Editor’s Note — In recent months, the Independent Herald’s Focus On: Religion page has focused on the history of some of Scott County’s oldest churches. Those church history profiles will continue, but we’re also introducing a new feature: conversations with some of Scott County’s pastors. First is a conversation with Wayne King, pastor of New Salem United Baptist Church.
Wayne King wears a lot of hats. A military veteran, he was a long-time employee of Scott County Hospital in various capacities. He owns Baby J’s Pizza. He is a former candidate for county mayor. He serves on the state mental health and substance abuse counsel. He is a mentor for at-risk youth through the High Five organization he helped found. And he’s pastor at New Salem United Baptist Church, a position he’s held for 19 years.
King announced his call to preach at Pine Hill Baptist Church on the last Saturday of December in 1989. Three years later, he was ordained. He was elected pastor at New Salem in 2000. It was the first church he pastored.
Last week, King sat down with the Independent Herald for a conversation about his life in the ministry.
Independent Herald: You announced your calling in 1989 and you were ordained in 1992. Is it normal to have that much of a window between your calling and your ordination?
Wayne King: It varies from church to church. I myself kinda like it because you have to prove your mettle, so to speak. I believe that’s the whole purpose of why they did that. If I remember correctly, I think there were seven of us who announced our calling at that time, and three of us were ordained.
IH: Had you known for a long time that the ministry was in your future, or was it a calling that came out of nowhere?
WK: It was something I knew at about the age of 16. And I ran like the dickens. I thought, “There ain’t no way.” The Lord let me run for a spell…for about 14 years. That Saturday that I announced my calling, that was the longest weekend. That Friday night, I didn’t sleep at all. I knew it was now or never. I chopped wood all day Saturday. But outside wasn’t big enough. So when church time rolled around, I was thinking, “I’m not gonna do this.” Next thing I know, after service started, I stood up and was announcing my calling.
Norman Burke was the pastor at the time and I want to say a big “thank you” to him. When I announced he said, “I have been waiting on you to do that.” I said, “Well why didn’t you tell me?” He said, “It wasn’t for me to tell you.” I’ve always remembered that. When young men have things on their heart now, whether it’s being a deacon or a call to preach, I wait on them. If I say something, I’m influencing them. That influence has to be from God.
IH: Why was it so hard to announce your call to preach?
WK: I guess it was the fear of the life change. But the life change I was fearing wasn’t the life change that happened. Life improved. I was saved when I was 12. We were living in Louisville at the time. Maybe even back then, I might’ve had an inkling of something (about preaching). But definitely by the age of 16, I knew. I got on that horse and tried to ride it as far away as I could but it didn’t make any difference. If God has something for you to do, He’s going to find you and you’re going to do it. He has a way of encouraging you.
IH: How did you know, as a teenager, that you were being called into the ministry?
WK: It was just a feeling, an umption. I guess some would say the Holy Spirit was moving. I don’t know how else to explain it.
IH: You’ve been at New Salem for 19 years. Is that a long time to pastor at the same church?
WK: It appears to be in this day and age. I know some have been pastor a lot longer. I guess mores in urban and metro areas there tends to be more of a turnover than in rural, but it’s been a pretty good while.
IH: You’re an avocational pastor, with a full-time job outside the ministry. Is that hard?
WK: There’s always been a way to do both, I guess that’s the way to put it. God provides a way. It’s just like anything else. If there are long hours to put in at night, the next day seems to pass quickly. I guess that goes with just trusting Him. Whatever the need is, if I’m needed for that, I just want to do it.
IH: Does working full-time at a secular job outside your role as a pastor give you a tool to minister to others?
WK: Anything I do, my main reflection is, how does this portray me? Not only in the eyes of God but in the eyes of my fellow citizens, my family, my friends. I want to uphold Him first, but at the same time I have jobs and duties in the community that have to be done. How do you balance that so that the Lord shows through? The big thing is, again, just trusting Him to help me get through all that. And it’s not really a fair portrayal to call it a balancing act. It comes naturally.
