Home > Current Events > Hickory Grove Baptist Church (Charlotte NC) transition

Hickory Grove Baptist Church (Charlotte NC) transition

So last weekend Joe Brown, the pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC retired [link]; the congregation was informed via video. So far as I can tell the video is not available on the Internet; it certainly isn’t available at the church’s Vimeo page [link].

I have to admit I initially thought the following paragraph was a bit odd:

Joe Brown, 62, told members of Hickory Grove Baptist Church by video that he is stepping down at the end of the year. Because he is currently preaching out of town, however, he said he will not speak again at Hickory Grove as pastor.

I mean, what sort of pastor is out of the pulpit from mid-November through the end of the year? And subsequent paragraphs didn’t strike me any less odd:

“Being the senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church that past 26 years has not only been my calling, it was my destiny,” Brown said, noting he was baptized as a 6-year-old boy on the same Sunday Hickory Grove met for the first time in a barn in 1955.

Brown said that “under God’s guidance” he believes it is time for him to step aside. “However, let me be clear, this is not a retirement from the calling God has placed on my life to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “If I may use an old naval term, it is a redeployment to different ports of call where I will continue to faithfully deposit His precious cargo.”

My cynical side is tempted to translate the Christianese above into English as something unflattering, something like “I’m still God’s man, and don’t you forget I’m special; I have arranged a large but unassailable severance package, etc.” I’m afraid I’ve heard too many departure announcements that include phrases like “spend more time with my family” that actually meant “I’m getting a divorce” that any such announcement that isn’t chock-full of detail automatically leads me to suspect a cover-up of some kind. A pastor who is leaving one position without having another arranged too often is either fleeing a scandal or has serious health problems.

What makes the Hickory Grove situation different is the fact that they’ve had a successor in waiting for ten months:

Brown’s announcement came 10 months after the congregation called its first co-pastor in view of taking over as senior pastor when Brown retired. Clint Pressley, 41, is a native of Charlotte who attended Hickory Grove as a teenager. He returned to the congregation after six years as pastor at Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala., taking over pulpit duties right away and then assuming administrative responsibility over time.

There’s more detail in a Tim Funk/Charlotte Observer article from February announcing Pressley’s appointment [link]:

But the Rev. Clint Pressley, 40, a Charlotte native who made his debut Sunday in the newly created job of co-pastor, will now be the one in the pulpit during some of Hickory Grove Baptist’s most popular Sunday services. Increasingly, Pressley will take charge of running the megachurch’s daily operations.

And eventually, if all goes according to plan, he’ll become the senior pastor.

“Some folks think that I’m retiring; I think I’m just shifting gears,” Brown said Sunday. “I’m going into the last third of my life and I think the biggest thing for me right now is to empower the people. Rather than do it (myself), teach others to do it.”

So in this context this looks like a relatively healthy transition, Christianese and all. For the sake of the folks who attend Hickory Grove (all 16,000 of them, spread out over two campuses) I certainly hope so.

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