Cathy and I have had the privilege of serving in 6 different Southern Baptist churches. We have had wonderful experiences in each of the churches and have had made life-long friendships in each one.
When we moved to El Dorado in 1971 to establish my surgical practice we immediately joined the First Baptist Church without visiting any other church. I was raised in this church and had made a profession of faith at age 10 on an Easter Sunday. Many of my friends had done the same at that age, and it seemed to be the right thing. I had no understanding of grace and salvation and was simply joining the church, which I believed assured me of eternal life and a right standing with the Lord. In 1971 Pop had already departed, but Mom was still living and her membership was at First Baptist along with Bubba and his family. We were impressed with the excellent sermons by the pastor, Dr. Don Harbuck, and his winsome personality made us immediately feel welcomed.
During our early days in El Dorado Cathy and I were nominal church members, but then jointly decided to become more active in church to set a better example for our two young children at the time, John Aaron and Mary Kay. Within a year we were attending a couple’s Sunday school class taught by Robert Wike and slowly developing strong relationships in the class. We were exposed to Biblical principles which had previously escaped us because we had not been searching for them. We became so active in the class by 1975 Robert asked me to co-teach the class. I began studying the Bible in earnest and utilizing the awakening skills of teaching God had given me. It was definitely a growing process because in the beginning I was a mediocre teacher at best.
As a result of a number of events and circumstances Cathy and I attended a Bill Gothard seminar in Dallas, Texas in August, 1977 where we were transformed. For the first time the gospel promises became personal, and we were changed by the saving power of the Lord Jesus.
Dr. Harbuck continued as pastor of First Baptist until June,1983 when he resigned to become pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was fortunate to have been on the Pastor Search Committee, and the church eventually called Dr. Mark Coppenger as pastor in December, 1983. He had never pastored a church and had only recently graduated from seminary, but his giftedness and zeal for the Lord confirmed he was God’s man for our church at this time. Over the next five years the church took a new direction in theology and ministry under Dr. Coppenger’s leadership, and I believe we became the leading church in the area. There was a new emphasis on soul-winning, discipleship, local and overseas missions, and the church grew both numerically and spiritually. It was an exciting and vibrant church in which to serve.
In the spring of 1987 Dr. Coppenger announced he had scheduled a four day church-wide revival in August with Kelly Green, an evangelist from Mobile, Alabama. I had never heard of him and initially thought with the name “Kelly Green,” he must surely have some other gimmicks to accompany his unusual name. My attitude toward him changed when he scheduled a decision counsellor training session one month prior to the revival.
Our church began planning and praying well in advance of the August start date. Sixty-six people met at the church for a two day training session. We used the Billy Graham Christian Life and Witnessing Course taught by two men from Oklahoma who were on Kelly’s board. In addition cottage prayer meetings were scheduled and attended by one hundred and eighty-five members. One week prior to the revival home visits were made to personally invite people to attend. We were told by the revival team to expect two to three public decisions for every counsellor trained prior to the revival. I was skeptical of those statistics, although to my knowledge there had never been such extensive preparation prior to any revival.
The revival team included Kelly Green and his youth associate, Todd Roberts along with gifted musicians, Mike and Faye Speck. From the outset on Sunday morning there was an unusual sense of expectation and brokenness. Responding to altar call invitations at the close of each service were at least thirty to forty people. The decisions ranged from salvation, to re-dedication, to request for special prayer for reconciliation over broken relationships.
At the Tuesday evening meeting Kelly announced he sensed a special presence of the power of the Holy Spirit and was not going to preach. He quoted John 3:16 and invited all who were convicted to come to the altar. There were more than fifty public decisions this one evening and Kelly decided to extend the revival two more days. By the close of the meeting on Friday there were one hundred and ninety-eight people who had made decisions to follow Christ.
I had never before or since been part of such a revival. There were some members who attended and said what occurred was emotionalism and not a true moving of the Holy Spirit. The proof of any spiritual transformation is demonstrated by what the people are like going forward. I can name at least twenty people who are now walking with God as a direct result of what took place at that revival meeting many years ago. I am grateful God allowed Cathy and me to be there to experience the miraculous and see the invisible. God confirms in His Word “the things which are seen are temporal while the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Cor. 4:18)
PS: As an outward sign of revival our church gave the largest love offering ever received up to then by both Kelly and the Specks. In the 1980’s an evangelist could expect an offering of $3000 – $4000 and the musicians an offering of $1000 -$2000. The offering to Kelly for our meeting was $19,000 and offering to the Specks was $12,000! To God be the glory!