DL190913 living faith

Christopher Campbell is the new pastor at Southside Baptist Church. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

Heed the Call is an occasional series profiling local pastors and ministers. To nominate a pastor, email cgodbey@decaturdaily.com.

A 27-year-old memory of sitting in the sanctuary of a Florida church and listening to the preacher remains clear in Christopher Campbell’s mind.

“I was 4 and heard this guy up there talking. I didn’t know what a preacher was at the time, but I felt, even from a young age, God was showing me what he wanted me to do,” the 31-year-old Campbell said. “I call that the seed that God planted. He has since watered that seed and caused it to grow to where I am now.”

Last Sunday, the Austin High graduate and former youth pastor at Central Baptist Church delivered his first sermon as lead pastor of Southside Baptist, ending the southeast Decatur church’s 20-month search for a preacher.

“There is so much potential in this church. I prayed specifically that God would send me where there is a great and effective door of ministry, and I believe he has answered that prayer,” Campbell said. “This is a terrific facility, it has plenty of space and is in a good location. We just have to trust God that he will send people.”

For Campbell, trusting in God formed the foundation for his journey from a 4-year-old with dreams of preaching to a senior pastor at Southside.

“Even at 4, I was pretty confident I would be a pastor. I know what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know when or where or all the details. As I began to grow, God began to paint in all of the details,” Campbell said.

When the Campbell family moved from Florida to Decatur and made Central Baptist their church home, Christopher Campbell, then a middle school student, met the man he now calls his mentor and pastor, Rob Jackson.

Early on, Jackson, the former pastor at Central, saw Campbell’s penchant for the ministry and interest in studying the Bible.

“Every time I was around him, I sensed God was setting him apart for something,” said Jackson, associate professor of Christian studies at the University of Mobile. “He was a proven leader in the youth group and had a spiritual depth. Even when he was in high school, he had this desire for the word of God and a desire to make Christ known to others.”

As a member of the church’s orchestra, Campbell witnessed the behind-the-scenes work involved in preparing a service, from selecting the songs to creating the sermon.

His growth continued at Mississippi State University, where he studied finance — “I looked for whatever degree did not require organic chemistry,” Campbell said with a laugh — attended First Baptist Church in Starkville and participated in the Baptist Student Union.

There he learned about evangelism and practiced sharing his faith with strangers.

“I was partnered with someone who led me through how to approach strangers and share my faith,” Campbell said. “I was so nervous. I still get nervous when I share God’s word, because of the weight of the matters I’m talking about. Through telling other people about Jesus, it became very crystal clear to me that this is what God wanted me to do.”

After graduation, Campbell worked at an insurance company in Birmingham while his wife, Marianne, completed her degree in pharmacy. The day Campbell turned in his two-week notice to follow Marianne to Decatur, where she landed a job at The Medicine Shoppe, he received a call from Jackson, asking him to consider serving as Central Baptist’s interim student pastor.

“That began my vocational ministry. Rob Jackson has done for me what few have done. He let me practice, he let me fail, he’s encouraged me, he’s taken me to hospital visits and he gave me opportunities to preach,” Campbell said. “I’m not standing on my own two feet here. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, people who have invested in me over the years.”

Along with Jackson, Campbell’s mentors include his parents, Mark and Carla Campbell, in-laws, Bill and Sue Hayes of Hartselle, Wayne Newby at Central Baptist, Decatur evangelist Phil Waldrep, and Beeson Divinity School professor Robert Smith Jr.

With Jackson’s encouragement, Campbell enrolled in Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in 2015.

“When you see someone that has a call on their lives into the ministry, it is the responsibility of the pastor to nurture that person and encourage them in their spiritual walk,” Jackson said. “Christopher had a sincere interest in the word of God and helping others understand it.”

From 2017 to August of 2019, Campbell served as an associate pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in El Dorado, Arkansas, before accepting the position at Southside.

“Associate pastors rarely get to preach and I have always felt a call, as Beeson says, to be a pastor who can preach. I learned a lot at Immanuel, but when I started to look at the possibility of leaving, I realized just how many churches are without a pastor. I thought, I’m sitting here as an associate pastor when I could be preaching and helping lead a congregation,” Campbell said.

Campbell, who talked with churches from south Alabama to South Carolina, heard from Southside’s search committee two months ago.

“There was a lot of prayer going on. I was praying and I know the church was praying, too,” Campbell said. “The Lord made it clear that this was the church he wanted us at. I’m thrilled to be here. I don’t know what the future looks like yet, but I know I am here to stay. Lord willing, I’ve got many decades of ministry ahead of me here. I’m ready to plant and commit and be used by the church.”

Q-and-A with Christopher Campbell

Who was the first person who learned of your desire to become a pastor? My wife. Before we got married, I told her I sensed God calling me to the ministry. I didn’t know when or how, but I needed to know if she would be OK with that. She told me that she had sensed God had been preparing her to be a pastor’s wife.

What passage do you reflect on the most? Acts 20:24, when Paul is talking to the elders of the Ephesian church. “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” I used that scripture in my first sermon.

What was your first sermon? When I was a little kid, it got to my pastor that I wanted to be a preacher. He gave me the opportunity to preach one Sunday night. I tried to forget that one, because I had no idea what I was doing, but it happened. The sermon I consider my first real sermon, though, was my licensing sermon at Central Baptist. I took the scripture from Acts and told the church, “This is perhaps the very beginning of my official ministry, but I want to reflect upon what it might be like to be at the end and look back. What do I want to say at that point? I want to say that my ministry was truly about testifying to the gospel of the grace of God.”

How do you describe your preaching style? I’m an expositional preacher. Instead of finding a scripture to back up what I want to say, I want to show people what the Bible says. Preparing the sermon is just as important to me as the delivery. I’m very careful in what I have prepared and make sure that I deliver what God gave me in preparation. It’s not off the cuff, although I do feel freedom at times. If you’re familiar with jazz music, you know jazz music has a chart. You have chord progressions to follow, but, at times, you can improvise on that chart. I have always felt freedom through structure.

Who do you discuss your sermons with? When there’s time, my wife. Creating a sermon is a marinating process for me. I’ll start on a Monday and work through the text, but it might be Saturday night before it really takes shape. My wife is a great help and gives me a woman’s point of view. My twin brother, Chad, is also a great resource as is a friend, Parker Smith.

cgodbey@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2441. Twitter @DecaturLiving.

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