BARBOURVILLE, Ky. (KT) – It was almost prophetic that Tyler Shields would become the pastor of First Baptist Church in Barbourville.
As a high school senior living in Barbourville, he took a college career class where he was asked about his future. He said he was leaning toward work in the ministry and his teacher, who was setting up shadowing programs for the students, partnered him with – you guessed it! – the pastor of FBC Barbourville.
About 15 years later, that same teacher happened to be on the search committee that brought Shields to the church in view of a call to be the next pastor.
He received a remarkable 99 percent of the vote on Sunday to become the church’s next pastor
“To be honest,” Shields said, “it’s not something we desired. We weren’t trying to go back home. The church had stopped taking applications two months before I applied. God just did not give me rest.”
Shields remembers having a conversation with Alan Dodson, the south region consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, who told him God may not have been calling him away from Rockhouse Baptist as much as He was calling him to FBC Barbourville.
“I guess I was what they were looking for in a pastor,” Shields said. “It’s a weird deal. Our ministry at Rockhouse was going so good. But we prayed through that, a lot of prayer and a lot of fasting, and arguing back and forth with God. In the end, God wins. Now we’re so excited to be going home.”
Shields, wife Kaitlyn and two young children, Easton , 7, and Audrey, 2, are on the way to begin a new chapter in their ministry life.
FBC Barbourville is the church where Shields, 32, was raised and become a Christian. He has a lot of good memories. But going home is never easy.
“Tyler is the guy who knew back in high school that he had a ministerial calling,” Dodson said. “Having his high school teacher set him up to shadow at the church is an intriguing bit of history. It’s kind of come full circle.”
Dodson said Shields’ familiarity with the community and the people in the church will benefit him and they showed much confidence in his ability with the 99-percent vote for him to come.
“The church, in their bylaws on calling a pastor, had a really high bar,” Dodson said. “The church required a 90 percent call. There’s a pretty good level of concern anytime, but especially during COVID and all the things that we’re having to negotiate around to get people there to vote. He ended up getting 99 percent call which, frankly, I don’t know that a rank stranger would have gotten.”
Like many Kentucky Baptist churches, FBC Barbourville has been in a slow steady decline for the past 10 years. Shields acknowledges as much but hopes for a bright future and believes the church is ready to make a change for the better.
“Tyler Shields is one of many outstanding young leaders in Kentucky Baptist life. He possesses a passion for souls and a vision for what a church can become as they set out to fulfill the Great Commission in their community,” said Dr. Todd Gray, the KBC’s executive director-treasurer. “What God has done through Tyler at Rockhouse Baptist, leading a declining church to turn around and experience some of their best days of evangelistic ministry, is a testimony to the power of God at work in his life.”
Shields was able to lead Rockhouse through an incredible time of growth in five years, going from around 20 members to 120 members. He did it with intentional evangelism, going door to door, engaging the community and making disciples.
“You have to take the time to invest in people,” he said. “We set baptism goals and those sort of things. As I’m leaving today, the man I baptized is going to take my place as pastor in the transition. That’s discipleship”
That didn’t make Sunday any easier for Shields, who said leaving Rockhouse was “gut-wrenching. The hardest thing I had to do was resign and tell them I was not going to be their pastor anymore.”
As for the tools he will use to try and grow FBC Barbourville, Shields said it will start with lots of prayer. “There are plenty of books and plenty of seminars on how to do it but there’s no one-size-fits-all. What I feel, and from the conversations I’ve had and just this atmosphere, the church is at the point where they’re ready to move forward and do whatever it takes.”
Gray said Shields “understands that genuine church revitalization will never happen apart from intentionally evangelistic leadership from the pulpit.” The KBC leader said he will be praying for FBC Barbourville and Rockhouse Baptist as the churches transition.