CHARLOTTE, N.C. (ABP) — The senior pastor of North Carolina's largest Southern Baptist church announced Nov. 21 he is retiring after 26 years.
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.
"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."
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.
When Brown became fourth pastor of Hickory Grove in 1984 the church had 2,155 members. Today membership stands at 16,827. The church meets on two campuses and employs 20 pastors.
In some years, Hickory Grove has baptized as many as 400 people. It has been one of the top contributors to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, giving more than $1 million through the Cooperative Program from 2005 to 2009. The church has frequently offered its facilities for statewide Baptist meetings.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.