NEW HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH
Pastor Ron Staley
Describe the circumstances through which the church was born.
In the providence of God, New Hope Baptist Church was organized and constituted on April 7, 1974, under the authority and approval of Wayside Baptist Tabernacle of Lexington, NC, where my wife and I were members before moving to Virginia. In retrospect, it is hard to conceive that 45 eventful years have passed since that first meeting in a rented civic center. Concerning the circumstances under which New Hope Baptist Church was formed, I will begin with some of God’s providential workings in my own life.
What were the circumstances under which you were called to the ministry where you serve?
To this day I marvel at the grace of God, and the greatness of His mercy in sending His Son into this world to save a sinner like me. Then to think that He would call such a one to preach the Gospel that He caused me to hear and believe is, in some ways, even more incredible. But before relating my call to the ministry, I will share a brief summary of my personal story.
My father and mother married at the end of World War II, but their marriage was not to last for long. I was just a 6-week old infant when they finally separated, and in the providence of God, my father entrusted me into the care of his parents at that time. So during my early childhood I grew up in a loving, stable home.
When I was eight years old my grandfather died, leaving my grandmother to raise me alone. Being a godly Christian woman, she saw to it that I attended Sunday school and church faithfully. It was there that I was brought under conviction for sin, feeling the weight of my guilt and coming under the strong dread of judgment at the age of 9. After a period of attempting to do better, I found myself reverting to old habits of sin, such as lying, of which I was so keenly aware even as a young boy.
I was blessed to have a Sunday school teacher who strongly urged his students to memorize Scripture. In God's mercy, the seed of His Word began to take root in my heart. As I sat in the church balcony week after week hearing the Word of God, a great struggle was taking place within me. I knew that I must have Christ or perish, but I would not yield. In His time, the Lord overcame my resistance and flooded my soul with the wondrous truth of John 3:16 – causing me to see that salvation was in the Lord Jesus Christ and what He had done for me, not in anything I had done or could do. It was mine to only believe. My knowledge was limited at that time, but I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, gave myself over to Him and followed Him in baptism. Even though I did not understand the full significance of baptism, I knew that I was no longer my own. I belonged to Christ and wanted to live in obedience to Him. And even though my call to the Gospel ministry would not come until many years later, I had the desire to preach, even as a 9-year-old boy.
Not long after my conversion, my beloved grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. Her affliction progressed so rapidly that by the time I was 11 years old, she was no longer able to take care of me. In a moment, my safe, secure world was turned upside down. My birth mother agreed to take me, more out of necessity than any sincere desire. My stepfather, an abusive man who was a functional alcoholic, hated me and gave me just cause to fear him. Briefly stated, it was a legitimate fear for my life that caused me to run away from my mother and brutal stepfather when I was 14 years old. My mother neither reported me missing nor made any attempt to find me.
For the next two years I stayed with this or that relative or family friend while going to school, working at various jobs, and endeavoring to support myself. It was not until my biological father learned of my plight and took me into his home that things finally took a turn for the better. When my father had first committed me into the care of his parents, they made him promise that he would not try to take me away from them as long as they lived. Up to this point, my dad had kept his promise; but now, a situation had arisen that none of them could have foreseen. My grandmother was still living, but by then she was totally disabled. Things were much better for me in my father's home with his new family. I became better acquainted with my three siblings – one half-sister and two half-brothers. I lived with them until I enlisted in the United States Army, just two days after my 17th birthday.
Although my military service was during the time of the Vietnam conflict, I was never stationed in Vietnam, and therefore, was never in combat. The army was good for me, affording the opportunity to advance my education, which had been hindered by the circumstances of my youth. Through early testing my highest qualification was determined to be in the field of communications. However, since the army needed medics at that particular time, I was placed in the Army Medical Corps. As the time of my separation from the Army drew near, I was offered a commission to stay in but declined it. Yet I still developed an interest in communications and especially the field of broadcasting, which I pursued after separation from the Service.
