In 1999, my wife Barbara and I returned to our home in Arkadelphia after traveling about the continent in an RV. We were looking for a church. We heard a new church was being organized in town, Fellowship Bible Church, with ties to Fellowship Bible Church Northwest in Springdale, AR. Rohr-BF Goodrich was establishing a manufacturing plant in Arkadelphia. In fact, while we were traveling, we had leased our home to them to use as a hotel for their executives who came into town to train new employees. Some of the employees were transferred from Fayetteville, and a number of them wound up in the new church. Michael and Shirlene Holloway were a part of that group. They were among the founders of the new church.
One thing that attracted Barbara and I to this church was the fact that they were a lot like Baptists in their core beliefs, but they organized differently. The main attraction for us was the fact that the church was led by the “leadership team,” similar to the elder system. Lifelong Baptists, we had belonged to a string of three Baptist churches that had split because of seemingly insignificant disagreements between a member and the pastor, or between two prominent members. After the initial disagreement, people began taking sides, and this eventually came down to a vote among the congregation, resulting in the dismissal of the pastors, whom we believed to be godly men. We were discouraged by the fact that many hurtful things were said between members on both sides of the issue, and often the deciding margin in the voting came down to which side could bring in the most “members” to vote on the issue. They may not have been active members, but they were there on the day the vote was taken. There had to be a better way, I reasoned, but we were Baptists, and that’s the way most Baptist churches handled these matters.
Barbara and I attended the first corporate service of the new church. It was held at the Wesley Foundation building at Henderson State University, the first of many sites the church rented to hold services. We met in homes, in small groups, which we then called “Community groups,” usually on Sunday night as we do today. Michael and Shirlene Holloway were our first group leaders, and they were wonderful. Michael was the strongest lay outreach person I have ever been around. He talked to everyone he was around about our church, and many of his co-workers joined us through his efforts. One of the three founders was a preacher, but he was soon called to a pastorate in another city, so a guest speaker taught us each Sunday for a long time. On one occasion, a guest pastor was saying at the beginning of his message, “We should never be obsessed with numbers in our services—” and three of us leaders in the back quickly sat down. We were all up, counting heads!
The congregation was very healthy. We were growing quickly. But about the time we started searching for a pastor in earnest, and had enough money to pay one, trouble started cropping up among the leadership team. Pride and ego, once again. We needed a wise pastor to lead us. I often confided in my son, Corey, about our problems and our pastor search. Years before, while he still lived here, he was a deacon at Richwoods Baptist Church and was on the search team that hired a great young pastor, Scott Jackson, to lead them. When I talked of our situation, he invariably said, “You need to hire someone like Scott Jackson. He is the very best at handling a growing church and conflict matters.” I too, knew Scott, and I agreed. But he was now a seasoned, experienced pastor in Texas. We were still a small church with little to offer a pastor of Scott’s caliber. But I also knew God could make it happen, if it was his will. I called him a time or two, but his work there was not finished. I kept his number handy. The church soon outgrew Wesley Foundation, and we rented a larger space at what is now Turtle Point Golf Course.
We eventually hired a great young man, John Sowers, who had never pastored before, but he had a huge heart for disadvantaged youth, and was known for his work at Hot Springs in that area. I knew in my heart that it was an extremely difficult position to put an inexperienced young man in, and we prayed he could help us overcome the problems that festered on the leadership team, Yet the problems persisted. He was a great young preacher, though, and his services were wonderful. Gobinathan Manickham, “Gobi,” was the first person baptized by the church. He was from Malaysia, and attended HSU. Two months before graduating with a Masters Degree, he was diagnosed with cancer. Members of the church took turns taking him to Hot Springs for chemotherapy. When many weeks of treatment proved insufficient, Barbara stood up in church one Sunday and said, “Gobi needs to go to Houston for chemotherapy. I need $2000 by Friday.” She got it, along with an airplane ticket. Gobi is now a healthy teacher in Malaysia. He has become a strong Christian voice in a land of few Christians. He has a wife and daughter.
A few days ago, our daughter wrote a sweet note on Facebook about her parent’s love. Immediately, a comment popped up. “I know all about your parent’s love. It saved my life.” Barbara and I cried. When the Rohwer-BF Goodrich Company closed its doors, many of our members had to move. John Sowers had a great opportunity to join the Billy Graham Crusade. By this time, many of the members sensed the problems among the leadership. Others left. By 2003, only the Gillum and Holloway families, and four very strong students, remained. Fellowship Northwest recommended we close our doors. I, myself, had doubts about continuing. When Michael and I discussed this, he smiled and replied, “This is not a disaster. It is an opportunity.”Actually, I have to give him and Barbara full credit for us continuing on. Barbara told me, “I have felt God’s presence here like I have nowhere else. We can’t quit, no matter how small we get.” With a heavy heart, I told Michael, if we can’t keep the attendance above 12 this summer, we need to just let it go.” Michael went to work. He talked Scott Jackson and Scott Duvall, both teachers at OBU, into filling in on an interim basis that summer, and our attendance stayed above 12 all summer. I still suspect that Michael counted heads in their families when he hired them!
