Back Pastor Mike Glenn remembers past 20 years, looks forward to what's ahead

September 29th, 2011

Pastor Mike Glenn remembers past 20 years, looks forward to what's ahead

Mike Glenn can't think on the last 20 years at Brentwood Baptist without remembering those who influenced him from the beginning and shaped him along the way.

Raised in a "hard-shell Southern Baptist Church" in Alabama, his mom and dad taught him everything he knows, laying a foundation for loving God's Word, confidently voicing his thoughts and opinions, and always doing what he knows is right.

"To tell you the truth, I believe Mike knew the day he was born and could think on his own that he was going to be a preacher one day," said John Glenn, Mike's dad.

Mike's dad wasn't the only one who thought that. Sunday school teachers along the way—including Ray Duke, Lou White, and Linda Pendergrass—saw something in him and honed in on those gifts to develop him as a spiritual leader.

Growing up, and even more so today, Mike's two greatest mentors and heroes are his mom and dad. At an early age, he was an integral part of his family's small TV repair business, including how to manage cash flow, deal with customers, and complete the day-to-day tasks. He was the pick-up and delivery guy, the repair man, the customer service guru.

After graduating from Samford University with a degree in speech and drama, he enrolled at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he later received a Master of Divinity degree and Doctorate of Ministry degree.

"Bill Leonard, my Church History professor, was the first person to bless my weirdness," Mike said. "When I went to seminary, I'd never been around that many Christians in my life. They had a culture I didn't know anything about. I was just bopping from class to class, fighting with professors and challenging the norm."

Southern's professors would gather in the break room at the beginning of each semester to discuss "who's got Glenn." At the time, he didn't believe any of them liked him. But, in fact, his unique approach to finding the why behind the why intrigued them, keeping others in their classes alert and thinking beyond the text. They all hoped he'd show up when their classes started.

After seminary, Mike pastored his first church in South Carolina. That's when he ran into a "brilliant Texan named Hardy Clemmons," pastor at First Baptist Church in Greenville and certified in pastoral care and counseling.

"He could lure you in and break you off at the knees," Mike said. "I took him out to lunch one time and said, 'Hardy, there aren't many people that intrigue me. I don't even know what I'm asking.' He said, 'You're asking for a mentor. Yeah, I'll do it.'"

Hardy took the reins from the Southern professors who had guided Mike along the pastoral path. Somebody coached them. In turn, they coached Mike. And, since he discovered this pattern in ministry, Mike's been coaching others.

When Mike came to Brentwood Baptist in 1991, he'd already established a relationship with preceding pastor Bill Wilson through his son, Bill Jr. During seminary, they carpooled from Louisville through Nashville to Birmingham and back up, stopping for lunch and dinner with Bill and Creely and Mike's parents.

"It's strange to think I was within a couple of blocks of where I'd spend most of my life," Mike said. "Who would've thought this kid eating spaghetti at Bill's table would follow in his footsteps and be pastor of this church?"

According to Mike, aside from his own dad, Bill was the most important, influential man in his life when it came to understanding ministry and what it takes to be a pastor. "He was my friend, mentor, and counselor. I still miss him every day. A lot of times, things will happen here and I'll want to call Bill and tell him about it."

It's not often you hear of a former pastor/current pastor relationship like this one. Even after Bill retired from the Tennessee Baptist Convention, Mike brought him back on staff at Brentwood Baptist as Missions Minister because he knew the church well and the people trusted him.

"Bill called me and said, 'How are you and I going to work together?' I told him, 'Bill, you always say this is about the kingdom. We need to model that better than anyone else.' When we told the church, they stood up and applauded. We never even voted. They trusted him that much."

Mike grabbed hold of the vision and plan God had already put into motion through Bill. Out of that decision, he developed two new biblical heroes: Shiphrah and Puah, Hebrew midwives during the Old Testament Exodus.

"They created an environment for the dream to be born. And they wouldn't let a pagan king define the future of God's people," Mike said. "I had to ask, 'What would happen if I came to the church as a "midwife?" The church is already pregnant with visions and dreams. How can I create an environment where we can give birth to those dreams and not let anybody outside define who we're supposed to be?'"

For 20 years as Senior Pastor, he's readily taken on that role, watching the birth and growth of ministries and people along the way.

"We've got some heavy artillery here—people with incredible gifts," he said. "Name anything you want to do and there's somebody here that's in the top 5-10 percent in the nation already doing it. Our people are talented across the board. If you sit down with them and share an idea, they'll jump all over it—and they'll do it extraordinarily better than I could've ever thought about doing it."

