The reform of FBC Durham

by Andy Davis, First Baptist Church Durham

Friday, June 9, 2017

Editor’s note: While there are many models for revitalization in the local church, the following is a testimony about how Pastor Andy Davis experienced church revitalization at First Baptist Church Durham. The following is an excerpt from Davis’ new book, Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again, published by Baker Books.

The reform of FBC Durham: My lowest point, and how Psalm 37 rescued me

My journey toward church revitalization at FBC reached its lowest point just before a climactic church conference that would decide the doctrinal issue over which we had been fighting. The Sunday before that church conference was the hardest day of preaching in my almost seventeen years of ministry here at FBC. The tension was so thick I could barely catch my breath or walk steadily to preach. The text was not a particularly difficult passage, but I was preaching to so many hate-filled faces that I found myself clutching the sides of the pulpit just to keep upright. After barely making it through that sermon, I went home to recuperate for the evening service. I lay down in a hammock out in the back yard and prayed… and cried.

As I lay there, I felt I was at the breaking point and could not take much more. A godly church member had recommended that morning that I read Psalm 37 for encouragement. That afternoon, I did. Line after line of this ancient Psalm washed over my heart and eased my burdens. I felt as though God himself were speaking those words to me. The basic point of the Psalm is stated right at the beginning: “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture” (Psalm 37:1-3). The clear message kept coming across in the Psalm: wicked people make plots and schemes against the righteous, but they will fail. In the end, the righteous will inherit the earth, and the wicked will be no more. So do not fret or be anxious, do not worry or be alarmed. Simply stand firm and watch the deliverance that God will bring about. God even comforted me about a potential lawsuit I had heard they were planning: “The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, seeking their very lives; but the Lord will not leave them in their power or let them be condemned when brought to trial” (Psalm 37:32-33).

One passage especially resonated with me: “I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found” (Psalm 37:35-36). This made such an impression on my heart that I rose out of my hammock, got a saw, and cut off a leafy green branch from a tree. As soon as the saw passed through that branch, the leaves were dead, though there was no appearance of the fact—they looked as leafy and healthy as they had a moment before. But soon the leaves would inevitably wither because they were cut off from the living source. I took that branch with me to work and I still have it. The leaves are completely dead now, because I cut the branch nearly fifteen years ago. It represents the end of the era of unregenerate church members dominating the life of FBC.

That time of meditation and prayer over Psalm 37 completely changed my perspective in less than an hour. I knew immediately what would happen at that climactic Wednesday night church conference: the plots and schemes of the powerful men who opposed me would succeed in the short term, but the church would be healthy in the long term. In common language, we would lose the battle at the church conference, but win the war for church revitalization. I went to work as usual on Monday morning, but the staff all saw a noticeable change in my demeanor. I was happy, confident, and excited about what was going to happen long-term at FBC. Everyone around me relaxed as well, and waited to see what God would do. As I look back on all this, I now realize that my time of prayerful meditation on Psalm 37 was a pivotal moment in the entire church reform. If I had continued in my depression, and the vote turned out as it did, I would almost certainly have resigned and taken another pastorate that was then being offered to me. I wonder if FBC would have been reformed at that point. God could have raised someone else up, but the same battle would still have needed to be fought.

Editor’s note: Andy Davis has served as senior pastor of First Baptist Church Durham since October 1998. To learn more about the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Church Health and Revitalization Team, click here.