My first broadcasting job was as a staff announcer at a small radio station in the mountains of North Carolina. After acquiring a little experience, I was offered a position at a radio station in WinstonSalem, NC, and then in Lexington NC to a more powerful station that broadcast simultaneously both AM and FM. After first working in Lexington as a staff announcer, I was transferred to the News department, becoming the News Director while still doing some regular on-air work. A while later I was given a position in the sales department, where I was responsible for commercial sales accounts as well as the writing and production of on-air advertisements. I loved my job! It was early in my career in Lexington that my wife, Carolyn, and I were married. And I have to say, as much as I loved my job, there was no comparison to the love I had for her, and still do! Though I feel that my witness was a feeble one, she came to know the Lord partly through my testimony.
While in Lexington, I met the pastor of Wayside Baptist Tabernacle and accepted his invitation to visit the church. Carolyn and I became members there and were soon active in the ministry of the church. I learned again to love the Word of God, and spent as much time as I could in daily study. Before long I was asked to teach the men's adult Sunday school class and was elected as a deacon. In time I became the youth pastor. Admittedly, there are things I now see far differently than I then did. When a new pastor named Roger Lackey came, things really changed. I had never heard the Lord Jesus exalted higher, the grace of God preached clearer, and the absolute sovereignty of God more firmly taught. I was shaken at first, but when God opened my mind and heart to see that salvation was all of Him, all to His glory, and by His purposed will alone, it was like being saved all over again. This glorious truth of God’s sovereign grace was necessarily involved in the founding of New Hope Baptist Church. As stated earlier, I loved my job. All the training, internship, and experience paid off with a good salary, which increased threefold in just three years. I was able to get my scheduling arranged so as not to interfere with my church attendance and duties. Then the real crisis came! Every time I entered my secret place of prayer it was as if the words would be pulled out of my heart, “Lord, what would you have me do?” Not audibly, but definitely with strong impression, the words would ring in my heart, “Lovest thou me more than these?” For months I didn’t answer that question and yet couldn’t escape it. The same words and the same strong impression came every time I entered my place of prayer. I knew what was happening, but at the same time looked at the advancements in my career, the nice home we had purchased, and the lifestyle I had never known until that time. In my heart I knew that everything I had gained in the world was included in that question, “Lovest thou me more than these?” That battle raged in my soul for several months. How could I not love Him who loved me, died for my sins, and drew me unto Himself to be His and His alone? How could I not love Him more than anything in this world? The conflict ended one evening when my answer finally came, drawn from Scripture, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” Then impressed upon my heart came that which would change the whole course of my life and that of my wife, the commanding words, “Feed my sheep.” The call was a pastoral call. But I never sought a place to preach, and only waited upon the Lord. If His will was for me to pastor His sheep, then He must guide, open the door and lead to the sheep I was to feed. Little did we know that providential circumstances were already in place that would bring us to a major crossroad in our lives.
About this same time, I began to experience some conflicts in my job that had to do with some of my on-air duties. At first the station manager respected my convictions as a Christian; but eventually he began to pressure me to do things as an announcer that I could not in good conscience do as a Christian. Thus I made the decision to resign my job rather than violate my conscience as a follower of Jesus Christ. With no idea of where we would go from there, I received a call and job offer the very next day from a Christian radio station near Richmond, Virginia. In addition to my employment, the station owner offered me a 30-minute weekly time slot in which I could preach the Gospel and teach the Word of God. I gladly accepted, for this was where my heart was! My weekly broadcast aired each Thursday night.
It proved to be the means by which another path suddenly materialized. I received a phone call from a Southern Baptist Church at the east end of Richmond. A member of this congregation, which had recently lost its pastor, was a regular listener to my broadcast and had submitted my name to the church's pulpit committee. The phone call was an offer for me to come preach for them and possibly become their interim pastor. I agreed, and after preaching for them several times, consented to be their interim pastor while continuing to work at the radio station. Shortly after, they pressed me to become their full-time pastor, which I did not wish to do because I desired to further my theological education first. However, since they continued to urge me to become their pastor, I made it a matter of much prayer until I was convinced it was God’s will for me to accept. By personal study and correspondence courses from Toronto Baptist Seminary, I was able to continue my pursuit of theological education.
