Gary Lewis: Senior Lead Pastor at First Baptist Church Rincon Lives For Service
Story by Cindy Reid | Photos by Tonya Perry
First Baptist Church has been in Rincon for over 100 years, which is about as long as the city of Rincon (incorporated in 1927) has been around. Always an integral part of the community, the church today is stronger and more vital than ever. Their mission to “Passionately follow Jesus as we serve others with truth and grace” is exemplified by their Senior Lead Pastor Gary Lewis.
Born and raised outside of Atlanta, Gary is a graduate of Clemson University (South Carolina), Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Texas) and Beeson Divinity School of Samford University (Alabama). He and his wife Krissy have been married for 31 years and have two children. Their son Graham is in his fourth year at Georgia Tech, and their daughter Harper graduates in December with an RN degree from Georgia Southern.
The Lewis family has been in Rincon for the past six years after living in Ft Worth, Atlanta and Tulsa. They love living in coastal Georgia and enjoy spending time exploring the beaches, the historic districts of Savannah and all the area has to offer.
Guided to Ministry
Gary’s path wasn’t always toward ministry. As a college undergraduate, he studied to be a corporate lawyer and headed to a prestigious MBA program. Over the course of the next two years, “I came to see that God had something else for me to do.”
It was while working as an intern in a law firm the summer after his sophomore year that he understood something in the corporate world—the world of the very rich—that made a big impact on him. “I realized everyone was struggling with something, that no one is exempt from struggle,” he says, “and money and power don’t insulate you.”
The next summer that thought really came home to him while he was working in marketing and as he says, “I was seeing the emptiness and I realized I wanted to be part of helping people with their emptiness.”
Gary walked away from the corporate law path because it no longer made sense to him.
“As God began to turn in my heart, it helped me to answer ’why am I here?’ The answer to that question became—to serve people, to show people that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. I was raised in the Baptist Church, and although I had set it aside in my teenage years, the Christian perspective made the most sense to me.”
People to People
When Gary talks about his faith and the First Baptist Church Rincon (FBC) he is compassionate and inclusive. “We are here in Rincon, Georgia, and we are glad you are here. We are ordinary people with an extraordinary God. We welcome newcomers! Come as you are, we don’t have a dress code, and we are glad to have you. We are here to connect with people.”
He adds, “We believe that our church exists to connect people with God and people with people. When I can do that, it’s been a good day.”
Gary says the congregation impresses him with the courage they display. For example, during this COVID crisis, the courage to play by the rules, to practice social distancing, to be flexible, to help each other. He says,” I admire their willingness to be engaged in the community, their willingness to go beyond our boundaries. We have started two new ministries and have one in the works. They think globally, for example our Christmas box program where we collect items and send much needed boxes all over the world. I admire their willingness to be genuine, with courage and generosity. I admire their hearts.”
Congregants also volunteer at many community organizations such as the local food pantry, the Effingham Family Promise House, and Manna House. Gary said he was very proud of how they recently marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by honoring the people who would locally be at ground zero. “They gave every local first responder a gift card and said thank you,” he said. “There were no strings attached, no other reason except to honor them and to say, ’we want to celebrate you and thank you.’”
When the FBC was founded over 100 years ago, their mission was threefold: Foreign Missions, Missions in North America, and investing in the lives of newborn to 12th grade youth. Gary says they are just as committed to children and families today through their Next Gen Ministry. Their programs include “Kidz” programs, a MOPS Mothers of Preschoolers group, the American Heritage Girls program for girls 5 to 18 years of age, Ignite for middle schoolers and Blaze, the high school ministry.
Activities such as the current Kidz Min Fall Fitness Challenge, the popular Pumpkin Patch and meeting Santa at the North Pole event create fun and positive energy.
Gary says, “We try to equip kids to take on the reality of life, from childhood to dating, to handling money, everything someone needs as they grow up in today’s world. In six years, we have seen kids grow from middle school to high school to college and they are really getting what we are doing. It certainly appears to be helping them navigate the changes in their lives.“
FBC has two sports leagues—flag football and cheerleading—and Gary says, “Sports are important for the kids involved because we approach it holistically by teaching them a value, like kindness and generosity and the importance of having healthy bodies, encouraging others and competing well.” Getting parents involved is also important because, “Sport practices are a good setting for parents to get together, a place where we can introduce people from all walks of life to each other. Sports can erase any differences. They are a great tool to bring people together.” And they don’t forget Seniors, who also have special events, community meals and games to look forward to at FBC.
FBC’s robust online presence includes a comprehensive website, an active facebook page, an Instagram account and a Youtube channel. “I feel that having a virtual online presence is like having another building. We can reach people through our website, Facebook, Instagram, and they are just as welcomed. Covid brought many people to online services, and they have continued watching from home. “Gary also hosts a weekly podcast, called the Family Room Conversations where he talks about topics suggested by viewers. Although sometimes learning new computer tools can be frustrating, Gary says, “approach it like play and if you mess up, start again!”
People to God
When asked what he wants for his congregation Gary says “The thing I pray for the most is that they understand that there is nothing that ever catches God off guard. He is never going to abandon them. A hundred years ago we were dealing with the Spanish Flu and here we are again. Nothing is new to God. “He says he also wants people to understand “we are battling four things that are trying to lure us: Pleasure, Possessions, Power and Recognition. These three distract us from a life of meaning and purpose. We must serve people because life is more than just a trip. I want everyone to know God loves us and wants us to spend forever with Him.”
He says there is always a need for more outreach, especially for the residents who are here from all over the world. “Many of these people need life lessons on how to navigate in this country, how to manage within our world, including the need to learn English. Helping people from other countries, people who may be a bit lost, is an outreach need.”
At FBC Gary says,” We try our best to be authentic, loving, and truthful. If we can keep the correct tension on these three-just as my daughter keeps the correct tension on her violin strings to make great music- when we are working in grace try to find correct tension- we may not agree on everything, but we can be authentic, loving, and truthful.”
When asked what he wants his lasting impression to be Gary says, “That I tried to reach past all that separates us to help us connect with God. People to People. People to God.”