The two pastors of Consolidated Baptist Church, Richard Gaines and Larry Sykes, grew up in different worlds: Gaines in Tyler, Texas, and Sykes in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Today, the two Southern Seminary alumni pastor a 122 year-old, historically African American church together in Lexington, Kentucky.
Gaines, who is in his 22nd year pastoring the church, distanced himself from ministry for many years. He worked for more than 10 years with General Electric, traveling often and enjoying his career. Sykes, on the other hand, dreamed about pastoring since childhood.
Sykes’ grandmother remembers him “being on the banks of the river preaching to fish as a little boy – it was just in me,” he said in a recent interview. He grew up attending a Baptist church and began preaching at the age of 17 at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Kankakee, Illinois. Soon after he began preaching, he moved from the suburbs of Chicago to Knoxville, Tennessee, to attend college. While in school at the University of Tennessee, Sykes served at the Tabernacle Baptist Church, leading the college choir, teaching Sunday school, and serving in various roles within the church.
A godly ambition
He moved to Louisville during an emotional season after his mother’s death a year prior. “I was emotionally wounded and spiritually burned out,” he told Southern Seminary Magazine.
While in Knoxville he began to explore the idea of attending seminary, and his pastor recommended Southern as an option. He came on what he calls “a blind recommendation,” and enrolled in classes in January of 2010 without much prior knowledge of the school. Sykes spent his first year at seminary in somewhat of a haze, surviving his courses and struggling to establish any sense of normalcy. The desire to pastor never waned, and instead his time at Southern, Sykes said, “reaffirmed the theology I had when I came through the doors. It has also enlightened me to so many other things, like Southern Baptist life.”
After his first year at the seminary, Sykes joined First Baptist Church Jeffersontown. He still wanted to pastor, so he began to pray for confirmation, not wanting “to step out on his own ambition.” He put his name on a list to fill-in for churches in and around Louisville.
Soon after, a church invited him to preach a revival service, which led to an opportunity for Sykes to express his desire for and calling to pastoral ministry in a conversation with a pastor at this church. For the last five years, Sykes has served Greater Good Hope as their preaching pastor, gaining valuable experience in church revitalization and pastoral care. He says his time at Southern prepared him to preach boldly in a context that is often lacking in theological depth.
“I have high respect and admiration for Dr. Mohler and for the stance he makes not just as a president of the seminary but also as an apologist and a defender of the truth of God’s Word,” he said. “That has awakened that passion in me to stand and defend the word of God especially because in a context where I mostly minister and the theology is not good. Pulpits and congregations need to be informed.”
A clear call
Unlike Sykes, Gaines struggled with his call into ministry, which began during his time working for GE in the 1980s. When he graduated from college, Gaines went to work at GE’s air conditioning division in Tyler, Texas. During the next 10 years he relocated several times, living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cincinnati, Ohio for eight months, St. Louis for two and a half years, and Louisville, Kentucky for three years. There, like Sykes, he attended Jeffersontown Baptist Church. Ministry still remained off his radar, but he began working with the youth pastor at Jeffersontown, Mark Croston. Croston left a good job at IBM to attend seminary and pursue vocational ministry. He became Gaines’ model for leaving corporate America to pursue ministry, even though Gaines never thought about ministry that way.
Gaines eventually transferred to Cincinnati and began traveling often. When he traveled, he read books and stayed in touch with Therman Coleman, his pastor from Louisville. He began asking questions and felt the Lord begin to move him toward ministry. “I reached a point where I said ‘Lord, I want to know clearly what you want me to do.’ And only until I said ‘whatever it is,’ did I know what I needed to do,” he said.
In 1991 he moved back to Louisville from St. Louis to pursue a degree from Southern. He served as the Martin Luther King Jr. fellow at Southern while he also worked for the Admissions Office. Gaines graduated in 1995 and stayed in Louisville for one more year.
In 1996, Gaines began pastoring Consolidated Baptist Church. Earlier in 2017 he hired Sykes as an associate pastor, and together they are working to strengthen the discipleship and mission of Consolidated.
Consolidated began in 1895 when two churches – Rose Street and Macedonia Baptist – merged. Consolidated’s early congregation included tobacco field and day workers, cooks, and maids from the community. When the church began to grow, they needed a building. They approached a local bank about a loan, but the bank refused. Undeterred, church members offered their homes as collateral for the bank to receive a loan. They held services at Macedonia Baptist Church’s building until 1922 when the University of Kentucky bought the land where the church sat, so they moved to a new location where they remained until 2003. From its inception, Consolidated’s members work to invest in the community. From Civil Rights engagement to serving on school boards and in local community groups, one of their main priorities is community involvement for the good of society and the glory of God.
“We don’t want to just be in the community, we want to affect the community, we want to be involved in what’s going on around us and reach out and seek to transform not just individual lives but the community,” Gaines said.
Both pastors working on a discipleship model for the church as they also work to engage the community around Lexington. Both Sykes and Gaines believe their time at Southern Seminary prepared them for their roles at Consolidated today. Sykes believes his work at Consolidated is what everything else led to throughout his life, including his education and time serving in different churches.
“I felt like my whole life was for this,” he said. “My passion of everything I do is preaching the Word of God.”
Today, Consolidated Baptist Church has more than 1,600 members, and works within the community to develop relationships and share the gospel with those around them, continuing the tradition of the church’s history. Gaines’ desire is to affect the community by investing long-term through various activities and programs. “We don’t want to just be in the community, we want to affect the community,” Gaines said. “We want to be involved in what’s going on around us and reach out and seek to transform not just individual lives but the community as whole.”
Despite being from different worlds, Larry Sykes and Richard Gaines share one common goal: To see the local church flourish as its members are cared for and as they influence their neighbors. They both believe their time at Southern equipped them to accomplish this task, and they are thankful for the investment they received from professors and their churches while in seminary.
“We want to be a place that is known for discipleship,” Gaines said. “Some churches are known for music, some for preaching. And all those are good things to be known for, but at the end of the day if we are not making disciples we are failing at the Great Commission. So that’s the heart of what we do.” —
RuthAnne Irvin is a copy editor and writer for Southern Seminary Magazine.