IH: How did you wind up at New Salem?
WK: Before I went to New Salem, I was still at Pine Hill. In Wayne’s wisdom, I thought I would never pastor. I considered myself an evangelist. That’s what I thought I was. But God had different plans for that, too. He started putting that little church on my heart. I thought, “I’ll go visit.” So I went down. There was another visiting preacher there and he got up (to preach). I’m thinking, “Good. I was just supposed to show up.” But the desire to be down there never left. I started attending down there in ’97, and I was put in as pastor in 2000.
It’s a beautiful congregation. I love them all dearly. They’ve put up with me all these years, so they must be good folks.
IH: Have you ever had a desire to pastor a larger church, or is New Salem just the right size?
WK: I’ve been approached on occasion. But I am at home there. If the Lord should ever change my heart and move me, I’ll go. But, for now, I’ll be there until one of two things happen: I either leave this walks of life or He says it’s time to move on.
New Salem is a community church, to speak of, but our community has gotten bigger. We have members that drive from Robbins to attend, as well as from other parts of the county. We’re having more youth in our services. The kids we had grew up, now they have families of their own and they’re bringing their children in.
IH: What is the purpose of church, in relation to the community?
WK: The church’s responsibility for a community is to help with the moral compass, to engage its citizens to strive for betterment — not just their own standing but betterment of the soul by seeking salvation. I think people as a whole are continually searching for something, and that’s part of what a church provides: to fill that gap, not just in their heart but in their soul.
It seems like everything you hear is bad. Shootings, robberies. I know there’s bad. But there’s also good. I like to think a church embodies that: the good. One thing we have in this community is a willingness of sister churches and even various denominations to work together. That’s almost unheard of. Border to border, north, south, east and west, it’s not just this little group or that little group. That, too, gives me hope.
IH: How has church changed in the 20 years since you became pastor? Is declining attendance the biggest thing?
WK: That’s a big concern for churches in general. We have become such an instantaneous world, there’s a generation that doesn’t see the importance of church attendance. I don’t mean that to offend or exclude anyone. It’s just that the nature of society today has pushed it so far away. There are so many activities that families and their children are involved in, other than church, that there’s not much time for church anymore. That’s really sad, because not only is it hurtful to the church, but it’s hurtful for the family. I still remember the days of dinner on the ground, Memorial Day services. As a boy, I remember that very vividly. That was the social interaction then. Today, with all the social media we have, social interaction isn’t one-on-one like it used to be. There’s more distance. I think sometimes that plays into the factor of people not coming to church. When you’re in church, it’s intimate. When you’re on social media, you don’t have to be intimate. I think intimacy in that respect might scare some people because they’re not used to it.
IH: What do you say to someone who might be looking for a church home?
WK: We have no pretense at New Salem. God doesn’t expect us to be a certain way when we come to Him, other than just honest. That’s how we invite people. We just want you to come. We don’t expect you to be a certain way. If you’re searching for a place to attend and you’re a child of God, or even if you’re not and you’re just looking for a place that can give you hope and comfort and help, we welcome you. One of the first things I felt when I walked through those doors at New Salem was the love. And that continues today. I believe, with all my heart, that the congregation there allows God to direct them today.
It’s truly a family down there. It really is. Not just because there are long-term families that have been involved in the church for generations, but the church truly is a family. There’s a love and a care for one another there, and when visitors come in, they’re received in as if they’re just someone we haven’t seen in a long time. We love to have people come in. It’s a true experience of worshiping God.
The flip side is come expecting to hear God’s word. It won’t be pushed aside. His word hits me the same way as it hits the congregation. I’ve had skinned shins more than once because of a message that I’ve had to deliver.
To me, New Salem United Baptist Church equals love. We’re definitely off the beaten path but I think it’s worth the travel.
New Salem’s service times are 10 a.m. Sunday morning, 6 p.m. Sunday evening and every third Saturday night at 6 p.m. The church is located on Smith Creek Road, off Buffalo Road east of Oneida.