Ministry Spotlight: Drew Baker and ElderLink North Carolina
Since its launch 18 years ago under Charles Siburt’s leadership, ElderLink seminars continue to equip, encourage, and link those who serve as leaders in Churches of Christ. This year, the Siburt Institute team is grateful for the opportunity to partner with several congregations to bring ElderLink to Greensboro on November 16-17.
We recently caught up with Drew Baker to talk about his ministry with the South Fork Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, his leadership with ElderLink North Carolina, and several challenges and opportunities facing congregational leaders today.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your role at South Fork Church of Christ.
My family moved to North Carolina in 2016 for me to begin my work as preaching minister at South Fork Church of Christ. I had previously served in West Tennessee and San Antonio as a youth minister, but it became clear that I was being called into preaching. Having grown up in Abilene, the only thing I knew about Winston-Salem was cigarettes. And so it was with low expectations that we explored the opportunity. We were thrilled to discover a wonderful church in a beautiful city that, thankfully, welcomed me onto their ministry team.
Since South Fork is a smaller church, I am able to take a significant role in planning worship, adult formation, and small groups. It has been very challenging to manage these vital ministries while navigating a time of unprecedented change in the life of South Fork. In the span of three years, this congregation has said goodbye to three beloved ministers who had all served here for at least a decade. And then the new preacher is a rookie from Texas and the new youth minister is in his younger 20s! Through these and other challenges, I have been incredibly blessed to participate in ACU’s D.Min. program; the wisdom and guidance I have received from the professors have been invaluable.
2. What is something you’re looking forward to with ElderLink North Carolina?
Over the last few years I have gotten to work closely with an incredible group of elders. They are prayerful, generous, and have a tremendous heart for Christ and for our congregation. They come from different backgrounds and possess a variety of gifts. Most of them have full-time jobs and then they spend a great deal more time serving the church. But being an elder can be a lonely calling. They have had no opportunities to benefit from the kind of quality mentoring, equipping, and fellowship that I have enjoyed as a minister. And then there are all the deacons, teachers, and volunteers who love the church and work hard to see it succeed. I am thrilled that we will be able to share this tremendous gift with them.
3. You have done quite a bit of work to collaborate with other local churches. What has that partnership looked like, and what are some benefits you’ve experienced as a result?
Having grown up in Abilene, I was accustomed to having a large support network of ministers, elders, and other mentors who have known me all my life. It was, therefore, daunting to move to a state where I knew only two other ministers. After a fortuitous meeting with another minister, I was able to become quickly acquainted with several others, and that formed a monthly preachers meeting. I was also invited to participate in a similar meeting in Raleigh.
In the spring of 2017, Kent Massey mentioned at one of our meetings that he would love to see ElderLink come to the Carolinas. So after talking with Carson Reed about it, I began working with both preacher groups to think through the topics that would be most helpful for our congregations. With about five churches represented at each meeting, I was able to get a broad sampling of the needs of the area congregations, and to nail down some basic logistics. The Siburt Institute staff has been excellent to work with and we are thrilled by the team of presenters that they have put together based on our needs.
4. Based on your conversations with others in your area, what are some common challenges and opportunities facing congregational leaders today?
After gathering all the input from the dozen or so churches represented in our meetings, I discerned three major themes: 1) spiritual leadership, 2) discussions of women’s roles in our worship assemblies, and 3) racial reconciliation and diversity.
As is the case with most elderships, leaders in our region don’t have a clear model of how spiritual leadership differs from secular leadership. While our meetings are largely focused on spiritual matters, our approach to those matters is little different from what one might find at an HOA or PTA meeting.
While only a few churches in our region have removed the male-only restrictions on our public assemblies, most are wrestling with the challenge that recent discussions have posed to their traditional understandings. Often, our youth and our older members are broaching the question. The need to study the question is clear, but so is the need to help congregations study without giving into fearful and visceral reactions.
I believe racial reconciliation and diversity should be a central concern for all churches in the United States, but especially for churches in North Carolina and its bordering states. Charleston, SC; Charlotte, NC; and Charlottesville, VA, have each been in the national spotlight for racially-driven hatred and violence. And while we as Christian ministers deplore racism, systemic oppression, and white supremacy, our message of justice and reconciliation is drowned out by the lack of diversity in our congregations.
5. What is something you’re excited about in this season of South Fork’s life and ministry?
When I came to South Fork, the congregation was entering into a time of transition and looking for a young preacher to partner with them in the journey. South Fork had been a very stable, loving congregation for years, but admittedly had not been very effective bringing people to Christ. With a newly installed eldership, they discerned that it was time to focus more on serving the needs of the community and bringing others to Christ.
Shortly after crafting a vision to that effect, the preaching minister announced that he would be moving elsewhere. The next few years saw a complete overhaul in the ministry staff and a significant change in membership. On the one hand, these changes in vision and leadership have presented South Fork with an identity crisis which still poses significant challenges. On the other hand, there is a renewed focus and energy at South Fork that is very encouraging. I am excited to see how God is going to use us in the coming years to further his kingdom in the Winston-Salem area.