So much happened during the eighteen months I was at East Gate Baptist Church that I can only give the highlights that brought about the founding of New Hope Baptist. It did not take long to convince me that East Gate was more a mission field than a church. It was a social organization rather than a called-out assembly. But the Lord was pleased to call and save some who would later become the nucleus of New Hope Baptist Church. To be honest, I was green and had more zeal than knowledge. Thus some of the problems I experienced were my own fault. But two major things caused a great deal of trouble. The Southern Baptist Mission Board, as I learned, was supporting missionaries who were liberal and did not hold to the full inspiration of the Scriptures. I endeavored to lead the church to support only known missionaries who would present their work to the church. Then I began to teach the doctrines of grace, which some received but many opposed. These things contributed to a crisis and ended in a called business meeting, essentially to determine if I was to remain pastor. During that meeting, one after another arose to resign their membership, and not the ones who were in opposition but the ones who supported my leadership! Strangely, here I was, at least briefly, the pastor of those who opposed me! I had no purpose to lead people out of this church and to form another, but God did! I had no choice; I was the last to resign! Those who resigned before me had gathered, desiring to form a new church and wanted me as their pastor. This is what led to the founding of New Hope Baptist Church, established in the Sovereign Grace of God and independent.
What is your greatest joy as a pastor?
This can be answered very briefly and but will echo what was written by the apostle John, which I’m sure is the greatest joy of the servants of Jesus Christ. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children (those under my teaching ministry) walk in truth.” It is a great joy to baptize those who have confessed faith in Christ, and for them to become members of the church. It is a greater joy to witness genuine fruit over time in those who demonstrate their commitment to Christ and His church, committed and loyal, for this is not the case with all who initially confess to be saved. It is those who “walk in truth,” consistent under various trials, increasing in the knowledge of God and faithful, who are the pastor’s greatest joy.
What do you find most challenging about pastoring a church?
The first thing is not so much concerning the condition of the church, which is essential, but my own condition, which also affects the condition of the church. I have to first take care of my own spiritual life, my own walk with the Lord, my own prayer life, and the disciplined and diligent study of the Word of God. There has to be a self-watch if I am to be able to watch for the souls of others. I still face temptations, discouragements, disappointments in people, and failures as well as successes. I have to be continually on my guard, because I am weak, needy, and not beyond falling. If I fail to maintain a consistent self-watch by constantly seeking the Lord and depending upon Him, I could cause more trouble than good to the church. So the divine wisdom through the apostle Paul is, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine (teaching); continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:16). Then the verse just before this one is essential to ministry. “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Timothy 4:15). If I am to “feed the church of God”, I must have the same food as the sheep to be healthy, to be strong in faith, to selflessly know how to love and serve the Lord of their salvation, and to love one another. This is no little task, because the people are also weak, needy, and not beyond falling.
I am convinced that the most profitable ministry of the Word is expositional preaching and teaching, as thorough as possible. But this is a type of ministry that requires the participation of the congregation, an entering into the message, an effort not only on the part of pastor, but of the people. I fear that much of what is called church today is more a spectator sport, a desire for 'feel good' entertainments rather than focused attention upon and assimilation of the truth. Of course, only God can give hearing hearts, renewed by His Spirit, and a vital interest in Him and His Word. There remains in us all a resistance. To gain spiritually for the glory of God there must be that which Paul called, “the good fight of faith.” Over time, some maintain this good fight to the end and some fall by the wayside. It is hard and heartbreaking at times, with great and debilitating discouragement, to watch fall away some whom you have loved and endeavored to teach and lead with all that is in you. The temptation is to dwell on this oftenconsidered failure, forgetting that God requires faithfulness rather than success in His stewards. As much as you try, you cannot make things happen. In such times, we must remember that God has also given those who hear, believe and persevere by His sovereign grace alone. The challenge is to resist discouragement, and when it does come and press its ugly resistance, to take it to the Lord. You must continue trusting the Lord, believing and obeying His Word, and learn to encourage yourself in the Lord, as David did. It is His faithfulness upon which we are to trust, not our own and not the people’s.
