Davidson finishes ‘marathon’ at 1st Arnold
ARNOLD – Video tributes from Southern Baptist luminaries like Morris Chapman, Jerry Rankin, Bobby Welch, Johnny Hunt, Robert Reccord, Jerry Falwell and Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt made for an emotional June 4 for Gerald Davidson, 70-year-old pastor of First Baptist Church, Arnold, and beloved statesman of the Missouri Southern Baptist conservative resurgence.
It was a Retirement Celebration Sunday fit for a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and a past president of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) who has spent 50 years in the ministry. The last 30 years for Davidson and his wife, Verlena, took place at this suburban St. Louis church where they saw the congregation grow in average Sunday School attendance from 398 to 1,600. Before he preached his final sermon as First Arnold’s senior pastor in the morning service, Davidson rose to express his gratitude.
“Thank you to all of you who have literally shown us marvelous kindness, kind words, words of appreciation,” he said. “You mean so much to us. You’re precious.”
The feeling is mutual, according to Ken Raye, a member of the church since 1954 and a deacon since 1978. Raye compared what Davidson accomplished to a race that has been faithfully run.
“He used to be a marathon runner, and I liken his time with us as to being a marathoner for Jesus,” Raye said. “In other words, he does things with a picture to the future—the end of the race. He’s been steadfast and just kept going forward, bringing all of us on the same course in unity. There’s been virtually no disharmony in the church this whole time that he’s been here. We’ve followed him like he’s been the lead runner.”
In his self-described “swan song,” Davidson came to the pulpit in the first service June 4 to preach about the shepherd and his flock. He often looked to his right during the 55-minute message, fixing his gaze on Kenny Qualls, the new senior pastor. Qualls, formerly pastor of Springhill Baptist Church outside of Springfield and a former MBC associate executive director, had been serving as co-pastor of First Arnold since April 1, 2005.
“Feed this body of Christ,” Davidson charged Qualls. “Lead them and guide them and direct them and show them what they ought to be doing.”
It is up to the senior pastor to feed the flock, protect the flock and give his life for the flock, Davidson said. He instructed Qualls to set his priorities as he pursues his relationship with God, takes care of himself spiritually, ministers to his family and ministers to the church—in that order.
“If you are that kind of pastor, you will be successful,” Davidson said.
To the church members, he encouraged them to examine their new shepherd and to follow their new shepherd.
“My dear friends, you take a man of God with vision and a flock of God that will follow, you have an army of God that can’t be stopped,” Davidson said.
The major duty of the church, Davidson said, is best expressed in the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:7-8 and Luke 19:10. Seeking and saving the lost is what ought to be the business of the church.
“Your task as a pastor, your task as sheep, is to literally go out in all the world reaching everybody you can with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Davidson said. “Lift up the Savior!”
On the SBC level, Davidson was first vice president of the Pastors Conference, trustee for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and trustee for the Home Mission Board. He also served as chairman of the Resolutions Committee for the SBC’s 2002 annual meeting as well as on the Committee on Nomination. His time as first vice president was 2004-2005.
On the MBC level, Davidson served as president of the Missouri Baptist Pastors Conference, vice president of the MBC, and trustee (for a total of 20 years) at Hannibal-LaGrange College. He also served on the Nominating Committee and is presently a trustee at Missouri Baptist University. His time as MBC president was 1991-1992.
Before coming to Arnold, Davidson was pastor of seven other churches in Tennessee, Texas and Missouri.
Davidson was surrounded by his family during the June 2-4 weekend retirement tribute. He and Verlena, who have been married 50 years, were blessed by their three grown children, Douglas, Debra and Darla, and their 10 grandchildren. The congregation chose to honor their retiring senior pastor and his wife with the words of Matthew 25:21, where Jesus is teaching on the parable of the talents.
“As a church, we have been truly blessed for these 30 years to have as our pastor Gerald and his wife, Verlena Davidson,” read a statement in the official tribute brochure. “As we strive to honor and pay tribute to them, we cannot help but give praise and thankfulness to the Lord who created, cultivated and called this man of God. Standing firm on His Holy Word, he has served faithfully and diligently proclaimed the Gospel of salvation for 50 years. Nothing we do or say today will ever compare to the beautiful words that are spoken to our pastor as he lays his crown before the One who is ultimately worthy of all our praise and hears His Savior say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’”
“It’s like a marathon relay,” Raye said. “Now he’s passed the torch in this marathon to Bro. Kenny.”