Montgomery Baptist Association Director of Missions (DOM) Neal Hughes has a burden for pastors who find themselves suddenly without a ministry.
Hughes’ dream of establishing a place of sanctuary for pastors and leaders displaced from their ministries has been realized with the opening of Montgomery Association’s City of Refuge. The new ministry was “a port in the storm” for its inaugural recipient, Bill Goodwin, and his family during a difficult time. Goodwin is an Alabama Baptist pastor who was terminated by his church but found healing through City of Refuge — officially “graduating” Nov. 6 during the association’s annual meeting.
Hughes said, “Our goal from the start was to bring hope from hurt. Our objective is to get the pastor and his family reconciled to God and man and to allow the Holy Spirit to direct their next steps.”
Goodwin said that is exactly what happened.
“I look at all the things that have transpired over the last 4 to 5 months and see that God had a purpose in all of it,” Goodwin said. “I feel like I’m going to be a better pastor as a result of this experience.”
City of Refuge is based on the model established more than 20 years ago at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia, by the church’s longtime pastor, Johnny Hunt. Prior to coming to Montgomery Association in 2016, Hughes worked for the North American Mission Board at its headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia. He and his wife, Mary, were members of First, Woodstock, and became keenly aware of the City of Refuge ministry.
“We began to know the people involved and to understand the rewards, blessings and challenges of the ministry,” Hughes said.
When Hughes was called as DOM, he said he “couldn’t help but think this should be a ministry of the association.”
The idea to provide sanctuary for someone in crisis is based on the Old Testament cities God provided as places of safety or sanctuary during times of trouble. For pastors who lose their job, not only is there a loss of income, there are often other ramifications too — if the church provides the pastor’s home, then the family may be forced to move quickly. Insurance benefits also may cease. In most cases, the family is left with many difficult decisions to make.
That’s the situation the Goodwins found themselves in after serving 15 years as pastor of a church in East Alabama.
Goodwin was given notice by church leaders who wanted him to find another place of service. He began seeking another church and anticipated a call to a church in Tennessee. When the church voted not to call him and no other ministry opportunities opened, Goodwin and his wife, Sharon, who also served on staff at the church, were forced to consider what their lives might look like outside of church ministry.
“We were about to sign a lease on an apartment and were planning to take money out of retirement to pay our bills — whatever we could do to get through,” he said.
Then on Mother’s Day, Goodwin got a call from friend and fellow Alabama Baptist Teman Knight, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, Montgomery, and a member of the City of Refuge oversight team. Knight explained the program and the Goodwins visited Montgomery to see the house where they would live, courtesy of the association and supporting churches.
There were questions, of course, but the Goodwins felt the benefits were worth the risks. They agreed to move to Montgomery, immediately got plugged in at Heritage and got to work on the restoration part of the program, which Hughes compares to a “three-legged stool.”
One leg of the program is counseling through the association’s counseling ministry.
“A crisis comes with baggage, with hurts, so we want them to have appropriate clinical care,” Hughes said.
Another leg is pastoral care — working closely with a mentoring pastor to see what a strong healthy church is like.
The third leg is leadership care, which includes coaching on a variety of leadership-related issues, resumé building and other aspects of career development.
The three elements of the program work together to help the minister explore past successes and failures in order to build a stronger foundation for future ministry, Hughes said.
In the case of the Goodwins, Hughes said the ultimate goal was always “to bring a sense of resolve so this family can bless this other congregation.”
Called as new pastor
On Nov. 5, that goal was realized when Bill Goodwin was affirmed as the new pastor of Ocmulgee Baptist Church, Selma, in Cahaba Baptist Association. Goodwin is excited about the new opportunity, as he told Montgomery Baptists at the associational meeting. He expressed his gratitude for what City of Refuge has meant to him and his family.
“The experience has helped me hone my skills and prepare me for my next ministry,” Goodwin said.
As Hughes and his team prepare to say goodbye to the Goodwins in a few weeks, they know based on statistics that another pastor will need their help soon. Hughes hopes other associations will consider starting their own City of Refuge ministry to help meet the need.
“These are people who have nowhere to turn,” he said. “We can help them by providing a healthy environment so the Lord can do His work.”