The biggest challenge then is to look only to the Lord and not circumstances, keeping focus on what you are called to do and not success, drawing all encouragement from the Lord and His Word. He will never fail, and our seeming failures are as appointed by Him as the joys of seeing some “walk in truth.” The challenge is to fear Him, not people, yet love the people and care enough to tell them the truth, even when it reproves and hurts, and leave the results to God.
What are some of the milestones in the development or maturing of the church?
The first milestone took place in the beginning of this ministry and affects it to this day. I don’t know how much was really understood as to what they were doing at the time, but the church put itself under a divine promise. The “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness,” and the promise, “all these things shall be added unto you,” applies as much to churches as to individuals. When New Hope was organized and constituted, I asked the question, “Do you want me to work a full-time job outside the church, or a part-time job, until we become better established?” The answer was something like, “No, we want you full-time in the ministry of the Word. We are willing to support you first, and wait on Lord for whatever else is needed.” So what happened? To be honest, trials came, lean times came, but never were we without what we needed. We met first in a civic center, and then we were able to rent an empty church building, for next to nothing. We were living in an apartment at the time. Then one of the members who knew a lady that owns several properties found that she wanted someone to live in a house she was going to sell, just for six months, and rentfree. She was in process of selling to a commercial enterprise, and then the deal fell through. She wanted us to continue living in the house, a rather large house, so the property could be watched. There was room enough for the church to meet in this house, and we did so, about 50 people at the time. We were informed that the city of Richmond required certain building codes if this many people met. The cost would be high to meet the codes, so we decided to look for property and build a building. We eventually found five acres for sale in Mechanicsville, a suburb of Richmond. The owner sold it to us for an incredibly low price for the area, and we were able to build a building. Then to our surprise, the owner of the house and property where we lived decided to deed it to us as a gift. We live there to this day. The Lord added what we needed, enabling me to continue in fulltime ministry. Yet trials came. We lost some people and had a building to pay for. Again, the people who remained decided by faith to give us an increase in our income and were willing to sacrifice to do so. To our surprise, the very next day I received a phone call from a pastor who wanted to rent our building, using it at times when we didn’t need it. They wanted to pay half of what we owed per month, which immediately relieved our smaller congregation of much that we owed. The Lord again added. The building and property has been paid off for many years now, and not only so, a gift was given to expand the building, adding a fellowship hall. Everything we have needed for all these years, no matter the trials we faced, has been supplied to us. God has been absolutely faithful to His Word, His promise, to put the spiritual things first and what we need would be “added.”
There are other milestones, but space limitations constrain what I can write. I must add that God leads some in different ways. There are those who, providentially and by necessity, supplement their income or support themselves while pastoring a small church. God bless them for being willing to do so! For them is also a putting of spiritual things first, and they shall be the gainers and not the losers for eternity. But if there be any reading these words who feel led, even if it requires increased giving, to support their pastor full-time, do remember that which contradicts human reason and yet is a principle in the kingdom of God. “There is that which scattereth, and yet increaseth.”
What is your greatest desire or burden for your church going forward?
I am growing older, and the time approaches when I shall be unable or not present to continue as pastor. It is my desire and prayer that God would supply leadership that will keep this church in the truth of God, love and nurture the people, and ever lead it to be an evangelizing, witnessing church. We do not know what may lie ahead in the future, but barring a spiritual awakening in this nation for which we pray, very difficult times may be coming. May the saints at New Hope be fortified, strengthened in the faith, and so in love with our loving Lord as to be bright and shining lights in an ever darkening world.