Nine Bell Shoals Baptist Church members gathered last September to begin a national search for a new senior pastor.
The former pastor, Forrest Pollock and his 13-year-old son Preston, had tragically died last May in a plane crash. In August, popular music and worship pastor Simeon Nix, who had been at the church 13 years, died of an apparent heart attack.
Needless to say, the church was still hurting, still grieving, still healing.
So the committee members did what Scripture directs Christians to do.
They prayed without ceasing.
For the first three months, they really didn't do much more than that.
Chairman Andy Adcock said the committee began each weekly meeting with a Bible study, a devotional and prayer. They cried out to God for guidance. They asked him to knit their hearts together so when they presented a choice to the congregation, they could do so unanimously.
It's difficult, Adcock joked, to get nine Southern Baptists to agree on anything.
It would be late November before they even looked at a resume. They took a break during the Christmas holidays, and at Christmas parties, church members asked about the search. Some said the committee needed to speed up the process, others said they were going too fast. One person wanted to know when were they going to stop praying and start doing something.
"But we had to listen to God," Adcock explained. "We had to wait on God even if it was unpopular. Personally, I believe, God knew what our church needed as a body and he knew exactly when we needed it.
"God's timing is perfect."
Still, Adcock conceded the process had him stressed over the holidays. Then something happened. While visiting his wife's parents in Ohio, he sat on a back porch in freezing temperatures, spending some quiet time with God, and God impressed upon him a simple message.
"He said 'If you trust in me and not get ahead of this, you cannot mess it up,' " Adcock said. " 'Relax and let me be God.' "
Other committee members said they received similar messages. When they returned to meeting after the holidays, they still weren't sure who would be the next pastor. But the sense of stress drifted away.
In February, Adcock received a call from David Fleming, the pastor of Houston's Champion Forest Baptist Church. Fleming said he had the resume of someone they should consider, a pastor whose heart was being stirred to go in a new direction.
That man was the Rev. Stephen Rummage, a 40-year-old pastor at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. Fleming said he would overnight the resume, but Adcock couldn't wait. He looked up Rummage on the Internet and loved what he read and heard.
Adcock spoke to Rummage on the telephone that night for more than 40 minutes. He described it as an emotional exchange because in his heart, he knew God had brought him the right person.
"You could hear the humility in his voice, his love for God, his willingness to obey God's calling upon his life," Adcock said. But Adcock didn't share his feelings with the search committee. He didn't want to sway them. Through the process of calling upon references — fellow ministers and lay leaders — and actually visiting Rummage and hearing him preach in Charlotte, the committee reached the same conclusion: God had sent Rummage to them.
Rummage, too, says he knew God wanted him and his wife, Michele, and son Joshua at Bell Shoals.
"I have a real desire and passion to see people come to know Jesus Christ as savior and also to follow him, know him and love him with all their hearts," Rummage said. "I see the same passion and heart in that congregation."
Rummage came to town last weekend to meet with church members and be officially accepted as the new senior pastor. More than 1,100 members voted, and there were only two "no votes." Rummage received three standing ovations.
Mother's Day marks the one-year anniversary of Pollock's last service at Bell Shoals. Interim pastor George Thomasson said he will be mindful of that as he leads the services.
With the selection of Rummage, however, the church begins a new chapter, and its healing is almost complete. Rummage begins his service June 28.
I wonder if he will preach about God's perfect timing.
That's all I'm saying.