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The Open Door


As I write this column, Janice and I are preparing to go to Norman Park Conference Center to participate in the Deacons, Pastors and Spouse Retreat. We will gather for a two-day conference under the theme: “Partners in Ministry.” We are looking forward to this event for a number of reasons.

If you have not been to Norman Park Conference Center recently, you need to make plans for a visit. Bill Townes has done an incredible job providing leadership for the conference center. Many changes and upgrades have been made which are reflected in the grounds and the buildings. Further, the staff at Norman Park is truly outstanding. They have excelled in professional development over the past several years under Bill’s leadership and the results have been impressive. I consistently receive glowing letters from those who participate in conferences at Norman Park.

You are probably aware that the conference center was a shelter following the hurricanes of last summer. When our Governor planned a statewide day of prayer for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, he chose our Norman Park Conference Center as his site visit for the day. That was a great compliment to our center and we were all impressed and grateful.

Of course, the food at Norman Park is truly outstanding. The kitchen staff has vast experience that shows up in every meal. When folks leave the dining hall they have smiles on their faces, and why not! Once you have completed dinner and get into the homemade pies and cakes, you cannot help feeling good inside and thankful to be a Georgia Baptist attending a conference at Norman Park!

Not only do we look forward to being at our beautiful conference center, we look forward to the reason we are there. I am so pleased to be with our fine deacons, pastors and wives from across Georgia. We have the finest folks ever to be found in a Southern Baptist church right here in Georgia.

As I reflect back over my ministry, I can honestly say that my best friends in the life of the church have been those who have served as deacons. I have never been able to relate to the jokes about deacons and pastors not being able to get along. I have enjoyed great relationships with my deacons throughout my experience. They were my trusted confidants in ministry. I trusted their wisdom and I always had the sense that they trusted me.

Every church has challenges. When we faced challenges I would get my deacons together and say, “I need your counsel as we face some issues. I trust your wisdom and your love for our church so talk to me about how you feel we need to approach this situation.”

Sometimes the challenges would call for what I referred to as a “family chat.”

In those cases, I would lay out the matter and say, “Let’s just talk about it for a while. Everyone’s opinion is important and deserves to be heard.” Frankly, those were some of the finest deacons’ meetings we ever had.

The great thing about a conference like this is the fact that once you have gotten together in a relaxed setting, spent time together, worshiped together, prayed together and played together, you just do not feel the same about one another. It enhances your relationship with each other. That will happen this weekend and deacons, pastors and wives will go home feeling more in love with each other and with the Lord than when they arrived. That is as it should be.

I want to thank Danny Watters, Kenneth Keene, Robert Anderson, Joyce Norman and Lucretia Jackson of Church/Minister Relations for all of the work that they have poured into making this a great conference.

If you get an opportunity to attend a conference at either of our conference centers, Norman Park or Toccoa, you should make every effort to be present for a glorious and uplifting experience.