I first heard the name Waylon Bailey when I wrote “Prodigal Daughter” about Christa Allan’s journey to becoming a published author. Christa had great respect for her pastor. She told me about the positive influence he had on her family, which I included in “Prodigal Daughter”. I also included her story in Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot. That was the first, but not the last time I heard the name “Waylon Bailey” in a positive light. I concluded he is a man of excellent reputation and Googled his name to learn more about him.
Pastor Bailey accepted my friend request on Facebook. Occasionally, a title to a blog post he wrote would grab my attention, and I’d click through to read the article. A few months ago, I noticed an invitation to share his blog articles with friends. I share a lot of material for pastors, authors and friends on NOLA’s Faith blog, so I sent him an email requesting permission to pick up some of his articles. In the course of exchanging emails with Pastor Bailey, I learned Martha, his wife, is an excellent teacher and also had a blog. By the time the details of sharing their material were finished, Pastor Bailey not only consented to speak to the Southern Christian Writers Guild about blogging, he also agreed to tell me his story.
He arrived at the Guild meeting full of intriguing information about social media. Seventy-two percent of Americans use social media. The percentage of eighteen to twenty-nine year olds is higher. In the past four years, the usage of those sixty-five and older has increased four times. Facebook has become America’s front porch. He then addressed how blogging opened a door for shy people in their church to communicate with them. People uncomfortable speaking to them personally willingly shared their thoughts through comments on Pastor Bailey and Martha’s blogs.
This information resonated with me. In recent months, I’d heard several ministers criticize the use of social media as though it were a demon destroying relationships. I even received a phone call chiding me for using Facebook. If I was limited to face to face encounters or even phone calls, it would have been impossible for me to connect with some of the people I have written about. As already stated, I connected with Pastor Bailey via Facebook.
“I’m not a writer,” said Pastor Bailey. “I am a pastor who writes.” The pastor who would not call himself a writer has written and co-written seven books. Marlaine Peachey, the Chairman of the Southern Christian Writers Guild set them on the table before he arrived. Marlaine also informed me that Pastor Bailey is her pastor and the President of the Southern Baptist Convention for the state of Louisiana. I thought what a truly humble man to come speak to our little group of writers!
Pastor Bailey taught us how to discern the will of God for our writing by taking the next step. Throughout his ministry, he normally knew the next step to take but never knows the second step before he has taken the first. Following God one step at a time has served him well. He oversees a large church, which is currently expanding its facility to accommodate the growing congregation.
After the meeting, Pastor Bailey and Martha met with me privately to share their story. Five minutes into our conversation my camera flashed “Turning off to conserve battery”. I could not believe what I saw on the screen. This was an inopportune time for my camera to die. A quick survey of my screen revealed I had not pushed record. Duh. The fail safe to conserve the battery had activated because the camera thought I was not recording anything important and sought to do me a favor. I profusely apologized, and we started again.
Waylon Bailey is a generational Christian. Both is grandparents and parents were devoted to God. His parents set an example of loyalty that engraved character on their young son. His father served as chairman of deacons. His mother was active in the Women’s Missionary Union and a capable Bible teacher. Throughout his parents service within the church Waylon witnessed much turmoil and many occasions for his parents to be offended. Unlike some who abandon the church when the waters become rough, his parents remained faithful to God, to their ministries and to God’s people.
“I had the shortest confession of faith on record,” Waylon laughed. He made that confession in an automobile in his hometown of Brantley, Alabama. His questions about a revival taking place in Brantley led to a discussion about baptism and faith with his mother. During the conversation, she quoted Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, …” Waylon shifted his slender nine-year-old body back into the car seat, closed his eyes and said, “Lord, I believe.”
He had taken the first step in his walk with God, but he did not know where the next step would take him. As far as Waylon was concerned ministry was not in his future. Until he was a senior in high school and his pastor asked, “What are you going to do when you graduate?”
“I might go into business, I might be a lawyer, I might even be a preacher…,” nervous laughter followed. Waylon had no idea way he included a profession he had no desire to enter. The perceptive Pastor Bobby Brown recognized a calling resting on the young man’s life. The following week, he invited Waylon to come to his office and talk.
Waylon took the second step toward God’s will in Pastor Brown’s office on a crisp January afternoon. Pastor Brown asked Waylon why he included preacher in his list of options after graduation. Waylon admitted that he had thought about it. “This is what you need to do,” said Pastor Brown. “You need to tell God that you are willing to do what he tells you to do.” Waylon made his second shortest confession of faith on record. “Lord, I will do what you want me to do.”
God took Waylon at his word. Easter Sunday night, Waylon sat on the back row of the church with his friends when his heart and mind were arrested by the Spirit of God. He felt possessed by God’s Spirit, overwhelmed by his presence and a sense of the reverential fear of God engulfed him. When the invitation was given to come to the altar for prayer, he walked forward knowing exactly what had happened. God had set him apart to preach the gospel.
