Michael Barrett brims with energy and excitement when he talks about pastoral ministry. He describes church programs and activities like a newly minted seminary graduate dreaming of future endeavors, except Barrett has been pastoring his church for 27 years – longer than most seminary students have been alive.
Barrett became the pastor of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, N.C., in 1988. He served as a trustee of the International Mission Board (IMB) from 1998 to 2006, and recently finished a three-year term as the president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) Board of Directors.
He is the third person to have occupied the board presidency for three consecutive terms, preceded by Glenn Holt and K. Allan Blume, currently president and editor of the Biblical Recorder.
Barrett’s longtime pastoral service at Pleasant Garden and leadership in both the state and national Baptist conventions make him a unique figure among North Carolina Baptists.
Michael Barrett has been the pastor of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, N.C., since 1988.
His journey into ministry began when Barrett was a teenager.
At 16 years old, Barrett felt called into ministry at a Billy Graham evangelistic event in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. The young minister began to exercise his preaching gifts occasionally at his home church, Quankey Baptist Church, and at Union Mission homeless ministry events, also in Roanoke Rapids.
“I got some great early opportunities and early training,” said Barrett. Door-to-door evangelism was another way he engaged in the work of ministry.
Quankey licensed him as a minister of the gospel in 1970, his senior year of high school. Then in college he preached youth revivals as a part of the Fellowship of Christians United in Service at Gardner-Webb University. Following his undergraduate study, he went on for further training at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.
After a serving in a few churches, revitalizing declining ministries, Barrett received a call to pastor Pleasant Garden.
“It was a perfect match,” he said. The church’s former pastor had served there for 25 years, and they were looking for someone to cast a new vision for the church. Barrett jumped right in.
The years that followed were – and still are – full of lively ministry where both church and pastor worked together to cultivate a growing and healthy local church.
Green pasture at Pleasant Garden
Reflecting on his 27 years at Pleasant Garden, he said there are “certain things that have been great strengths through the years that have, I think, created the environment that we have of spiritual health at our church.”
The prayer life of the church was first on his list: “I’ve had people … for years that say, ‘Every day I pray for you. Every day I pray for God to be honored in this ministry.’”
Barrett also identifies longevity of pastoral staff as another contributor to their church health. Pleasant Garden has other ministers that have served alongside Barrett for almost 20 years.
Another strength of the church, according to Barrett, is its wide array of programs. “We have done a great job through the years,” he said, “at specialized ministries – whether it’s preschool or children or students or senior adults ministry.”
They have also emphasized missions for over a decade. The church hosts several mission trips each year. They have plans to go to British Columbia, Jamaica, Peru, and other locations later in 2015.
Pleasant Garden’s ministry is not a one-way street, though. Barrett’s wife, Teresa, was diagnosed with Leukemia almost four years ago. “God really opened our eyes,” he said, “to not only ministering to the church but the church ministering to us. … Not only do you get to shepherd people; you get to do life with people.” The church is a “wonderful gift from God,” according to Barrett.
The greatest testimony Pleasant Garden has, said Barrett, is that the church loves its pastor, and the pastor loves his church, and together they love the community.
Reaching out to the community
Pleasant Garden draws on several ministries to serve the Greensboro area.
One of their special emphases has been Week of Wonder (WOW), which is similar to Vacation Bible School. WOW is unique not only because it has garnered upwards of 1,000 attendees, but because it is an event for the whole family, not just children.
Barrett said the church has focused more on family ministries in recent years to equip parents to disciple their children.
“Our church has a shepherding heart,” said Barrett, while describing another of Pleasant Garden’s ministries.
“All over Greensboro we’re known for our hospital ministry.”
At least one staff member and one deacon make hospital visits each day.
They are currently gearing up for an ongoing ministry in April 2015 called Hope Out Loud. Kicking off Hope Out Loud are two service projects.
They have paired individual church members with 136 elderly men and women in assisted living facilities. Church members will connect with an elderly person, offer them gifts and pray with them. Barrett says the church is doing this “to let everybody in that nursing home know they matter.”
The church has also adopted a nearby school where they will refurbish the exterior and take care of landscaping on the campus.
Barrett hopes that every small group in the church will do one or two projects each year to bless the community.
The real strength of the church lies in its biblical foundation, said Barrett. They value preaching the gospel. Church members once told him, “Anytime you get in that pulpit, you be ready. You be prepared. You be in tune with the Lord.”
Pleasant Garden’s focus exemplifies the old saying, “As the pastor goes, so goes the church.”
Serving IMB, BSC Board of Directors
When asked whether his involvement with the IMB and BSC had any influence upon his church, Barrett responded, “We wouldn’t have the missionary heart if it hadn’t been for that connection [to the IMB] – bringing the personnel, missionaries; hearing those stories; having them pray for me.”
It mattered greatly, according to Barrett. The same is true with the BSC. “Getting to learn and rub shoulders with the leadership … Those relationships mean everything to you.”
Barrett’s connections to the state convention through the BSC Board of Directors helped Pleasant Garden partner with Baptists on Mission (also known as North Carolina Baptist Men) to build houses in Haiti and water wells in India, and with Great Commission Partnerships to join with other churches for ministry in New York City.
Recent collaboration with Michael Sowers, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Strategy Coordinator for the Triad region, allowed Pleasant Garden to begin developing a strategy to engage Nepali people in the Greensboro area.
Barrett hopes to use that strategy to help his church take the gospel to their ever-changing community.
He wants to bring up a new generation of pastors as well.
Raising up new leaders
Barrett mentors young pastors and church planters through roundtable discussions in Hendersonville, Greensboro and Pilot Mountain. He said there are three things that new pastors need to hear.
Be kingdom focused. It’s not about building your own kingdom.
Be connected to others. You don’t want to do this alone; you need others to invest in your life.
You have something to say too. “We [seasoned pastors] need to learn from you and you need to learn from us.”
After a long history of ministry, Barrett is still eager to learn. And so he continues on with energy and excitement as he ministers to the people of God.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Barrett, senior pastor of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church, lives in Pleasant Garden, N.C., with his wife, Teresa. They have two daughters, Shannon and Shelley, and four grandchildren.)