Aaron Menikoff was uncertain about taking a church in Georgia, a Deep South state he was unfamiliar with, a place vastly different from his native Oregon.
But after much prayer and consideration, Menikoff submitted to what he came to know was God’s will, and in June of 2008 Menikoff, a two-time SBTS graduate, was elected senior pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, a suburb just north of Atlanta.
The thought of moving to a region that was somewhat foreign to him was more than a bit uneasy, made worse by Menikoff’s soon realization that much of the so-called Bible Belt’s Christianity was little more than a cultural adornment.
“I joked how ironic it was that my friend, Michael Lawrence who is from the South, moved to pastor Hinson Baptist Church in Portland while I, being from Oregon, landed at Mount Vernon in Atlanta.
“However, not only did I trust God’s providence in moving people around as he sees fit, but I also saw God’s wisdom in placing a man from another culture at Mount Vernon. I grew up in an unbelieving home in secular territory. That has given me a unique voice to speak into a region filled with nominal Christianity.”
A Church in Decline
Upon arrival in Atlanta, Menikoff found a church in dire need of revitalization. It wasn’t what he’d expected—the situation was far worse. And there was really no “honeymoon period” for him as several of the church members left because he didn’t view pragmatic numerical growth as the church’s leading priority.
“When I arrived, I expected to find a conservative church accustomed to fairly light preaching with little emphasis on robust theology,” he said. “I expected to find a church with a heart for missions and an eagerness to grow spiritually and numerically. The church had been in a season of decline for a number of years and wanted to see that trend reversed.
“I quickly discovered the church had no meaningful membership. The attendance on Sunday morning bore little resemblance to the directory. Most members said they valued a strong, Word-centered ministry. Nonetheless, I faced some resistance to too much preaching about the cross.
“A good portion pinned their hopes for the church’s future on an exciting children, youth, and music ministry to grow the church. The majority of members who left in those early years didn’t appreciate my approach to these particular ministries.”
“Attitudes began to change as the church embraced a spirit of warm generosity toward fellow members and other churches.”
Menikoff knew it would be a long, slow slog to reach a reasonable level of spiritual health at Mount Vernon, and it indeed was. He took years preaching and teaching sound theology and biblical ecclesiology even on things as basic as church membership, hospitality, and church polity. Over time, the church adopted the New Testament teaching on a plurality of elders and learned how to live out the “one another” admonitions as taught in the New Testament.
Other dominoes of church health began to fall into place: biblical evangelism, discipleship, family ministry. Attitudes began to change as the church embraced a spirit of warm generosity toward fellow members and other churches. God raised up mature elders to assist with the ministry and servant-hearted deacons to help serve fundamental physical needs.
The first key that unlocked needed change in the church was expository preaching.
“The revitalization process took years,” he said. “It took me a while to feel comfortable preaching week in and week out. I’m glad much of the church was patient with me as I grew in this area. Preaching isn’t the only thing I do, but is the most important, and I saw a robust preaching ministry as fundamental to our church’s future.
“We didn’t unveil a special program. I simply sprinkled teaching in these areas everywhere for the next decade. Looking back, this allowed me to stay focused on some areas in which we really needed to grow and improve.”
Oregon to Capitol Hill to Louisville
Menikoff ’s journey to pastoral ministry began in Washington, D.C. in the mid-1990s. He came to faith in Christ soon after his senior year in high school and after gradu- ating from the University of Oregon moved to D.C. for an internship in 1994 with the U.S. senator from Oregon.
The senator attended Capitol Hill Baptist Church and Menikoff began to visit as well. His first Sunday at the church was the Sunday before a new pastor was installed. The new pastor was Mark Dever. Meeting Dever turned out to be a life-changing providence for Menikoff.
“It’s there that I first heard expositional preaching, experienced biblical hospitality, and fell in love with the local church,” Menikoff said. “I enjoyed working in politics—I’d gone on staff with Senator Mark Hatfield his final term—but I loved the church more than working on the Hill. In late 1996 I went on staff as a pastoral assistant (at CHBC) before heading off to seminary a few years later.
Menikoff moved with his wife, Deana, moved to Louisville in 2000 and completed his MDiv at SBTS in 2003. He graduated with a PhD in church history in 2008. The Menikoff family grew as Aaron and Deana had three children while in Louisville and continued to grow as they adopted a fourth after moving to Atlanta.
A Ministry Marked by Dever
During his years in seminary, Menikoff served as an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church and has also continued to work closely with Dever and 9Marks Ministries, contributing articles and videos as well as speaking at numerous 9Marks events.
Said Menikoff: “I remember listening to Alistair Begg teach on preaching. He said, ‘Everything I learned about preaching I learned from Dick Lucas’—the great London preacher. Similarly, I could say everything I learned about pastoral ministry I learned from Mark Dever. When I read his little book Discipling I can honestly say he modeled for me what he wrote about in that book.
“I had the privilege of being a member of his church before 9Marks even existed. I’m thankful for this ministry because I know it flows out of a genuine, faithful ministry in a local church—one I got to be part of for so many years. I’m thankful his ministry has expanded through 9Marks.”
Writing, Preaching, and Encouraging Associationalism
Last year Menikoff published his first book through Moody under the imprint of 9Marks, Character Matters: Shepherding in the Fruit of the Spirit, a work aimed at the spiritual health of pastors. Mount Vernon’s ministry footprint continues to expand in Atlanta and beyond. Menikoff and the church pour into the Greater Atlanta Baptist Network, an association of like-minded churches designed to encourage and equip member churches.
““The current conversations we are having at the national level are contentious, in part, because we’ve lost the ability to relate to one another at the local level.”
Mount Vernon hosts a one-day conference for pastors and laymen involved in local church ministry called Feed My Sheep. The conference will mark its 10th anniversary in 2022 and will host its first event this October for pastor’s wives.
“One of my passions is helping pastors re- discover a vision for local associations or net- works,” he said. “The current conversations we are having at the national level are contentious, in part, because we’ve lost the ability to relate to one another at the local level. If we think ‘denominationalism’ is what happens through national entities, we are a missing the biblical example of churches who genuinely know, encourage, and equip one another.
“I’m glad we can partner together nationally. However, that national partnership will fray if it is not underscored by robust local associational life. This is what we’re seeing right now.”
Even as Mount Vernon continues to grow, Menikoff is thankful for the path God has taken him down in ministry including the eight years his family spent in Louisville.
“I’m grateful for this extended season to study on campus at SBTS under great theologians and as an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church,” he said. “Those years in school were very challenging, I’m not sure I could have lasted much longer! I’m really glad I had an on-campus experience. God used this season of study to help prepare me for a lifetime of learning and teaching.”