Religion

Northridge aims at grace as it continues to serve those around it

Following a career in the Air Force and upbringing he describes as very non-religious, John Sheeley now pastors Northridge Baptist Church which has roots go back to the late-1800s.
Following a career in the Air Force and upbringing he describes as very non-religious, John Sheeley now pastors Northridge Baptist Church which has roots go back to the late-1800s. Special to The Telegraph

Talk to John Sheeley about Northridge Baptist Church, the church he’s pastored near the Macon-Bibb County/Jones County line for just more than two years, and he’ll talk about it being grace-filled, Christ-centered and welcoming.

And he’ll talk about how he and others at the church aren’t perfect, but are resolutely following their Lord and Savior.

“That’s really what we are,” he said. “We’re really just a group of people who follow Jesus Christ. He loves us, we love him and we’re working to try to show that love to those around us — to those nearby, those in our wider community and those further away, even those across the world.”

Sheeley said Northridge’s roots go back to a Sunday school and church mission begun by First Baptist Church of Macon in the late 1800s. First there was the Baptist Sunday School, East Macon, then a mission called Warren Chapel after E.W. Warren, the First Baptist pastor instrumental in establishing it. It officially became a church in 1888 and in 1895 was renamed East Macon Baptist Church.

Church records show by the 1950s, the church had grown to 1,000 members and was called East Side Baptist Church.

Records also state that because of “significant changes in the community,” East Side relocated to Gray Highway in 1978. There the name was changed to Northridge Baptist Church.

Sheeley said the church’s surrounding demographic community has again seen change but this time the congregation is taking a different tact: it isn’t moving, it is, as he repeats his earlier sentiment, “Trying to show God’s love to those around us.”

“We feel God has put Northridge here to impact our community and we’re seeing that happen,” he said. “Our mindset as Jesus followers is to continue as a congregation knowing that because God first loved us we love him and are here to love other people and serve and sacrifice for them — first and foremost with the gospel — but also in other needed ways. Ways that show the kindness of God and address issues like poverty and hunger, homelessness and education. We’re not a big church, we don’t have the 1,000 members East Side once had, but the people at Northridge are loving and generous and most of all they’re committed to Jesus. That’s why I believe we’re going to have a greater and greater impact. Someone said we should ask this question: if our church disappeared tomorrow, would anybody miss it? We’d want to be missed, not because we made a name for ourselves or were a huge church, but because we served the Lord well and our neighbors well and we weren’t country club Christians in a castle on a hill pointing at all the bad people out there.”

Sheeley said he knows what it’s like “out there.”

“I come from a broken home. My dad did time in jail and wasn’t a nice man at all,” he said. “I have permission to say that because today Jesus has changed his life and restored our relationship in a way I never dreamed would be possible. I’ve seen the difference God has made in his life and my life and the lives of so many. The world is a tough place and Jesus has given us shelter and new life. Not everything is perfect, no, but having not come from a Christian home and without a religious background, I’ve sure seen what God can do.”

Including, Sheeley said, give he and his wife, Lynette, two “miracle” children. He said during her first pregnancy, Lynette was told she’d had a miscarriage. However, an ultrasound prior to a DNC revealed there was a heartbeat. They had a daughter. Then they were told they were sterile, yet miraculously, had a second daughter. Today one is a dental hygienist and the other a graduate student studying physical therapy.

Though Sheeley said his wife now suffers a debilitating though not life-threatening illness, they rejoice that even though the struggle is difficult their faith in God gives them needed grace and strength.

A native of Washington state, Sheeley said his non-religious background took him to what looked to be a “short-lived” career in the Air Force. But he said an encounter with Christ and resulting life change led to a full career in California, Germany, Colorado, Florida and finally in Warner Robins at Robins Air Force Base. After retirement he was a classroom instructor with Boeing, manager of the Military Education and Training Office at Robins and eventually in charge of the 911 Center at Fort Benning. He was called to ministry while in Warner Robins and served his first church near Fort Benning, Geneva Baptist Church. Northridge is his second pastorate.

He has Master of Arts in Theological Studies and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministries degrees from Liberty University. He previously earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a Master of Science in Education in Training and Performance Improvement from Capella University. Sheeley serves as chaplain for Mercer University’s Army ROTC program.

Sheeley said the church’s ministries serve various age and interest groups with growing clothes and food ministries serving the community. He said the church is beginning tutoring and mentoring partnership with area schools and has established a Grief Share ministry to aid others in coping with the death of loved ones.

“Our faith has to make a difference in how we relate to other people and love and serve them,” Sheeley said. “My background, where I come from, has an impact on how I’m leading. I spend time at a Waffle House nearby building relationships with people of every skin color you can imagine. It’s natural. In my family I have relatives, nieces, cousins and others who are Native American, Hispanic — the whole gamut. We’re all human. Everybody has a story, some good, some bad, but Christ loves us and can make a difference in anyone’s life. That’s what we’re here to say. That’s why we want Christ at our center and want to show a lot of grace. Christ has shown us a lot of grace.”

Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

Northridge Baptist Church

Address: 2360 Gray Highway, Macon, Ga., 21211

Phone: 478-742-3244

Leadership: John Sheeley, pastor

Worship: Sunday school 9:45 a.m., worship 10:55 a.m., evening worship 5:55, Wednesday service 7 p.m.

Website: www.northridgemacon.org

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