By Brian Blackwell. Message Staff Writer
OAK GROVE – For most of her life, Stacy Miller has struggled with life’s setbacks.
Now a single mother with two boys – one who is autistic – Miller said she just did not feel like she ever “fit in” when she stepped inside a church building.
That is until Oct. 6, when she visited Unity Baptist Church in Oak Grove, let go of her past and accepted Christ as King.
Three days later, Miller and her 12-year-old autistic son were baptized.
“My life has changed, as I feel loved and more at peace,” Miller said. “I found God’s love is even greater than I could have imagined. I am very blessed to be a part of Unity Baptist Church, where we take the church out of the sanctuary.”
Miller’s story is echoed by many of the members of Unity Baptist Church.
Located in northeast Louisiana, the church has grown from 35 members attending Sunday morning worship in 2010 to 180 who show up on an average Sunday now. In order to accommodate the growth the church built a 6,000-sq.-ft. worship center that seats 250 – a capacity it has surpassed a few times.
The growth has been fueled by the nearly 200 baptisms that have taken place in a four-year period, including 81 this year alone.
On most Sundays, at least one new believer makes a public profession of faith by word and by submerging in the baptismal waters.
Pastor Kelly Coleman attributes the numerical increase to his congregation’s growing spiritual presence in the community, touching lives through a prison ministry, men’s and women’s small groups and Celebrate Recovery.
“It’s a matter of the outreach and relationships,” Coleman said. “If there is a festival or event, somebody with a Unity Baptist Church t-shirt is passing out fliers or just offering a word of encouragement. We are being visible and welcoming to people.
“The biggest thing is our people doing the work of the church outside the church,” he continued. “It’s a matter of boldness when someone asks how you are doing and responding that ‘I’m doing great, thank you Jesus.’ Being hospitable like that opens a door for conversation to invite them to church and share Jesus.”
Coleman has served as pastor of Unity Baptist Church since July 1, 2011, only about four months after he stepped foot in the church as a first-time guest, joining 11 other people who gathered for the worship service.
Two months later, the pastor resigned and Coleman was asked to fill the pulpit “until a search committee was formed.” But, before that representative body could form the congregation called Coleman to be its full-time pastor.
Though his first pastorate has been challenging at times, Coleman said God’s call to serve at Unity Baptist Church has been one of the greatest blessings he has received.
“The mission statement we have adopted since coming here emphasizes ‘taking the sanctuary out of the church,’” he said. “Our job is to visit the sick, hungry and those in prison, trusting God will honor us for reaching broken people. He has called every person in the church to be a disciple, to be his hands and feet.”
Coleman is a bi-vocational pastor and serves as vice president and branch manager of Guaranty Bank and Trust in Oak Grove. He also is a member of the West Carroll Parish School Board.
With all his responsibilities, his day begins at 6 a.m. and ends around 9:30 p.m.
Typically, he completes his bank duties at 5 p.m. and spends most nights with his church members or responding to phone calls from someone in need of Christ’s love.
Though balancing his role as banker and pastor has its challenges, Coleman said he would not have it any other way.
“It’s cumbersome,” Coleman said. “But I am recharged when I see people surrendered to Christ. I stay prayed up. I’m doing the work of the church every day and everywhere I go. Thankfully, I am able to manage that.”
Coleman credits his ability to manage his various roles to his wife, Tralynn, who also is secretary of the church.
“When the Lord called me to ministry, he called me and my wife,” he said. “She is my right hand.”