The pastor’s heart in Kevin Ezell would not let him say no when the Nashville-area Long Hollow Baptist Church asked him to serve as interim pastor.
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) president intentionally had not taken any interims after he joined NAMB’s staff in September 2010 although he has filled the pulpit on occasion at First Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., where he is a member.
With as much traveling as he does for NAMB, he felt interims would put “too much wear and tear on his family.”
Yet, the request from Long Hollow was one he had to consider.
Screen capture from longhollow.com
North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell stepped in as interim pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., in December of 2014, after longtime pastor David Landrith lost a gallant battle with cancer.
The church lost their pastor David Landrith last November after a gallant fight with cancer. Ezell occasionally filled Long Hollow’s pulpit during Landrith’s illness, so he was well aware of their situation after the pastor’s death.
On top of that, Ezell considered Landrith one of his “closer” pastor friends. We go back a long way,” Ezell said, noting they both considered themselves “blue collar-type pastors with a tinge of redneck. We had a lot in common.”
A year ago Ezell felt he was traveling “too much” so he intentionally planned his spring schedule to be home more on weekends. Ezell said he and his wife Lynette and their children prayed about the decision to accept the interim as a family. “We felt it was the right thing to do,” he said, “but not necessarily the easiest thing to do.”
Ezell normally has driven on Saturday evenings to the church in Hendersonville, Tenn., since late last year to be ready to preach four times on Sunday – and nine times during the Easter weekend.
While his work with Long Hollow is done on his personal time, Ezell said he does plenty of NAMB business, primarily by phone, as he travels back and forth on Saturday evenings and Monday mornings.
In addition, what he does at Long Hollow best fits his natural gifts, Ezell said. “I don’t have as much a love for preaching as I do for pastoring people,” he said. “That’s really what I miss most.”
The NAMB leader readily admits “there are far better preaching options” for Long Hollow. But pastoring a people who were hurting and helping them prepare for their eventual new pastor is what the church needed after their beloved pastor died last year. Though they had walked with him and his family throughout the entire process, his death left a void, Ezell said. “Everybody loved David.”
From day one Ezell said he made it clear that the church would not forget its past but that it was time to move forward. “We are going to walk through the valley but we are not going to wallow in it,” he said. “We are going to appropriately appreciate the past and expectantly look toward the future,” he said.
Ezell said he told the church that he planned to preach the worst sermons that he could. “I’m trying to get them desperate for their new pastor,” he laughed. “They get a kick out of that.”
Seriously, Ezell believes the church is beginning to heal. “There are no books on how a church goes through this type of grieving process,” he said. “But they have done extremely well.”
Jeff Lovingood, senior associate pastor for spiritual development at Long Hollow, agreed that the church is walking through the grief process as well as can be expected. “David was pastor here for 17 years. God is getting us through this. He is so faithful,” Lovingood said.
God has worked through people like Ezell to bolster the church, Lovingood said. “His giftedness and transparency have been huge.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)