Normal is good. I’m a fan of normal.
I recently found normal in Howell, about an hour and 15-minute drive straight south from our house in Nolensville. The weather was nearly perfect for an early morning drive with my bride, Jeanne, and we wound our way along country roads through the beautiful rolling hills of Middle Tennessee.
Howell is a small community located between Lewisburg and Fayetteville. We pulled into the parking lot of First Baptist Church Howell and the thought came to my mind. First Baptist Church and the town of Howell are, well, normal.
According to the last census, if you draw a ring around Howell about eight miles from the center of town, the population of Howell is about 8,800. That’s not many folks, but it’s normal. And the church — First Baptist Howell — has between 75 to 100 people of all ages in worship, but that’s normal.
And Brian Gass, pastor of FBC, is bivocational. But that’s normal.
You see, scattered across Tennessee are hundreds of communities just like Howell, and hundreds of churches just like FBC, and nearly hundreds of pastors just like Brian. Tennessee is comprised of small towns where Tennessee Baptist Convention churches average about 120 members and where more than 60 percent of all our TBC pastors are bivocational. I call these bivocational brothers the “Iron Men” of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Preaching at First Baptist Church of Howell was a special experience. The choir sang a call to worship and then special music prior to the message. There was a warm welcome that included hand-shaking and extending genuine hospitality. Birthdays and wedding anniversaries were recognized with participants placing dollars in a little church on the Lord’s Supper Table and singing “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Anniversary” songs. Announcements were made. Hymns were sung from a hymn book. A good children’s Bible story, complete with flannel-graph illustration, was presented. Children (and adults) listened intently. An offering was received. The invitation was given. A man in his 50’s came to Christ that many in the church had been praying for.
Afterwards, we gathered in the fellowship hall for a “dinner-on-the-grounds” covered dish lunch. The church does this once a month. I suspect if you live in a town like Howell and go to a church like FBC, you’d probably say, “Well, that’s normal.”
But just because a church is normal doesn’t mean it can’t also be exceptional because exceptional is how I’d describe FBC Howell, and I’m proud of this exemplary church.
People are being saved and the church is financially generous. The congregation has increased its Cooperative Program giving to 10 percent. It gives through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions as well as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The church is actively involved in the local association. And through nine years of faithful service, Pastor Brian and his wife, Lisa, love serving this church. The affection of the people for their pastor was obvious. There is a healthy spirit in the church and the environment is full of joy, unity and peace. These are godly people simply loving the Lord, loving each other, and loving their community.
I believe FBC Howell is the picture Paul had in mind when he painted “normal” for the church in Ephesians 4:2-3. “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
Personally, I can’t wait to return, and I am so thankful for the countless “normal” churches across our state that are having an eternal impact like FBC Howell led by pastors like Brian.
They’re all pretty exceptional in my book. It is a joy to be on this journey with you.