Everywhere Dr. Johnny Fain served as a lead pastor, he felt like he engaged in a major spiritual exercise – at least in the beginning.
“We’ve had to develop the spiritual foundations in every church, and that’ll wear on you spiritually,” he said, referencing him and his wife, Debbie. “Flesh and blood you can deal with. It’s the spirit world that’s the hard part.”
It began with his first pastorate at an oilfield church in Oklahoma, where the baptismal caved in during his first baptism there because it hadn’t been used in so long. It continued as he accepted his last full-time assignment, First Baptist Church of Dothan, more than 15 years ago.
The fruits of his diligence, though, can be experienced these days at the downtown Dothan church. As Fain preaches his last sermon before retirement on Sunday, he believes the church has a bright future ahead of it.
“The church is not perfect, but it is a good church. They’re some of the deepest spiritual-minded people that I’ve met,” he said. “They know the word of God. They want to obey the word of God, and they’re seeking the throne of the Lord through prayer.”
Those characteristics would be fitting considering that has been two of Fain’s major emphases during the past decade and a half.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock .” – Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:24-25, English Standard Version)
Fain followed in his father’s footsteps – feeling the call to serve as a minister when he was 17 at a service at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Ozark. He began his career as a youth pastor and an associate pastor, but eventually he became a lead pastor.
After attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and pastoring in those areas a few years, Fain returned to the Southeast and led a few congregations in Georgia. After a stint at First Baptist Church in Selma, First Baptist Church of Dothan congregants asked him to shepherd their church.
Fain labeled the assignment “spiritually challenging,” noting the church had lost several key members prior to his arrival. He knew preaching directly from the Bible and emphasizing the need for prayer would improve the church’s health.
“Brought it back to the Biblical foundation and back to the kingdom mindset – that there’s a king in heaven, and his name is the Lord God, and his son is the Lord Jesus,” he said. “Getting it back to the place where the word of God is to be preached and to be believed. Also the prayer life has to be one of the foundations because there’s nothing you can do outside the power of God, and prayer releases the heavens.”
Evidence of growth
It took a few years, but eventually First Baptist Church began to prosper again. Neither the challenge nor the turnaround surprised Fain.
“Everybody has great ideas about church, but to build a church takes time,” he said. “You can build a meeting, and you can do that quickly. You can build a gathering of people, and you can do that quickly. But to build a church, it takes time.
“It’s more than brick and mortar, and it’s more than packing a pew. It’s what’s being built in the heart and operating in the mind of Christ, the will of Christ.”
Fain witnessed the change in how people responded to prayer.
“It’s just the prayer meeting and praying has become the major factor here,” he said. “The church here is a praying church – knowing the importance of prayer and … they’re doing it not just on Sunday morning but in their own times.
“There are prayer groups that meet to pray, and not just to pray, but to expect God to do something. Deacons’ meetings are often like prayer meetings.”
Fain also said First Baptist strives to welcome visitors as they are, another sign of a healthy church.
“Sometimes people have the perception of First Baptist as being very cold, very stoic. Everybody’s having to dress right to come in, and everything’s in an orderly way,” he said. “We try to change that perception – that everyone is a person, be authentic, be who you are. Then our services will be authentic and then teach the scriptures.”
Those reasons fuel Fain’s optimism for First Baptist’s future.
“I believe there will be more numerical growth in the future because we’ve built the spiritual foundation,” he said. “I believe numerical growth will come, but more importantly, that the kingdom of God grows more and more and more through the body of Christ. I think the greatest days are ahead.”