On April 23 I announced that the elders of Grace Baptist Church were recommending Dr. Tom Nettles to the church as a candidate for Associate Pastor. After months of serious prayer and consideration, we and Dr. Nettles believed that the Lord had led us to this point and could well be leading us to unite in pastoral ministry in Grace. Tom and his wife, Margaret, visited with the Grace family over the past weekend and Lord's Day. Just prior to last night's final worship service, He informed me that the Lord had convinced him that he should withdraw his name from consideration and should return to his teaching responsibilities at Southern Seminary.
I informed our church during the evening service and Dr. Nettles spoke with heartwarming humility and transparency about how he had come to this unexpected and abrupt change of heart. He spoke of a renewed sense of call and a burden of stewardship to the opportunities the Lord has given him in teaching seminary students. Needless to say, we were all deeply saddened as we considered that the future we had anticipated was not to be. Nevertheless, we could not help but rejoice in the Lord's goodness in leading in such a clear way. That has been our prayer from the beginning--that the Lord would direct us to do His will. Though He has done so in a way that we did not expect and which we would not have chosen, He has unmistakably done so, and He is to be praised.
There are many lessons to be learned through all of this and we hope not to miss any of them. We will keep our time of congregational meeting on Wednesday night, but will now turn that into a season of biblical reflection and prayer. We will also keep the appointed day of prayer and fasting on Friday, but now, instead of seeking the Lord's guidance about issuing a call to Tom Nettles, we will be seeking His guidance and spiritual provision for our immediate future. We plan to end that day with a baptism at the beach.
James clearly instructs us that we should only make our plans with a humility that remembers, "if the Lord wills" (James 4:15). The last 4 days have provided a very poignant reminder of that truth. The Lord is good in all His ways. The cross of Jesus Christ stands as an eternal testimony to that fact. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).
On behalf of Grace Baptist Church and the Nettles, thank you for your prayers. We believe that the Lord has heard and answered. I am excited about Tom's future ministry at Southern. If the Lord grants him life and strength, I believe that his best, most productive days are in front of him. The counsel that I have given to students at Southern for the last 10 years remains the same: take every course that you can from Tom Nettles. He will help you understand the Gospel both in its nature and in the way that it works.
On a lighter note, this announcement will hopefully regain me some friends and slow down the "dislike mail" (it really didn't rise to the level of "hate," but some of them flirted with the edges of "perturbed") from students and others who were lamenting the thought of Tom not being around to teach at the seminary any longer. I fully understood their sentiments and rejoice with them at the Lord's leading. The kingdom of God is certainly far greater than any single church or school. The events that have transpired will, I believe, serve the cause of that kingdom very well for years to come.