Jim Perdue was 10 when he and his family started attending Second Baptist Church of Warner Robins. It was 1988.
How could he know then that one day he’d be pastor of the bustling congregation where 1,400 now worship on Sundays, 1,000 take part in smaller Life Groups, and hundreds upon hundreds volunteer and participate in ministries serving the church and the community?
Or how could he know he’d lead a commissioning service there to send his father, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, to serve as secretary of agriculture in Washington, D.C.? Or that the church would advance in helping people in such varied ways as becoming accomplished musicians or getting free from addictions? Or that its sports ministries would reach thousands and lead the church to creating a 100-plus acre recreation and sports park?
As well as having a big vision for the future, Perdue keeps fond memories of Second Baptist’s past in mind.
“It’s where I was saved when I was 11, was baptized, where I was when I was called to preach and where I was married,” Perdue said. “God brought me full circle, right back here to be pastor.”
Perdue’s childhood pastor and mentor as a young man at the church was Rastus Salter. Salter led Second Baptist just shy of 50 years from 1955 until his death in 2005. He led the congregation from facilities on South Sixth Street to a new home on Sandy Run Road in 1984 and then to expansion to Moody Road and a 2,000-plus seat worship center in 2004.
Perdue, 39, called Salter his example of what a pastor should be. He said the greatest advice he received from the veteran preacher was Salter’s own guiding rules: be yourself, love people, preach the word and take time to study. Perdue said it was the foundation Salter laid by preaching God’s word that has allowed the church to stay strong and healthy.
“As a pastor I’m reaping the benefit of those who laid such a strong foundation and gave us such a rich history,” he said. “My love for this church runs deep. Part of that comes from people’s desire I see again and again to genuinely love and serve others. We’re blessed with a great past, but no church can rest on what happened ‘back then.’ We have to keep meeting the challenge of what God is calling us to today and tomorrow. It’s wonderful seeing that commitment continue and grow whether it’s through Sunday services, small groups, on a ball field, in youth discipleship groups or in our neighborhoods and homes. I look around and think we’re just getting started — the best is yet to come.”
Though Second Baptist is big, Perdue said he and members work to keep it personal.
“You hear the term Second Family a lot around here,” he said. “People may come in and say, ‘What a big building — it’s overwhelming.’ But look closer and you see the large congregation is really a big family with people connected in smaller ways. Second family is a play on words but it’s crucial. I didn’t originate the saying, but I believe as we grow bigger we also have to grow smaller — keep it personal.”
The importance of small groups and personal connections is longstanding with Perdue: he introduced small group Bible studies to Second Baptist’s youth ministry as an intern at the church between graduating high school and starting at the University of Georgia where he got a degree in education. He also served an internship the summer between his time in Athens and going for his master of divinity degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He now has a doctorate of ministry from Liberty University as well.
Perdue said the Second Family idea works in a couple of ways. “Some people have a great family life like I did and still do today,” he said. “As a church we’re an extension of that. On the other hand, some never had a supportive family life and we’re kind of a second chance for them to have those loving, nurturing relationships. I’ve heard people say their Second Family is really their first family. That kind of love and acceptance is an important part of our addiction recovery program on Friday nights, but really it’s just as important for all of us.”
Second Baptist’s wide range of ministries serve routine needs of members of all ages, but like the addiction recovery program, there are other ministries a bit more out-of-the-ordinary. Like the large school of the arts that teaches music and how to play instruments. And regular community-wide events in the large auditorium that have featured speakers like Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, women’s author and speaker Stormie Omartian, and coming Nov. 3, an evening with Duck Dynasty star Sadie Robertson who has a ministry primarily to young girls.
Then there’s Second Baptist’s sports ministry.
According to Jimmy Moneypenny, who is the church’s recreation and activities pastor, the church’s Upward and Victory Sports programs average 1,800 adult and children participants each year. He said summer sports camps add another 100 to 200 children to that.
Perdue said God has uniquely used such ministry in remarkable ways to touch lives and families and to help add to the Second Family. He said it’s the team of pastors, ministry directors and volunteers that make such service possible.
“We’re in a 40-day emphasis throughout the church called Impact where we’re looking at how we can make a dent in our community and culture for the kingdom of God,” he said. “Our sports ministry is certainly one way God has used to make a dent locally. It offers a lot of fun and opportunity for kids and adults, but God has also used it to touch a significant number of people’s lives. It’s also led to what we’re calling ‘Greater Things.’ We’ve bought 100-plus acres about two-and-a-half-miles away from our church campus to develop with baseball, softball and soccer fields and non-athletic areas like a walking path, picnic areas, a pavilion and other areas to enjoy. It’s off Ga. 96 near the intersection with Moody Road and will be one of the nicest parks in Houston County. People will be able to bring their kids and out-of-town visitors to have an enjoyable time. Of course, it will be home to many of our sports programs.”
Perdue said the park and other Second Baptist ministries aren’t “mercenary ventures” but expressions of a biblical desire to work for the good of the community. But he said there is always a sincere desire that others meet Christ through their efforts.
“We want it clear we’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re a church that loves you and we’re here to help,’ ” he said. “We want to serve with excellence and integrity and be a blessing, and we know the greatest thing we can do for anyone is let them know about the love God has for them and the salvation he offers in Jesus Christ. Then we want to help them connect, grow and learn to serve others. If people walk away from Second Baptist just saying what a great preacher I am, then I’ve failed miserably. I’ve succeed only if they walk away saying how great God is. There’s no person or program on display here — it’s all pointing to him.”
Update: An earlier version of this story described Sonny Perdue as secretary of state.
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.