Brown reflects on lifetime of ministry
    February 3 2011 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

    As Joe Brown prepared to move on from his career in the Navy, God made his next step very clear. “God literally came to my room one night and He spoke to me just like He did Samuel. He said, ‘preach,’” Brown said. So, Brown did just that. That next Sunday night he preached and within one month he was pastoring a church.

    Brown has devoted his life to pastoring and preaching God’s Word, and poured much of his life into shepherding Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte. Brown recently retired from 26 years of ministry as the church’s senior pastor.

    Throughout his time at Hickory Grove Brown saw the Lord do many great things, and he saw many changes happen in the life of the congregation. When Brown came to Hickory Grove in 1984 attendance was about 2,155. By 2010, that number had increased to 16,827. Since 1984 the church has baptized nearly 8,000 people.

    As the congregation grew Brown learned the importance of working with a staff who shared his same vision for the church.

    The senior pastor cannot do all the visitations and cannot preach all the sermons. Brown encouraged pastors to “replicate your vision in the hearts of other people” and to ensure the staff is onboard with the vision.

    “You cannot carry people who have no vision,” he said.

    Brown led Hickory Grove to become a multi-site church because he saw a need in the local community and knew God had laid this next step of ministry on his heart. For nearly three years he prayed about starting this multi-site campus in an area of Charlotte that was growing rapidly but had no church nearby.

    Hickory Grove photo

    Around 5,550 people attended two services Jan. 23 to honor Joe Brown, retiring senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte.

    On that first Sunday of worship at the multi-site campus more than 300 people came and most were from the community; they were not already attending Hickory Grove.

    As the landscape surrounding Hickory Grove changed, Brown said the congregation had to be willing to also change. They never changed the message of the gospel, only the strategies in which they sought to share that message.

    As the Hispanic population increased, Hickory Grove started a Latin American congregation. As more people became interested in faith-based education, Hickory Grove started a school on its campus.

    Brown said the key to continuing in effective ministry for the sake of the gospel comes back to a piece of advice someone shared with him years ago: remember who called you. “People will try to pull you away from God,” Brown said. When that happens, “you absolutely cannot function. Don’t get so busy doing the work of the ministry that you forget the One who called you.”

    With busyness can often come, whether intentional or not, a tendency to forsake personal time with God.

    “You get so busy you forget to feed yourself,” Brown said. “Burn out is literally a soul deficit.”

    Brown did not plan to stay at Hickory Grove 26 years.

    Not that he wanted to leave, but he kept his focus on the One who called him and determined to serve wherever and however God led. “I knew I did not own the church. I wasn’t the proprietor,” Brown said. 

    Something Brown has tried to maintain as priority throughout his ministry is mentoring and helping develop young preaching pastors. “I wanted to always multiply,” he said. Brown also made sure to keep his family a priority. As balancing work and family is a constant struggle, Brown had to be intentional in scheduling his time.

    Just as Moses knew when it was time to go into the desert, so Brown said he knew when it was time to retire from serving at Hickory Grove. “If we are really truly God’s people and His Spirit lives within us He will guide us,” Brown said. Brown knew well before it was actually time to step aside, and so he began planning for that transition. Brown urged pastors to plan ahead for when that day comes.

    Although his time of serving as senior pastor of Hickory Grove has ended, Brown’s ministry is far from over. “God is not finished with me,” he said, and he is ready to serve however God leads. Brown still wants to be involved in serving the local church and is interested specifically in helping churches going through a difficult time.

    Brown said he hopes this next phase of life will allow him to be a “restorer of the faith” for other churches and pastors.

    Brown speaks as one who knows personally God’s grace and does not forget it. “Every day is a gift,” he said. “I am a person most blessed.”

    On Jan. 30, the Sunday after Brown’s retirement, Clint Pressley, who had been serving as the preaching pastor, was affirmed as the church’s new senior pastor.

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    2/3/2011 8:26:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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