In 1999, my wife Barbara and I returned to our home in Arkadelphia after traveling about America in an RV for a year. 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. A large industry, Rohwer-BF Goodrich was just getting started up in Arkadelphia. In fact, we had leased our home out to them while we traveled, to use for a hotel for their executives who came into town to train new employees. Some of the employees were transferred in 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 me was the fact that they were pretty well 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, or become torn apart, by a seemingly insignificant disagreements between a member and the pastor, or between two prominent members, and this grew quickly. People started taking sides, and this eventually came down to a vote among the congregation, resulting with the pastors, whom we believed were good, Godly men, being dismissed. We were discouraged by the fact that many hurtful things were said between members on both sides of the question, and often the deciding margin in the voting came down to which side could bring in the most “members” to vote on the issue who were not really active, but they were there on vote day with bells on.
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. This was at the Wesley Foundation building at HSU, the first of many sites the church rented to hold services. We also 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.
The congregation was very healthy, as we are now. Many wonderful, Christian people. We were growing quickly. But about the time we started searching for a pastor in earnest, and had enough money to actually hire 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 Arkadelphia, 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 once, 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 been a pastor 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. But he was a great young preacher, and his services were wonderful.
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. He has since became a famous author of books about disadvantaged youth, and has even been recognized by the President for his writing.
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, who was now teaching at OBU, and Scott DuVall into filling in on an interim basis that summer, and our attendance stayed above 12 every sunday. I still suspect that Michael counted heads in their families when he hired them, to ensure our number each Sunday was above the cutoff point.
By fall, word began to get around about the great men who were preaching there. Scott Jackson met with Michael and me in late summer, and expressed an interest in becoming the pastor. We were overjoyed. But it was soon cut short. OBU did not want one of their teachers to pastor a non-Baptist church. Scott suggested since everyone in the church 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, and they were the same. Only the way we conducted church, and our leadership, differed. We soon joined the Red River Baptist Association and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and became Fellowship Church of Arkadelphia, Scott Jackson, 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. That makes me a follower. I’ve always been a good follower, anyway!
Under Scott’s leadership, 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 was the finest lay evangelist I have ever known, as well as my best friend, was killed in a motorcycle accident. One of the hardest times I have ever experienced. His wife Shirlene contributed a large amount of Michael’s life insurance to the church, even though she was now left with 3 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!”
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!
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 K– groups, to remind us we are meeting as the early Christians did, meeting in homes, breaking bread, have fellowship, 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.”
2018 – Much has happened at Fellowship Church in the last 15 years. One thing that has not happened is – Not a harsh word, to my knowledge, has passed between members of the church. It has became more and more a very loving, close church. The kind of place one wishes to come to early, and stay late, just to be in the midst of that loving group of people who are there for the right reasons.
At one time, three on the pastoral team were attached to the Universities; Scott Jackson and Scott DuVall at Ouachita, and Neal Nelson at Henderson. Hundreds of students followed these men to Fellowship. But time moves on. Neal Nelson has moved to Virginia to take a better job for his growing family. Scott DuVall and Scott Jackson have been called to larger churches, so our student numbers decreased.
Derrick Barnes has now been called as our pastor, and we feel so fortunate to have him. He cam to us as a seasoned Senor Pastor and has been an associate pastor with us for four years, before becoming head pastor this year. He always preaches inspirational sermons. He has a true servant heart. He works very hard, taking care of his flock. He currently drives many miles each Sunday morning. Gathering up a carload of children who have no other way to get there. Just recently, he noticed the grass out front was a bit ragged. He was there, at seven o’clock on Sunday morning, cutting that grass. He’s just that way. He and his family have been a great blessing to us.