By fall, word began to get around about the great men who were preaching there. Scott Jackson met with Michael and I in late summer, and expressed an interest in becoming the pastor. We were overjoyed. But it was soon cut short. OBU did not wish one of their teachers to pastor a non-Baptist church. Scott suggested, since all in the church now had a Baptist background, that we consider becoming a Baptist church. Scott led us through a comparison between the Baptist and our church’s beliefs, we found them to be very similar. Only the way we conducted church and our leadership structure differed. We soon joined the Red River Baptist Association and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and became Fellowship Church of Arkadelphia with Scott Jackson as our pastor. I called my son Corey. “Corey, see if you can guess who we just hired as pastor!”
Though many quite naturally consider that our present church started at that point, and that I am one of the founders, Barbara and I both know that we never missed one Sunday’s service in the transition, and the church we know started in 1999. Under Scott Jackson’s leadership, we began to grow quickly. We soon got another major break. Neal Nelson and his family, along with his powerful, unique brand of evangelism, came into our fold. Many HSU students followed. We were growing fast now. We really had no place for children’s church, and their numbers were rapidly increasing. God, as he has all along, opened another door, and we moved to the BCM at HSU. One day Scott showed up for a leadership meeting with a particularly large smile on his face. “Something really big may be in the works. Scott Duvall is interested in becoming a co-pastor! This would give our church instant credibility statewide, as well as a great pastor!”
We quickly jumped at this opportunity, and Scott Duvall and his family joined us, followed by hundreds of OBU students. Just as things were going so wonderfully, a major tragedy struck. Michael Holloway, the only church member who was involved in the early planning of the church in 1998, and the finest lay evangelist I have ever known as well as my best friend, was killed in a motorcycle accident. This tragedy was one of the hardest times I have ever experienced. Shirlene contributed a large amount of Michael’s life insurance to the church, even though she was now left with three girls to raise. Shirlene has now remarried, and lives in Tennessee, her home as a young girl. The daughters have all married. It seems almost as if God is saying to us, “Alright. I gave you guys the chance to build a great church, and you messed it up. This time around, I’m going to send you the best leadership I can find. Don’t mess it up this time!” Frank Teed and his family joined us. An extremely skilled businessman, he spends lots of time leading us through the financial end of building our church to the point we are at today.
We again outgrew our building, and were fortunate enough to use the auditorium in the Garrison Center at HSU. Our final move, at least so far, to our present location on Pine Street followed soon. The Mellow Fellows, our over-50 group, has become a very tight knit and fun group. We meet regularly, travel together, and laugh an awful lot! Ronnie McMillan recently joined our leadership team. Every time one turns around, Ronnie is using his great servant’s heart to do something for the church, and he contributes his wisdom from his many years of church leadership. Me, I occupy a chair at those meetings. I don’t say much. With everything going smoothly, why should I? Under Scott Jackson’s leadership, and by God’s grace, our current leadership team has remained very healthy. Not to say we never disagree. Sometimes we do, and with conviction. But we always talk through it, and always eventually reach 100% consensus before making a change. Never, under Scott’s Jackson’s leadership, has any issue ever actually come to a vote. Rev. Darryl Bridges, Rev. Brad Sickler, Dr. Doug Nykolaishen (who still teaches regularly) and Chris Kear have contributed much to our current leadership team ASA (After Scott’s arrival). Scott Duvall has been able to tap into an always vast talent reserve, mostly involving our students, to form our always great Worship Team, both vocally and instrumental. We have never been inclined to spend vast sums of money on a building, preferring instead to put as much as we can into outreach, contributing to many mission trips both abroad and domestic. We contribute 10% to the Lottie Moon fund, and regularly find other outreach opportunities.
I don’t say “amazing” lightly, as many do today. God has provided us with an AMAZING opportunity to minister to hundreds of wonderful university students, offering us a unique way to impact God’s work through them, worldwide. Our graduating seniors become our missionaries to the world. Although, I must admit, it is hard to say goodbye to so many so often. Our “Community Groups” are now called Koinonia or Kgroups, to remind us we are meeting as the early Christians did, meeting in homes, breaking bread, fellowshipping, studying God’s word and praying together. One of our major goals, as Scott Duvall stated so well, is to strive to “Look more like heaven looks,” striving to become more and more multicultural. With God’s help, we will. Linda Holway said it well: “Fellowship church may not be ‘traditional,’ but it is a wonderful place to worship…a place where we go expecting to commune with our lord…and we have yet to be disappointed.”