Published January 27, 2011
MARTINEZ — On Jan. 16 Bill Harrell was honored on the occasion of his 30th anniversary as pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez. Harrell noted, “Thirty years is a long time in some ways and not so long in others, but to put it in perspective, I came to this church just two days before Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president of the United States.”
The festivities started on Sunday morning with special presentations to both Bill and Carolyn Harrell and a celebrative worship experience, continued on Sunday evening with an inspiring program of music presented by the Abilene Church choir and orchestra and concluding with Harrell being roasted on Tuesday evening by some of Southern Baptists’ most notable pranksters including Paige Patterson, Jerry Vines, Len Turner and Danny Watters.
The special recognitions included presentations by Augusta Baptist Association director of missions Don Wheless, a video message from and plaque on behalf of Georgia Baptist Convention executive director J. Robert White, and a letter that was read on the floor of the United States House of Representatives from Tenth District Congressman Paul Broun. A letter was also read from Frank Page, the president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.
The church’s children, youth and adults all contributed to the special day by saluting the pastor for his years of faithful service.
The youth presented Harrell with a document stating: “Top 10 things that Abilene youth like about Brother Bill.” The list included comments concerning Harrell’s preaching: One youth who had grown up at Abilene wrote, “Thanks to growing up under Brother Bill, I expect that 45 minute sermons are the norm and I’m a little concerned and shocked when my current pastor only goes to 44 minutes.”
Another youth penned, “He doesn’t try to squeeze a whole message into a little time.”
The following comments were also included: “I’ve always respected the way Brother Bill doesn’t waver from the Bible. He doesn’t give sermons without focusing on the scripture” and “You knew that before every Sunday he put in an enormous amount of prep work and study, which helped compel you to pay attention.”
One of the things that stand out about the pastor with Abilene’s youth is his personal appearance. They included statements like: “He dresses the best of any pastor I’ve met” and “He wears starched blue jeans and cowboy boots on the weekends.” One teenager wrote, “His hair never moves – like Lego hair or something.”
One student aptly stated, “He sets a great example for us to live by no matter what the outside world is doing.”
During Harrell’s ministry Abilene has experienced substantial growth. The church’s membership now approaches 3,000 and has baptized over 1,900 new converts during Harrell’s three decades of ministry. Beautiful, commodious buildings have been added to the church complex and the annual budget has grown from $295,000 in 1981 to more $2,600,000 today.
Harrell was acknowledged for his leadership in Georgia Baptist life and his contribution to the Southern Baptist Convention. Harrell not only served as the chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, but the records may show that he served on the Committee longer than anyone else in the history of the denomination. He has also been heralded as one of the champions of the SBC Conservative Resurgence.
Jimmy Rogers, who served on the search committee for Abilene 30 years ago when Harrell was called as pastor, stated, “I have sat under Brother Bill’s preaching for a long time and the view he had on moral issues 30 years ago he still maintains today.”
Abilene deacon chairman Richard Lee commented, “Brother Bill always teaches the Word with enthusiasm. One cannot help but listen with an open heart and mind as he reveals the Word to us from the pulpit. He upholds the things that are right in our community and speaks against the things that are contrary to the Word of God.”
Dean Newman added, “My family has been under Brother Bill’s ministry for 23 years. I can honestly say his preaching has probably done more to mold and shape our family into what we are today than anything else. Our children, who were ages four and one when we came to Abilene, have heard sound biblical doctrine now into their mid 20’s. They know what living holy lives is all about because they’ve heard it week after week from the Abilene pulpit.
“I recently calculated that I’ve heard approximately 2,500 of Bill Harrell’s sermons over those years and I never get tired of them.”
Newman concluded, “I have served as a deacon and personnel and finance committee member among other things over the last 23 years and I’ve watched how the pastor has handled each and every difficult issue that Satan has thrown at him. He always does the right thing and follows God’s Word in his decision-making no matter how painful the short-term consequences might be. He is truly a man of God and someone I’ve been proud to serve with for many years and hopefully many years to come.”
The Harrells were recipients of significant recognitions and some wonderful gifts from the church, but their 30 years of ministry has been a marvelous gift to God.
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