Transitions in Leadership

Dr. Kevin Folger became the senior pastor of Cleveland Baptist Church in 1995, after serving as the co-pastor for a number of years under Dr. Roy Thompson. On a recent visit to our campus, The Baptist Voice interviewed Dr. Folger about growing up in the church he now pastors and how he transitioned into leadership.

When were you first introduced to Cleveland Baptist Church?

When Roy Thompson came to Cleveland in May of 1958, he held services in a rented house. A week later, my family visited for the first time. I was just nine-months old.

Did you ever anticipate pastoring the church you grew up in?

I never thought that I would someday be the pastor of my home church. Dr. Thompson was larger than life, and our church was one of the greatest churches in the independent Baptist movement. I never thought that I possessed the gifts necessary to pastor a church like this.

How did THE church respond to having one of their own members become the pastor?

I guess you could say they responded favorably. It was a gradual process. In 1989, the deacons affirmed Dr. Thompson’s decision that I would be co-pastor. In June, 1990, the church voted on it. It is important to understand that because Dr. Thompson started the church, led it, and developed it into a strong, healthy church, there was concern when he spoke of resignation. Yet, by training someone they knew and seeing God develop him for this place of service, they were a little more at ease.

When did Dr. Thompson sense that you would be the next pastor?

I had been on the church staff for approximately five years when Dr. Thompson approached me. He had been praying about training a successor, and he asked me to pray about becoming the pastor. I was humbled, honored, and a little uncertain because of the responsibility. Yet, as I prayed, I received peace from the Lord that He was leading in this circumstance.

How did your relationship change with him after he began preparing you to pastor?

There really wasn’t a change on my part. He was still the preacher—the man of God for the church. However, he began discussing issues with me that would affect the future of the church and ministry. I was brought into almost every decision, and he gave me great latitude in ministry. Dr. Thompson always stood by me in decisions and backed me up when challenged. No one could ask for a better mentor, or for a better working relationship in transition or after the transition.

What lessons did Dr. Thompson teach you that you remember most?

Always be a man of God. Always be on the right side of an issue. Always be ready to take a stand, and don’t be ashamed of the Gospel.

How do you differ in your leadership styles?

Dr. Thompson, as a pastor, was a visionary, very outgoing, and a powerful personality. He had a great team of people around him who could take his vision and develop it. He could lead and give direction. On the other hand, I am less outgoing, but very detail-oriented. I have to think things through and be more thorough in my preparation.

What are the advantages of growing up in the church you now pastor?

The advantage of pastoring people I already know is that the philosophy and uniqueness of our ministry was already a part of me when I began. There were no surprises when I took the pastorate. There wasn’t anything hiding in the closet that walked out when I walked in.

How did you prepare yourself to become the pastor?

I don’t think anything totally prepares you to actually assume the responsibility and awe of being a pastor. In fact, I didn’t sleep well for the first month. I would lie awake thinking of the responsibility. I finally had to get peace that it was not me, but the Lord that was going to have to do it! I would ask Dr. Thompson a lot of questions, and I would also question other men of God. I would spend time alone with God asking Him to help me.

How have you honored the former pastor?

We continue to have a great relationship. Dr. Thompson retains the title of pastor emeritus. Our church cares for him financially, and I ask him to preach often. We are not jealous of each other. We have the same biblical philosophy. He has not interfered in the operation of the church or decisions I have made. He is just a great man of  God.