And it’s been real for me here at this Church for a long time now.

Dividends. The kind that only God and his people can bring about.
In closing, I just want y’all to know that I’m only one example of a life that’s been changed for the better here at FBC. It happens every day all over this campus, and while you might not always hear about [it] the way you did this morning, I promise you it’s happening, and the reason it’s happening is because all of you, the people of God, the members of this Church, [who] are willing to give of your time and your energy and yes, your money, to make it happen.

So keep coming back, keep doing it, keep giving. Cause it’s working. It’s really working

May God Bless you. Amen!

– Damon Corn


The above is a part of a 10-week series spotlighting the effects stewardship has in our congregation at FBCD. We love these stories of transformation and life-change! If you're interested in exploring financial stewardship at FBC Decatur, click here.

The Power of Being Church

Dear Friends and Family of First Baptist Decatur:

First of all, I am honored to be your pastor. As God is weaving our lives together, I stand in awe and my heart overflows with gratitude.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands –
O prosper the work of our hands!
— Psalm 90:17, NRSV

Much of my gratitude has to do with you, with your fascinating lives, and with your passion for God’s work in our world. Not only are we fortunate to be together in this time and place, but we also share an amazing history through the legacy of this fine congregation. We stand on the shoulders of giants. And we live in a time of great need. Just as God inspired those before us to do big things, God calls us now to accomplish great things. So I am also grateful for this grand time of challenge to be God’s people anew.

Over the next two months, we will be hearing from a few of our members. They will be offering stories of why and how this church family has made a difference in their lives. Whether by growing faith, feeling support in times of difficulty, or participating in an event that changed them, they want to tell you about God’s presence in their lives. And they want you to understand fully the power we share in being church at First Baptist Decatur.

Therefore, when we place an offering in the offering plate on Sunday morning or make a gift on-line, we are doing something profound. We share in the power of being a church during a time of tremendous need. God calls us to be extraordinary, to minister to a hurting and confused and divided world desperate to hear a word of hope and to feel a sense of peace, love and joy.

Such is the power of being church in today’s world. Your financial gifts add to this sacred calling. Your contribution will make all the difference over the coming year. For now, we celebrate God’s grace that has called us together. Over the next eight weeks, listen carefully to the stories of how God’s presence in this place has transformed lives. Give thanks for the amazing grace of God in our lives, and give generously to the power of being church at First Baptist Decatur. With the psalmist then, let us pray:

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands!

With love and great expectations,

David