As Joe Brown prepared to move on from his career in the
Navy, God made his next step very clear. “God literally came to my room one
night and He spoke to me just like He did Samuel. He said, ‘preach,’” Brown
said. So, Brown did just that. That next Sunday night he preached and within
one month he was pastoring a church.
Brown has devoted his life to pastoring and preaching God’s
Word, and poured much of his life into shepherding Hickory Grove Baptist Church
in Charlotte. Brown recently retired from 26 years of ministry as the church’s
Throughout his time at Hickory Grove Brown saw the Lord do
many great things, and he saw many changes happen in the life of the
congregation. When Brown came to Hickory Grove in 1984 attendance was about
2,155. By 2010, that number had increased to 16,827. Since 1984 the church has
baptized nearly 8,000 people.
As the congregation grew Brown learned the importance of
working with a staff who shared his same vision for the church.
The senior pastor cannot do all the visitations and cannot
preach all the sermons. Brown encouraged pastors to “replicate your vision in
the hearts of other people” and to ensure the staff is onboard with the vision.
“You cannot carry people who have no vision,” he said.
Brown led Hickory Grove to become a multi-site church
because he saw a need in the local community and knew God had laid this next
step of ministry on his heart. For nearly three years he prayed about starting
this multi-site campus in an area of Charlotte that was growing rapidly but had
no church nearby.
On that first Sunday of worship at the multi-site campus
more than 300 people came and most were from the community; they were not
already attending Hickory Grove.
As the landscape surrounding Hickory Grove changed, Brown
said the congregation had to be willing to also change. They never changed the
message of the gospel, only the strategies in which they sought to share that
As the Hispanic population increased, Hickory Grove started
a Latin American congregation. As more people became interested in faith-based
education, Hickory Grove started a school on its campus.
Brown said the key to continuing in effective ministry for
the sake of the gospel comes back to a piece of advice someone shared with him
years ago: remember who called you. “People will try to pull you away from
God,” Brown said. When that happens, “you absolutely cannot function. Don’t get
so busy doing the work of the ministry that you forget the One who called you.”
With busyness can often come, whether intentional or not, a
tendency to forsake personal time with God.
“You get so busy you forget to feed
yourself,” Brown said. “Burn out is literally a soul deficit.”
Brown did not plan to stay at Hickory Grove 26 years.
Not that he wanted to leave, but he kept his focus on the
One who called him and determined to serve wherever and however God led. “I
knew I did not own the church. I wasn’t the proprietor,” Brown said.
Something Brown has tried to maintain as priority throughout
his ministry is mentoring and helping develop young preaching pastors. “I
wanted to always multiply,” he said. Brown also made sure to keep his family a
priority. As balancing work and family is a constant struggle, Brown had to be
intentional in scheduling his time.
Just as Moses knew when it was time to go into the desert,
so Brown said he knew when it was time to retire from serving at Hickory Grove.
“If we are really truly God’s people and His Spirit lives within us He will
guide us,” Brown said. Brown knew well before it was actually time to step
aside, and so he began planning for that transition. Brown urged pastors to
plan ahead for when that day comes.
Although his time of serving as senior pastor of Hickory
Grove has ended, Brown’s ministry is far from over. “God is not finished with
me,” he said, and he is ready to serve however God leads. Brown still wants to
be involved in serving the local church and is interested specifically in
helping churches going through a difficult time.
Brown said he hopes this next phase of life will allow him
to be a “restorer of the faith” for other churches and pastors.
Brown speaks as one who knows personally God’s grace and
does not forget it. “Every day is a gift,” he said. “I am a person most blessed.”
On Jan. 30, the Sunday after Brown’s retirement, Clint
Pressley, who had been serving as the preaching pastor, was affirmed as the
church’s new senior pastor.
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