Recently I sat in the office of Dr. Edwin Jenkins, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Athens and listened as he spoke with deep affection about his flock. He has an extensive vision for continuing to build the spiritual unity and maturity of the members. This is no small task, as FBC has a congregation that spans 5 generations! The church has recently adopted the phrase “A Place for Everyone” as its motto, and one of the opportunities to make that statement a reality is coming on Sunday, October 5th.
Dr. Joel Carwile, who was born in Athens, is coming back to his “roots” to minister at FBC at all three worship services that Sunday. Dr. Jenkins told me that “Joel has an ability to speak to the entire congregation, and all generations. He can communicate with young people, has things to say to the older generation, and to everyone in between.” He also added that “Joel is an excellent communicator.”
As I looked over Joel’s bio, I noticed he had an unusual tagline at the bottom of his email, and I thought to myself, “I like this guy.” It said, “Everyone loves you until you start to lead.” True word, I would say, and Joel has been doing a lot of leading for a long time. He has ministered in Africa, Central America, Haiti, Cuba and the US, and Valley View Church in Louisville has grown by 2300 members to nearly 6,000 since 2007 when he became Senior Pastor. Approximately 1500 of those have been by baptism.
I had the chance to “talk shop” with Joel in regard to being on the foreign mission field, and he told me a wonderful story. When he was ministering in Botswana, Africa, he was speaking at a conference where there were attendees from 49 different nations. “Guys,” he asked them toward the end of the conference, “Would you do something for me? Would each of you, in your own language, stand up and praise God?” So they did, and he said it was beautiful, and imagined that “it was just like the day of Pentecost.” I smiled with delight as I listened.
My enjoyment of our fellowship grew as he told me another story. He and his wife had their second child late in life, and when his wife was in labor he was moving rather speedily to get her to the hospital. Their baby girl was in a hurry to get here, and her daddy delivered her in the front seat of the car! “What a blessing it was for the first hands to hold her to be those of her father who loves her,” I said. I wish more kids could experience that.
I then talked with Dr. Carwile about his upcoming visit to Athens. “First Baptist has always had a special place in my heart,” he said, “and I am ecstatic about the opportunity to come and preach the gospel there.” I asked, “What do you want to see happen?” His answer was quick and sincere: “My prayer is that many will come to know Christ.” He also added, “I also want to see friendships renewed.” He went on to tell me that he was fully aware that while he might be the one to preach the gospel and give the invitation to come and accept Christ, that his desire is that FBC would be “stirred to action.” He was faithful to add that none of it would be possible without the moving of the Holy Spirit. “The reach of the gospel through First Baptist Church can be powerful,” he said.
We talked about the scripture in Ezekiel 33 that summons all of us to be “watchmen on the wall.” Indeed, caring for the “newborn” is the responsibility of the entire church, not just those with “labels.” I am inclined to think that for Joel the concept has a fresh meaning, considering he has a literal newborn in his house, and one for whom he must be a literal “watchman.” He is diligently seeking the Lord about what to preach, and I believe God will answer his prayer abundantly. The services will be at 8 am, 10:30 am and 6 pm on October 5th, and you are invited to, as Dr. Jenkins says, “think personally, locally, globally, and eternally” by coming to hear Dr. Joel Carwile. You’ll be glad you did.
First Baptist Church of Athens, 201 East Hobbs, Athens, AL 35611
(Main sanctuary is at the southeast corner of Clinton and Bryan streets in Athens, AL)
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner