It's bittersweet for FBC pastor as he leaves church for 'what we have been called to do'
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Dr. David Hardage, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs, is leaving to take on the executive director's position for Waco Baptist Association.
Staff Photo By Ricky Russell

January 30, 2004 -- After 13 years as senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Dr. David Hardage turned in his resignation Sunday evening to pursue a ministerial career as executive director of Waco Baptist Association.

"Giving my resignation Sunday night was the hardest thing I have ever had to do," Hardage admitted. "After more than 13 years in one place you develop a lot of relationships and it doesn't take long to have roots that go pretty deep. Digging those up and parting ways is going to be really tough, but we feel like that's what we have been called to do, so it's doable."

"I'm very sad that he's going, but happy for him and his family," said Sarah Hurley, who has served as the pastor's secretary for the past 8 years. "He's been a wonderful boss, the best I've ever had. I don't think he realizes the number of people sad to see him go."

Hardage said that he has always had an interest in associational ministry.

"I've always been somewhat involved in associational work," Hardage said. "So it's not surprising that this door would open up for me."

Waco Baptist Association is a cooperating body of 125 churches. Hardage will act as coordinator of cooperative mission enterprises and be something of a consultant, as well as pastor, to all preachers, staff and family members of those 125 churches.

"In the Baptist world, I won't be in charge of those churches, but just kind of serve in those three capacities," Hardage explained. "In the past five years I have had two other opportunities to go and do this kind of thing, and it just didn't feel like it was the right time."

He said when this third occasion came along, he felt like God might really be trying to tell him something.

"I'm happy for him," said Tommy Johnston, FBC business administrator. "It's a wonderful opportunity for Dr. Hardage, but it's one of those situations of mixed emotions. I hate to see him go. I've been here a long time and seen a lot of pastors come and go. All of them have been led here by God and I believe they've all been led away by God as well, but the transition is always uneasy."

Hardage said he believes that God truly had a hand in leading this particular group of churches to him. Waco is not only his birthplace, but also where he met his wife of 23 years and where his son currently attends college, and soon his daughter will do the same.

"We have some really strong connections there, and it is really great timing for us and our family," Hardage said. "We did talk to our kids before we accepted to make sure they were going to be OK with us being so close. They seemed to be truly excited about it."

Although it's with "bittersweet emotion," Hardage said he, too, is excited and looking forward to the move.

"I am a bit nervous," Hardage admitted. "Anytime something new comes your way there has to be some sense of excitement. It's a new challenge, maybe the chance to stretch myself some, so I'm looking forward to that."

But what Hardage is not looking forward to is Feb. 15, when he faces his congregation for the last time.

"I'm not looking forward to that at all," he said. "That will be tough, but I have the responsibility to prepare the church for the future, to assure them and to try to get them to see not just the changes taking place, but to develop a sense of excitement and anticipation for what God has in store for them."

Though Hardage plans to make the big move in mid-February, his wife Kathleen, a sixth-grade world history teacher, along with his daughter Rebekah, who is a Sulphur Springs High School senior, will be finishing out the school year here.

"That will be really hard on me, but we are going to try to make that work," said Hardage.

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