Last week, I had the joy of meeting the pastor of Madison Street Baptist Church, a young man by the name of CW Kennedy. In addition, he let me play the church’s grand piano, which is located in the sanctuary, and that was an unexpected blessing. It is a fine instrument, and the church is a wonderful venue for worship. I could have stayed all day “tickling the ivories” as well as fellowshipping, and what I discovered is a man who has a heart for Athens as well as the Almighty, someone who is a regular guy as well as a relentless pursuer of the Kingdom.
CW was raised in Indiana, and while he wasn’t a “P.K.” (Preacher’s Kid), he was a “D.K.” (Deacon’s Kid). He is the youngest of 5 children, and had the privilege of getting an excellent private Christian education. However, it is not at all uncommon for kids who grow up in the ministry to go through some unique struggles that can come as a result of feeling like they have to be perfect while they live in a fishbowl. While CW is open about the fact that he went through what he describes as his “rebellious time,” the good thing that came out of it was a faith that has been tested, and a heart for souls. He particularly loves people, young and old; and his personal and congregational battle cry is, “Moving forward in Christ.” He knows what it is to be forgiven, and he knows what it means to forgive. All of it is fuel for the fire in his soul and love for his flock, no matter their age.
CW served as a youth pastor and associate pastor before becoming a senior pastor, and his last congregation was in Orlando. He moved here with his wife, Angela, and their two daughters in August of 2016. Like many pastor’s wives, Angela has worn several hats, and when they first moved to Athens, she was the church secretary; and while she is active in many areas, God has provided a missionary’s wife to fill that secretarial position. Currently, Angela loves being a teacher at a Christian school in Decatur, something CW feels his her true calling as she is a master with children.
One of the first things CW and the congregation set out to do was repair and remodel the sanctuary. That task has been completed and now this church, located at 901 N. Madison in Athens, is inviting, comfortable, and welcoming. “We want to grow, and this auditorium is a testament to that,” he said.
It’s important to point out that a church is not the building; it is the people and vision they have for serving God, each other, and the community. It is the 21st century walk-out of what it means to “rescue the perishing,” as the old hymn says. Madison Street Baptist has a congregation of about 50, and I know from experience that a church that size is big enough to “feel like a congregation,” and small enough for people to really know each other. These days on Wednesday nights, CW is doing a series on “Understanding the Will of God,” something that has never been more important for God’s people.
CW is a big sports fan, and all his life has played football and basketball, in addition to baseball. He describes himself as competitive, and sports analogies show up right alongside his careful use of King James scriptures when he preaches. We both talked about how much we have been inspired by a particular scene in the excellent Christian film, Facing The Giants, where the football coach has a player with a team mate on the player’s back crawl without collapsing to the goal line. The important thing, besides having the commitment to “never quit,” is the fact that the coach is down on the ground eyeball to eyeball with his player, cheering him on as he inches forward. That is how CW approaches pastoring; shepherding the flock well by being involved in their lives and helping them “move forward in Christ,” irrespective of their starting point.
We also talked about the fact that people are really tired of what CW calls “fakeness” in the American church. “Christ is real, not fake,” he said firmly, and he wants to build a church culture that genuinely reflects that reality. “We want to translate the love of God out into the world and make it relevant.” One of the things that has made Christ more real in his and Angela’s life was a trip to Israel in 2013. Having been there myself, I can attest that standing in the places where Jesus ministered and did miracles changed my life, and I am glad that CW is able to bring that added dimension of first-hand experience in Israel to his flock.
If you are looking for a Bible-believing church whose pastor says about Athens, “I’m here, and I’m all in,” then come to Madison Street Baptist church and see if this where you want to “move forward in Christ.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner