BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (KT) – Twenty years ago, Charles Fortney chaired the search committee when Jason Pettus was called to become the pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church.
Pettus turned them down twice before agreeing to talk and then accepting the call to become the senior pastor of the large Bowling Green church.
It has proven to be a divine appointment.
The church celebrated its 20th anniversary with its beloved pastor and his family last week. They love their pastor and he loves them back. This journey has seen lives changed, disciples making disciples and missionaries responding to the call to go both globally and into the community.
“We had been struggling as a committee to call a pastor,” Fortney recalled. “When we met Jason, he was an associate pastor on staff at a non-denominational (church) in West Nashville. It was over a year before we finally made contact with him. He turned us down a couple of times before we were able to talk to him. He impressed us then and he impresses us now.”
Living Hope and its large congregation allowed that 28-year-old pastor to cast a vision and then together have been implementing it year by year for the glory of God.
“I was thinking about it the other day and kind of chuckled,” said 35-year member Phyllis Causey in reference to Pettus’ age when he became senior pastor. “I remember thinking, he is a little too young to pastor a church our size.’’’
Pettus had worked in large churches in Nashville and those experiences, both good and bad, prepared him for the big role that was ahead, said his wife Carrie, who has always been a rock in his life. He wanted to date her but she refused until he started attending church - and that's where God got ahold of his life.
“He was called to the ministry so early,” she said. “He was kind of brought in by so many experienced, wonderful pastors who discipled him early on. He had some difficult things that kind of molded him into being able to fit into that role (of senior pastor) at an early age. God uses those things to prepare you for the ministry. But now, looking back, 28 seems young.”
However, he wasn’t that young for Living Hope and its past senior pastor hires. The two previous pastors of the church started at the age of 29, Fortney said. “There were some who thought, ‘Oh gosh! We’re giving the keys to the car to a teenager.’ Jason will tell you, he’s grown a lot. What he’s never wavered from is a commitment to be an authentic preacher of the Word. He believes in God’s Word, that it is infallible and authoritative. He preaches it that way.”
Fortney said he is one of two members of the committee still at the church. “The other member said, when we were interviewing Jason, he wanted to be a one-church pastor. Jason came into it with the idea of being here a long time.”
'A FRESH VISION FOR EVERY SEASON'
Pettus gives thanks that God has allowed him to serve at Living Hope for two decades. He started the last week of July 2001, just a couple of months before the terrorist attack on September 11. That time was one of several challenges that have grown him as a pastor.
“God has seen fit to allow me to remain and given me a fresh vision for every season we’ve gone through,” Pettus said. “He has given me great friends, men who have stood with me through all the battles and challenges that have come – and there’s been plenty. Like David, I’ve had some mighty men who have stood alongside me.”
Pettus said it has been a journey filled with challenges, but God was always there with the answer.
“It’s been so good,” he said. “It’s been a challenge every year. Each time it seems like the Lord has provided exactly what I needed on a personal level and what we needed as a team.”
The year of COVID was a good example. His wife said she had never seen him so disheartened as the first Sunday that church had to be canceled in March 2020 because of the pandemic.
“I’ll never forget it,” she said. “It’s the most broken I had ever seen Jason, ever. I went with him to the first video message about it. He wanted me to go for support. It was gut-wrenching. I hope we never have to go through that again.”
It was a trying time that included an empty Easter Sunday, but they returned in May a bit reinvented, just like many other churches at the time, with virtual church and social distancing when it came to coming back in-person.
“One of the greatest advantages we had, we had a leadership pipeline with a number of preachers and worship leaders,” he said. “Because of our facility, we were able to worship in several different rooms to provide spacing. We were in three different rooms with 13 services just in this facility. Then we had online services, plus our campuses. It seems like we had 20 services with five or six different preachers.”
The church has grown in number, but more importantly, it has grown in disciple-making as evidenced by the work they do within many areas of the Bowling Green community, including a pregnancy center and starting a biblical counseling center that is now operating independently. They have also had members called to the mission field, another sign of a healthy church.
Causey and her husband Larry are among the senior age leaders who have said Pettus has led well at Living Hope. “He’s very passionate about teaching the Word and wanting our congregation to be prepared and equipped to share the gospel with those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their savior,” she said.
Causey said she was motivated through a devotional book that he penned in 2018. “It told me a lot about his passion,” she said. “One of the things at the very end struck me. It said, 'His passion is to make disciples who know the Word of God and have a deep love for Jesus.' We need to be able to share the gospel within our circle of influence.”
'UNBELIEVABLE LEADERS' AT LIVING HOPE
Pettus said Living Hope’s success is a direct correlation of its overall leadership, which he said was in abundance. “God has blessed us with unbelievable leaders,” he said. “Not just staff but lay leaders.
“And there’s the willingness of the church to change. This congregation has had the attitude of whatever it takes, that’s what we’ll do. You have to have that to start ministry. Sometimes it requires money, volunteers, and people have to believe in it. God’s Spirit has to move.”
Fortney, who is an elder, said watching the church grow in disciples through Pettus’ ministry has been uplifting.
“It really has been a blessing to see that continuity and leadership,” he said. “It’s a blessing that comes when somebody is sold-out to Christ. He never gets stale. He is constantly looking and seeking God for how would you have us do this? We’ve been globally and kingdom-minded. It’s not just about four walls on Weston Street.”
As for having Pettus as the senior pastor for two decades at Living Hope, Fortney hopes there is more to come.
“I really wish any church would have a pastor for that tenure,” he said. “God may call him to do something else, I don’t know. I hope He doesn’t. We’ve been blessed and the community has been blessed.”