Waylon Bailey paused to collect his thoughts and said to me, “My call to preach came violently. When you asked me a moment ago about my salvation, whether something dramatic happened, or I just knew. Well, I just knew. But when I was called to preach it was a violent call, an astounding call. It was I know this is what God wants me to do. Not only do I know this is what God wants me to do. This is what I want to do. My passion to preach the gospel was immediate and that passion has only grown stronger through the years.”
Pastor Brown took Waylon under his wing. Waylon assisted in funerals, visited the sick, and delivered his first sermon at a small country church. He preached everything he knew about the call of Abraham from Genesis Chapter 12 in eight minutes. Then Pastor Brown put Waylon’s picture in the weekly Alabama Baptist Magazine announcing Waylon Bailey had been called to preach. A church twelve miles from his home town invited Waylon to be their pastor. His parents bought him the same set of commentaries Pastor Brown used when preparing his sermons, which helped Waylon increase his sermons from eight minutes to ten.
Circumstances and the peace of God led Waylon to pastor several different churches before he settled into a long-term position as a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). Each pastorate taught him valuable lessons. He learned the importance of relationships. In the smaller pastorates, he knew every congregation member by name and their struggles. His current church is too large to build intimate relationships with everyone, but he still strives to know as many people as possible.
He learned how to conduct business meetings. Voting whether or not to pay the light bill seemed trivial to Waylon, but he learned it was important to the people who wanted to vote. At times, he sat through business meetings that left him confused regarding what was accomplished. But he learned to be patient and gentle.
Another pastorate taught him the importance of evangelism. He invited a college roommate to preach a revival at his seventy-five member church. The revival started a good relationship with a nearby school, which allowed them to share their faith with its students. Ultimately, the revival produced thirty professions of faith. In another church, the deacons requested permission to worship “with him” instead of asking him to “try out” for the office of pastor. Their humility left a mark on Waylon’s life and ministry.
Waylon had a strong foundation to tread upon as he began seventeen years of service at NOBTS which undergirded that foundation with a thorough, accurate understanding of the Bible. “Four years before I came to First Baptist Covington, I felt like Jeremiah,” said Waylon. “There was a fire in my bones to be a pastor again. Every time Martha and I found a place we thought we fit and should go, the door was closed. Every time we didn’t think we fit and were not inclined to go, the door was opened.”
In 1983, First Baptist Covington invited Waylon to serve as interim Pastor. An impromptu revival started. People were walking in off the street and getting saved. Waylon asked the associate ministers on staff what they were doing that produced the revival. They didn’t have a clue. A new pastor was elected, and Waylon continued to help other churches when and where needed as he taught at the seminary.
Five years later, September 1988, First Baptist Covington, once again in need of a pastor, remembered Waylon Bailey and asked him to return as a candidate for pastor. He was already serving as an interim pastor at a church in Mississippi. He made it a practice to stay in an interim position until the church found a suitable pastor. He turned down their invitation. First Baptist Covington said, “We will wait.”
A comparison of Isaiah 64:4 and 1 Corinthians 2:9 reveals that the Apostle Paul interpreted to wait is to love. When First Baptist Covington chose to wait while Pastor Bailey walked in integrity, they chose to love. They chose wisely. After a long vetting process, Waylon became Senior Pastor of First Baptist Covington in May of 1989 where he learned another valuable lesson. How to successfully guide a church through change. He led his flock of three-hundred to Bootlegger Road where the congregation blossomed to several thousand and continues to grow.
There is a purity and maturity in the Baptist pastors I have written about that inevitable affects my life, but I had never attended a Baptist church service and decided to investigate. I punched 16333 Highway 1085, Covington into my GPS and made the one hour drive to First Baptist Covington. I walked past the hall that led to the Children’s church and encountered Martha Bailey at the Women’s Ministry Booth decorated with Fall themed crafts and an announcement about an upcoming meeting involving Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate and Crafts on October 18, 2013. I have never been adept at crafts, but I do love chocolate.
Martha and I chatted for a few moments, and I continued my exploration. I passed a coffee station with seven different blends of PJ’s coffee. People were scattered about the long foyer sipping coffee and chatting as they waited for the second of three Sunday morning services to begin. The sanctuary doors opened. The people from the first service formed a long line at the coffee station. I walked into the sanctuary. An usher handed me a small rock and a bulletin. I wasn’t sure what to do with the rock and dropped it in my purse.
The service was conducted in a format similar to the church I attend: worship music, announcements may the high tech way, an offering was received and then the sermon began. The bulletin had fill in the blank notes to keep us focused. The message about forgiveness taken from the life of Joseph brought tears to my eyes. We all have bitter experiences in life that can be difficult to forgive. I’ve done my best to practice forgiveness, and I am not angry with anyone who has hurt me. But Pastor Bailey also spoke about releasing the hurt. While he spoke, I remembered the day I accepted that some hurts are never healed; we take them to the grave. At the end of the sermon, he asked us drop our rocks in a nearby bucket as a sign that we are letting go of any unforgiveness or hurt we’ve been clinging to. I retrieved the symbol of my hurt from my purse and dropped it into the bucket. For the first time in more than a two decades, I had faith that God wanted to heal the hurt and renewed hope that he will. I am glad I visited a Baptist church.