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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mel Blackaby: from pioneer missions to megachurch pastor

[This post is from the Christian Index.]

By J. Gerald Harris, Editor
Published September 24, 2009

I never envisioned myself living in Georgia or becoming pastor of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. All I could see was the vast need for pastors and church leaders in Canada,” proclaimed Mel Blackaby.

Even though Blackaby did not anticipate coming to the Bible Belt to pastor a megachurch he is now firmly entrenched in his role as pastor of the Clayton County church.

The Jonesboro pastor continued, “
When I went to Bow Valley Baptist Church in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada they had one resume. I had one church in the states that contacted me that had 400 resumes.

“I was happy serving the church in Cochrane and planned to spend my life in a pioneer missions area, but God began speaking to me about coming to the South. God seemed to bless the prayer conferences and the revivals I preached in the South, but no one was asking me to come pastor their church.

“However, during that time God was preparing me to come to pastor a church somewhere in the southern states. He Italicwas teaching me to walk by faith and shaping my pastor’s heart. Eight large churches contacted me during that time, but my impression of a megachurch was mostly negative and I perceived that the pastor of such a church was mostly a corporate executive. I could never see myself as a CEO, but as only a pastor.”

Gerald Harris/Index:
Pastor Mel Blackaby, left, and Minister of Music Rick Stone take delight in serving together at First Baptist Church, Jonesboro. Blackaby joined the church as pastor in June 2008.
First Baptist Jonesboro extended a call to Blackaby in June of 2008 and he officially began serving as pastor on Aug. 1.

Blackaby admitted, “
I had to move from a pioneer mission mindset to a megachurch mindset. I have always believed that Christ was the head of the church and wanted to find out His plan for our church rather than just launch my own agenda. I wanted to find out what He was doing and just partner with Him in His divine plan.”

Mel is the son of Henry and Marilyn Blackaby and one of five grown children, all of whom are engaged in a full-time ministry. The Jonesboro pastor was born in California while his father was a student at Golden Gate Seminary. He became a Christian at age nine during the time his father was pastor of a church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Blackaby recalled, “
As a child I didn’t know any other Christians in school and when I visited my friends’ homes I noticed the difference in their homes and my home. There was cursing and drinking and I realized the difference Christ can make in one’s home. That, more than anything else, prompted me to put my faith and trust in the Lord.

“As a teenager I never saw myself as a leader and struggled with how God could use my life,” Blackaby admitted. “At the same time I sensed God was calling me to serve Him, but I had some personal dreams I wanted to pursue. Since our family was involved in pioneer missions we were poor. I wanted to get out, make some money, travel, and see the world.

“It got to the place that every time I read my Bible I felt guilty, so I quit reading the Bible. I also didn’t feel like praying, so I quit that as well.

“I had started my studies as a physical education major in the university, but dropped out of school to go to northern Alberta to work in a lumber camp. I was making a lot of money, but the work I was doing was very dangerous.

One day I was in the process of cutting down a large tree. When the tree fell, the bottom of this tree swung around and crushed my leg. As I lay there in that snow bank with a shattered femur, the Lord spoke to my heart and said, ‘If you are not going to be of any use to me on this earth, then you have no reason to live and I can take your life any time I wish.’

“In three months the Lord took away my entire identity. I lost my ability to play sports. I lost my girlfriend. I lost my job and my ability to make money. I even lost my driver’s license, because the police came and took it away due to my reckless driving record. So at 20 years of age I didn’t know who I was. I knew I needed to change.

From that moment Mel Blackaby resolved to die to self and follow the Lord.

After recuperating from his accident Blackaby decided to leave Canada, move to Abilene, Texas, and enroll in Hardin-Simmons University. Upon graduating with a major in history he married the former Gina Merriam, a young lady he had met in Canada. Gina had served on a mission team in Vancouver for six months as a part of the Home Mission Board’s ministry during the 1986 Exposition.

After her mission endeavor in British Columbia Gina moved back to her home state of California where she and Mel maintained a long-distance relationship.

Blackaby explained, “Gina was being taught “Experiencing God” at the same time Dad was writing it. I met her as I was leaving Canada to go to Texas. The longer I was in Texas the more I realized the girl I had met in Canada before I left for college was the girl I was destined to marry.

“She called me every Wednesday night and I called her every Saturday night. I would run the guys out of my dorm room, cut down the lights, light a candle, and we would have our date over the phone.

“Gina took a train from California to Vancouver to spend Christmas with our family in 1987. One evening I took her to the top of a tall building where they had a revolving restaurant. You could see the whole city from that vantage point and there I proposed marriage to her. We were both 22 years old and had no idea what we were doing, but we believed it was of the Lord.”

Upon graduating from Hardin-Simmons Mel and Gina were married and moved to Fort Worth, Texas for the purpose of furthering his education at Southwestern Seminary.

Today the Blackabys have three children: Christa, 15; Stephen, 13; and Sarah, 11. They keep a busy schedule, but love traveling, sports, and riding horses. Mel also has a Harley Davidson and enjoys riding his ‘bike’ with Bubba Cathy, fellow church member and senior vice president of Chick-fil-A.

Since arriving in Jonesboro Blackaby has been slow to make dramatic changes, but wanted to involve all the church in having a time of significant prayer. He remarked,
We typically schedule people out of prayer meeting. Many churches have a prayer meeting on Wednesday night, but most of the church family is engaged in other activities during the prayer time.”

To remedy that problem Blackaby has turned the Sunday evening worship service into a Fresh Encounter Prayer Service. As a result the people involved in corporate prayer has grown from 100 to 1,000.

Blackaby testified, “This is unifying the church. All ages are coming and praying together. I have heard parents say that their children’s prayer lives are much improved. We are also seeing a lot of prayers answered.

“There is also a didactic element to this prayer time because people are learning to pray. We are also crying out to God each week for revival. We know that God is up to something.

“I think people here in the South are beginning to become desperate for God. We can no longer be comfortable in our faith here in the Bible Belt. We must cry out to God for His intervention.

God will give us a measure of success here when we can see that our people are having a growing hunger to know Christ. Then they will have a desire to obey Him; and He can use them in greater service.”

Mel Blackaby is a prolific writer and has several books to his credit. He has also partnered with his dad in writing several books including the 2009 publication “Experiencing the Spirit: The Power of Pentecost Everyday.” You can hear Mel Blackaby in the Speechless Conference in Toccoa in October.

The younger Blackaby recently told his father, who is also a member at Jonesboro’s First Baptist Church, “
Dad, you ought to give me more respect now that I am your pastor.”

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