JEFFERSON CITY – Like almost all Missouri Baptist congregations, Southridge Baptist Church, here is not meeting in-person during the COVID-19 pandemic. But they didn’t let that stop them from hiring the man they believe God chose to lead them as pastor.
That man is Taylor Whitmore.
Whitmore grew up in Colorado and Wyoming, but earned a degree in math from Hannibal-LaGrange University in 2015. After returning to Wyoming as a youth pastor, he began training to lead a church replanting/revitalization effort. He became connected with Southridge’s transitional pastor, Jim Misloski, and in May of last year he and his family moved to Jefferson City as a secretary/pastoral intern.
When the pastoral search committee began its search in earnest, Whitmore submitted his name and the process began. Whitmore and his wife, Jacquelynn, and the committee felt God leading toward his becoming the pastor, but midway through the formal interview process, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the works.
“My wife and I felt encouraged about our future with the church,” Whitmore said. “I don’t think we were worried about our plans being derailed, but we did think the process would be prolonged.”
Lynn Milberg, co-chair of Southridge’s search committee, said they had already scheduled interviews and Q&A sessions when social distancing protocols made the “traditional” way of calling a pastor impossible.
“We realized this (social distancing) wasn’t going to go away any time soon, so either we’re going to be on hold for a long time, or we’re going to have to figure out how to do this,” Milberg said. “We did several of our interviews via Zoom (online video conferences), and for the Q&A, anyone in the church could submit the questions to the office. We compiled them and they answered the questions in a video on the church website.”
With positive feedback from the church, Milberg said the search committee wanted permanent leadership, and Whitmore wanted to step up and shepherd the church through these strange new times. The church was ready to vote, so they did what all good Baptists do: they called a business meeting. And in what may be a first in the Southern Baptist Convention, it was conducted entirely online.
After careful readings of the church constitution to ensure everything was in line with their governing documents, their online “business meeting” was Sunday, March 28, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Each member received an electronic ballot via email at 11 am. There was also a link for the electronic ballot on the website. Those that couldn’t or didn’t want to go online were able to text or call their vote confidentially into a deacon. The results of the election were posted by noon the next day: an “overwhelming” yes to call Whitmore.
“It worked really well,” Milberg said. “We had 75-80 percent participation between online and submitting votes through the deacons.“
As of April 1, Whitmore is the pastor of Southridge and is ready to lead and minister, even though he can’t physically be near any of his flock.
“I think about when I first felt the call to ministry,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be like this.”
“These are not normal times and this is not how we normally want to do things, but we’re trusting God and marching forward,” Milberg said.