(A version of the article below appeared in this month’s Connections Newsletter, available here)

Every other day or so I have to straighten out Randall Lolley.

In May, on First Baptist’s “Heritage Sunday,” we relocated and re-opened our Pastors’ Gallery outside the Pastor’s Study. The gallery features portraits of the 5 Senior Pastors who have served First Baptist Church over the last century.

I don’t know if it’s something about the hardware on the frame, or if it’s the location of the air-conditioner, or if it’s some tireless prankster who sneaks into the church overnight, but several times a week as I walk to and from my office I notice that Randall – or his portrait, I should say – is just a bit crooked. So it has become a regular practice for me to straighten Dr. Lolley’s portrait. FullSizeRender (2)

This occasional chore has become something of a ritual. It reminds me of one who has lived life so faithfully on the straight and narrow, following in the way of Christ with such integrity and grace. Having only known him by reputation and legacy before coming to First Baptist, it has been my pleasure to come to know Dr. Lolley as a friend and encourager over the last two years. On our first meeting at his home in Raleigh, he lovingly grasped my arm and held it at the moment we met, and I could sense the warmth and pastoral presence that had been described so glowingly. As we have spoken further, I’ve also benefited from the wisdom that exists in his deep well about faith, church, and the community of First Baptist.

Dr. Lolley came to First Baptist at a critical time. After a successful career that included the presidency of Southeastern Seminary, Dr. Lolley closed his career in full-time ministry with a six-year tenure at First Baptist. The church needed his wisdom, his leadership, and the warmth that grabs hold of you from the moment you meet him. It was all the more powerful that such critical leadership came from one who had started his career decades earlier as a recent seminary grad serving as a two-year Assistant Pastor at First Baptist, while living in church housing – a program that serves as a foundation for the Pastoral Residency that has begun in our church just this month.

Appreciation for Dr. Lolley is widespread in our church, but also extends far beyond us. On that note, we have an upcoming opportunity to pay tribute to his leadership and preaching, while also supporting two organizations close to his heart and the heart of our church. See below this article for an announcement from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina about a forthcoming volume of sermons that Dr. Lolley preached right here at First Baptist. I hope you’ll consider supporting this publication, as proceeds benefit the Lolley Scholarship of CBF-NC and Baptists Today.

The film, Blood Done Sign My Name, tells the story of Rev. Vernon Tyson – another legendary North Carolina minister – who served as a pastor in Oxford, NC in the midst of racial tension in the 1970s. At the start of the film, a young Tyson is moving his family to Oxford. He parks the station wagon at the parsonage, where members of the church have gathered to welcome the family. After exchanging greetings, he says good-bye to his family and giddy with excitement he rushes across the street to scope out his new church. The very first place he goes is to the wall of pastor portraits. He pauses. You can imagine his thoughts as he examines closely all those who have gone before him and feels the inspiration of their legacy.

In his preaching, leadership, and care for so many, Dr. Lolley cemented a lasting legacy and influence in this church, which extends to this day. He was a pastor who walked beside more than ahead and sought to encourage the church to see itself the way he could see it. As he said toward the end of his tenure, “Lay-led congregations, in my judgment, are always stronger. I just don’t buy into pastoral authority. I don’t think it’s right. The last time Jesus was seen, he was a shepherd of sheep, not a cowboy rounding up cattle” (from In Every Good Work by Scott Culclasure).

I hope the portrait stays crooked. Because his is a spirit and style I need to come face-to-face with again and again.


From the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina:

Those blessed to know Randall Lolley as seminary president, pastor, visionary leader and/or friend are aware of his many gifts. One is his insightful and effective communication of the Gospel.

Now the gift of Dr. Lolley’s preaching will become a larger gift to us all.

He and his wife, Lou, have given a collection of sermons — in which he preached through the Bible to the First Baptist Church of Greensboro, N.C. — to be published as a book by Nurturing Faith.

This gift from the Lolleys will benefit two good causes: Baptists Today and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina’s Lolley Fund for Theological Education.  

Want to be a part of this project? Sponsors making gifts of $100 will have their names listed in the book and receive a signed copy when the books come off the press.

 You may send your sponsorship gift by check to Baptists Today, P.O. Box 6318, Macon, GA 31208-6318, or make the gift online at www.baptiststoday.org/donate. Please indicate that the gift is for the Lolley book.