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How pastors can finish strong

A conversation with Bryant Wright of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church

Johnson Ferry Baptist Church was founded 35 years ago by pastor Bryant Wright, in a doctor’s office. The church has since grown tremendously. Since its founding, Bryant Wright has transformed from a church planter to an influential pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Everything about Johnson Ferry, from the parking lot to the church foyer to Wright’s office, emphasizes missions and spreading the gospel at any cost. Johnson Ferry is a model church with a model pastor. This is why it seemed out of place when Wright announced his plans to transition as the pastor. In sit-down interview, Wright shares from his heart why he thought this was the best time to do it.

Maina Mwaura: Can we go back down memory lane to when you were called to plant a church?

Bryant Wright: I grew up in the Atlanta area and came to know Christ through Young Life. I was called into the ministry working in the sales department of a Chemical Company for three years. I thought I would follow my father’s footsteps in business. After being called into the ministry, I went to seminary and graduated. I thought I was going to pastor after I graduated from seminary, so it was a detour when I received a call from Ed Young, who was influential in my life, asking Ann and me to come on staff and start the singles ministry at Second Baptist Church Houston. I enjoyed my time seeing a church impact its city like Second Houston did. When I came here to start JFBC, we met in a doctor’s office, with no land, no staff, and only about 20 families.

MM: When did you know that God was leading you to transition from pastoring JFBC?

BW: It was over a year-long process of praying and asking the Lord for direction. I can tell you where it began. I was leaving an elders meeting in the spring of 2017, which had nothing to do with secession planning by the way. I was talking to one of the elders in the parking lot, who was just talking about millennials and their likes and dislikes with building and construction concepts. He’s in the construction business.

He happened to mention that when millennials walk into our atrium, they immediately know this is not a church for them; it’s a church for baby boomers. Millennials are looking for something different, less rigid in structure. It got me thinking that when I came here I understood and knew the baby boomer culture. I just instinctively understood the culture of boomers, but with the millennials, and now Generation Z, I’m not going to instinctively think as they do. Over the next year, I just began to pray.

MM: What did your wife think when you told her about transitioning from the pastorate?

BW: When I told my wife, Ann, she wasn’t for it initially. She just thought it would blow over, honestly. She thought maybe I needed a vacation, but it’s not a matter of fatigue. I really don’t feel tired. I think there’s still plenty of gas in the tank.

MM: What do you plan on doing afterward?

BW: We are in the process of looking for the next pastor, and when the committee lands on someone and calls  him to be our next pastor, the plan is to stay for three to six months to help him with the transitioning process. I hope God’s going to use me somewhere. I really do. I’ll keep doing my personal ministry, “Right from the hHeart.” I want to keep mentoring young pastors. I love doing that. I also would like to keep preaching.

MM: What do you enjoy about mentoring younger pastors?

BW: I love mentoring younger pastors in hopes that they will finish strong. It is a two-year process and meets once a quarter. I’m just trying to pour into [them] the basic principles of how to finish strong. There are so many shipwrecks that I’ve seen along the way; I don’t want them to be one of those guys. I learn more from them than they get from me. After transitioning from JFBC, my hope is to keep multiplying that.

MM: What has God taught you through this process?

BW: Through the process, I felt like God was asking me, “Are you willing to lay down your Isaac?” God loves JFBC more than I ever could. When I finally came to the decision, I told the elders and key staff.  The peace I had in doing that was a key indicator to me in knowing that I was doing what God had called me to do. It’s been very emotional, the times of just walking the halls and remembering stories along the way.  But I have such peace that it’s time to hand it off to a younger man. Hopefully an older millennial, younger Generation X kind of guy that could build on this foundation.

MM: What one thing comes to mind when you’re thanking God for being able to pastor JFBC?

BW: You’re walking on holy ground in people’s life. The stories they tell you and the moments that I’ve been a part of in their lives are in their times of joy and crisis. As a pastor, you get to be there in moments like that. It’s been such a joy watching over 2,000 of our people go on mission trips each year—that’s more than half of the church—and seeing 140 people called into full-time ministry. There’s been so much joy in seeing that and being a part of that.

The interview with Wright started just like it ended—with prayer. As he prepares for what lies ahead, Wright is aware that he will be handing JFBC over to another pastor, but he’s even more aware that JFBC is not his church—she belongs to God, and He will continue to sustain her.

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