Friendship Worship Center was founded as Friendship Baptist Church in 1963. Like many churches in the Bible belt, this church was born of an awkward combination of good intentions and disagreements with other believers. Friendship flourished under the gifted leadership of men like Bill Ellison. The church had a significant presence in the community due to the large number of attendees as well as a formidable men’s softball team.
A Cry for Revival
J. Wendell Rhodes was installed as pastor in 1990. His sound expository preaching and animated style resonated with the membership and led to a surge in growth. Pastor Wendell’s passion for revival, evangelism and discipleship often spilled over into prayer meetings with other ministers. One such prayer surge consisted of weekly meetings on the Court Square in Abbeville over the course of several years. Pastor Wendell and the other men of God cried out persistently for revival. They asked, but God didn’t answer in the way they expected.
In July 1997, Billy Mayo was scheduled to speak in a week-long series of revival meetings held at Friendship. This rock-n-roll preacher’s reputation for loud music and louder truth was sure to be a hit. The scheduled crusade went better than anyone could have expected, though not everyone appreciated Mayo’s style or methods. Hundreds of people were attending and responding. It seemed as if God wasn’t concerned about the music, the methods, or even the personality; God was moving sovereignly in the hearts of men, women, teenagers, and even young children.
What began as a week of revival meetings on the books one summer turned into over two months of meetings. There were thousands of commitments made, including over 400 first-time professions of faith in Jesus Christ. As the meetings stretched into the beginning of the school year, even the culture of the high school and middle school students was affected. There were times when several hundred students assembled on the Court Square and prayed for one another and for continued revival.
Revival: Not Quite What We Expected
It had finally happened. The long-awaited revival that Pastor Wendell and others had sought so diligently was finally here. And it was a mess. For some reason, a fresh move of God tends to become a lightning rod for controversy. It is as if the status quo is all of a sudden called into question and everyone with a strong enough opinion sees an opportunity to shape a new normal that fits more closely with their ideals. Pockets of discontent became galvanized and grew from discontent into opposition. Sure, God was moving, but the services were entirely too long. People’s hearts were opening to the Spirit of God, but the worship was getting out of control. Things weren’t quite so dull as they had been, but the music was too loud. The Bible was coming to life as never before, but some of the soundbites of the preaching didn’t square with the status quo.
When the applecart is upset in a typical southern church, the deacons often band together and ouster the pastor. That wasn’t the case at Friendship. Oddly enough, one by one the deacons who were for whatever reasons uncomfortable with the current move of God simply left. Several families also followed their lead and began attending other churches. The church body that remained when the dust settled was noticeably smaller. However, this too was a part of the maturity process for Pastor Wendell.
A New Generation of Leadership
In January of 2012, Pastor Wendell and the elders ordained Tony Temple to step into the role of teaching pastor. This was an important transition in the life of the church. Tony had been faithfully serving in the youth ministry and as a deacon for several years. The Lord blessed Tony with influence and a communication gift that resonates with young people.
At Friendship Worship Center, we’ve been through too much to just “play church.” Most of us have come to the point that we would rather please God than people. And we have learned to love what God loves: people. Please God, love people…in that order.