Johnny Baggett can give you a serious look.
His gray hair and beard add to a naturally somber expression but it’s an expression that often and easily breaks into big smiles letting you know all is OK.
Baggett pastors New Elim Baptist Church. He said the gospel and the work of the Lord is a bit like that, too.
“We’re very serious about the gospel,” he said using his serious look. “It is a very serious thing. It’s about people’s eternity and whether or not they know God. Are we willing to tell them they can know God and how much he loves them? That’s a serious thing but there’s joy in it too. Lots of joy.”
Like the church and the Christian life should be, he said — still looking serious but then for a moment breaking into a big, big smile.
“What we try to instill and let people know is Christians can have just as good a time as anybody,” he said. “Better even. Just go with us to Snellgrove’s restaurant in Centerville or some other outing our seniors or another group takes and you’ll see. My, my. God’s not boring. God has a great sense of humor. People need to know that side of him.”
But, Baggett said, God will discipline you — yet even that leads to joy. He gives an example that includes what he thinks is important in church: not himself but people doing and enjoying God’s word and work in their lives.
“One Sunday, everything was prepared and the praise team was ready, but God changed it all,” he said. “We had to scramble because I just knew we didn’t have the right songs. God gave us different songs and I hadn’t even started preaching when there were five people praying at the altar. God was speaking to them; his Holy Spirit was moving. I won’t interrupt God’s working. Sometimes we wonder why God isn’t doing anything and the reason may be we’re just not letting him.”
As result of following God’s leading about the songs, of not interrupting even though it was his time to preach, and of letting people have time to pray as God was leading, Baggett said two people in the church were able to settle an angry disagreement. He said it was humbling and difficult, but it led to a peace and joy better and more important than a fun night out.
Church member Rosemary Matthews said Baggett doesn’t mind if people ask questions during his sermons. She said he said it’s important people understand things.
Matthews and her husband, Russell, are retired and lead the church’s food pantry. She said it’s a joy to help others by preparing meal plans, filling boxes with ingredients to make them and then giving them away. They mainly go to folks in the church who need help and to friends and neighbors they know about one-on-one.
“We average giving away two or three or more boxes a week except at Thanksgiving when we do quite a few more,” she said.
On the other hand, Baggett said the church’s free clothes ministry is open to the public each first Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. until noon. He said those are important ministries of the church along with its children’s ministry which includes AWANA on Wednesday nights.
And then there’s the church’s music ministry and praise and worship band called Maranatha which means come soon Lord Jesus. Baggett is part of the band.
“I became a Christian when I was 19 years old,” he said. “That was in 1974. I’m from Dublin and was licensed to preach in 1978 and came to Macon that same year. I spent about 10 years leading music in area Baptist churches. When I was 50, someone said that someone who sang as much as I did ought to play an instrument. They taught me a few guitar chords, G, D and C. I began writing a lot of songs and most of them were in the key of G. A bunch of people started calling me Johnny G. I’m proud to be part of the group like the one we have here that loves God.”
Baggett has since learned to play mandolin and banjo. His wife, Patricia, bought him a 12-strng guitar. “I bought a fiddle not long ago, too,” he said. “I was told my grandfather, the man I was named after, was one of the best fiddle players in Laurens County.”
Baggett said when he plays and when he preaches one theme is most often present.
“I’m an evangelist,” he said. “The church has lost a lot of what we’re supposed to be doing: preaching the cross and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The evangelist part of it really comes out of me. Our church has been recognized by the Southern Baptist Convention for our number of baptisms. It’s not the award that’s important but it shows what we think is important. Hey, I don’t know how to preach about world politics and all this and that. I just know Jesus is coming back and the more people that hear the gospel and get saved by the blood of Christ the more will be in heaven. That’s what really matters.”
New Elim Baptist Church was begun 157 years ago in 1869 and has always meet on the same property on Hartley Bridge Road, now just east of Interstate 475.
Records show it first met in what was the Hopewell school. Baggett said he believes the first pastor was a Stokes. He said there’s still talk of it costing a quarter to ride the train to Macon.
Baggett serves New Elim bi-vocationally and works as a “carpenter and ‘jack-of-all-trades’” in the physical plant division of Mercer University.
“I wanted to go to seminary but was married and we had a little girl, so daddy had to make a living and couldn’t go,” he said.
Has that curtailed his ministry?
“Pastors in the community did Bible studies with me and got me involved in ministry,” he said. “I guess they mentored me. My pastor, Jessie Richardson, gave me my first opportunity at Rebecca Baptist Church. He let me preach and I started leading music there. I always loved to sing. It all goes back to that first ministry at Rebecca.”
Baggett, 62, has led three other churches. He began at New Elim in 2006.
“This is the caring-est bunch of people I’ve ever served under,” he said. “I learn from them, they learn from me, and together we try to reach others for Christ.”
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.
New Elim Baptist Church
Address: 4368 Hartley Bridge Road, Macon, Ga. 31216
Leadership: Johnny Baggett, pastor
Worship: Sunday school 9:45 a.m., morning service 11 a.m., evening service 6, Wednesday AWANA 5:30 p.m., Bible study & prayer 6:30 p.m.