Along the way, there are stories that stand out to Mike—stories of God's providential hand working in and through the members of this church. It's people like Betty Steersman, who started interpreting when we had no deaf in the congregation. She discovered there were 60,000 deaf and hearing impaired people in Middle Tennessee and God broke her heart.

"She got hold of that burden and the burden got hold of her, and she wouldn't let us go on without it," Mike said. "Before long, she had eight people on the front row she was signing to. She said, 'We need a pastor for the deaf and and I'll tell you who it is.' It was the persistent widow story, so we finally went through with it."

When Brian Sims arrived, the deaf started pouring in. That moved to the construction of a state-of-the-art Inman Deaf Chapel. Mike said, "We're the authorities on what a deaf church looks like now. Go figure."

Another milestone came in the form of a regional campus to the south officially dubbed "The Church At Station Hill." What started as a one-on-one conversation with Jay and Tanya Strother has today turned into a full-fledged, thriving congregation in the Spring Hill and Thompson's Station area.

"I met with Jay and said, 'I want you to tear up your resume because your future is here with us. You have the gifts and what we're looking for. Let us train you, teach you, and prepare you.' We started putting him in places where I could mentor him. And now, they're running more than 300 each Sunday. They're already out of space."

Periods of transition and construction also bring about a bit of sentimentalism for Mike. The move from Franklin Road to Concord Road in 2002, and the construction of the Connection Center in 2009 were some of the biggest landmarks in Brentwood Baptist's history.

"I got to actually put the cross on our steeple. It's 6 feet wide and 9 feet high. I was up high, in a bucket attached to a crane. I was holding on to everything I had, but it was a significant moment for me. Two thousand years ago, Jesus carried a cross, and then I got to carry a cross and display it on this church. It wasn't anything the same, but there was that connection for just that moment. You realize when you're up there that people are going to see this for miles. It will be the first reminder to some that God's still here."

Mike still maintains that those members who've been around the longest are the most risky, but also have great faith in what's to come. He said, "We were one of the first churches in the nation to build a gym first. In the 70s, there wasn't anything out here—no YMCA, subdivisions, nothing for the kids to do. All the experts said you can't do that and make it work, and Joe Brantley told them to go fly a kite."

According to Mike, he'd reached his limit after 14 years of ministry. He was overworked and "within a heartbeat of becoming a first-rate Baptist CEO." Something had to change.

"Leon Drennan walked into my office and I said, 'I'm an entrepreneur, but, eventually, I'm going to kill this church as fast as I grew it.' He said, 'Yeah, you will.' I know I'm at A and I can see Z, but I can't see M, S, or W. I needed people to come alongside me and give us some structure."

That's when Jim Baker came on board as Executive Pastor, taking away all of Mike's meetings and leaving him time to peach, teach, and pray. The staff and leaders of the church took ownership of their spiritual gifts, giving the church body a solid skeleton, organs, and skin.

"That freed me up. My schedule was no longer packed with meetings. The deacons saw me in the elevator at Vanderbilt, backed me up against a wall, and said, 'Let's get something straight. If we're here, you're not. If you're here, we're not. So what's it going to be?' I said, 'I'm not even here, guys. You didn't even see me.' These people take care of our congregation and let me do what God has gifted me to do."

In the midst of this transition, Mike claims Kairos saved his life. A "bunch of kids" showed up on his doorstep, asking him to teach the Bible and tell them what it means. At first, he used the "I don't have time" excuse. But then he sat and listened to their stories.

"It wasn't creative. They just wanted to hear the truth. Nobody has ever talked to these guys and girls about what it looks like to be a husband or wife, how to deal with past issues. I could do that."

Along the way, with his wife Jeannie by his side, Mike has been mentored by seminary professors, other pastors, church members, and ministry friends. Because of that, he also gives back to young leaders, raising them up just like so many did for him.

"I'd like for us to do more Station Hills all over Middle Tennessee. I'm really concerned about the future of local church leadership. If we can set up a process where we're training five or so a year, that would be where I'd want to spend my time."

Most churches see success as the number of people who come in. And while Brentwood Baptist has certainly skyrocketed to more than 8,000 members since Mike first came on board, he wants to be known as "the church that celebrates the number who are sent off into ministry."

That's why he is where he is today. He's let people do what God has gifted them to do and He's taken hold of what God has wired him to do—no more or less. He's championed talented people in this church to find their place, serve, and do it well for the kingdom.

"I've told this church, 'If you want to do this, you can.' I've released people to follow through with their dreams. God gave that to them, not me. They have gifts that I don't. I get a lot of credit for the things they do. But we're not celebrating 20 years of me. We're celebrating 20 years of God's faithfulness and our obedience to what He's called us to do. This really is the coolest church around."

Story by Kaylan Christopher, Staff Writer