Growing in Our Faith Tradition

Here we are at the beginning of a new year. It is hard to believe how this time last year I began a series of
newsletter reflections emphasizing the mission of Little Rock OFWB Church. I hope by now you have a greater
understanding and appreciation for who we are as a local congregation. We do not simply exist for our own sake,
but rather have a purpose defined through God’s Word and focused upon proclaiming the Good News and seeing
lives transformed as a result. This month I wish to wrap up the series of articles by focusing on the final emphasis of
Little Rock’s mission statement which is “To grow a congregation of the Original Free Will Baptist faith tradition.”
I love how this particular point is worded in that it does not simply state that we are to “be a congregation,” but
rather to “grow a congregation.”
A couple of years ago the theme “Made to Thrive” served as the primary focus for our Renewal Weekend at
the Rock. The idea then, as well as now, is that God does not desire for us to settle for mediocrity in life. We are
not to remain comfortable in our faith to the point that our relationship with God becomes stale and incapable of
impacting our world. To thrive suggests a life-giving process in which we continue to learn and make forward
progress in our faith. Connecting this understanding of thriving with who we are as a corporate body of faith
indicates we wish to see maturity and a positive direction to who we are becoming as a congregation. As we have
heard stated time and again, “Church is not something you go to, but rather a family you belong to.” Yes, as a part
of Christ’s Body, we belong to something which is much larger than anyone of us and together we are capable of
accomplishing ministries which would be impossible at an individual level.
The community with which we are associated and the name which is displayed prominently on our signage
indicates we are of the “Original Free Will Baptist” tradition. Have you ever really paused to consider what this
means and why it is such an important part of who we are? We are not United Methodists, Disciples of Christ, or
Pentecostal Holiness. We are not amongst the largest denominations which fill not only our nation, but also
maintain a worldwide presence. In fact, most of our 240 or so congregations are to be found across Eastern North
Carolina, the Piedmont, close to the South Carolina line, and in Southwestern Georgia. We are small in comparison
to some, but possess a history that is rich having withstood a multitude of challenges throughout our existence. Until
I really learned more of who we are as a people, I honestly could not appreciate what it meant for me to be connected
with others who identify as Original Free Will Baptists.
When I think back to my early years, I recall a moment in middle school Bible class when my teacher went
around the room and had each of us identify our church affiliation. When it came to be my turn, I simply said
“Reedy Branch” and when asked its denomination I indicated it was a “Baptist church.” I was right…well sort of.
Okay…not really. I had no idea what I was. I went to the church of my parents and grandparents, and did not worry
with technical terms. When classmates would ask me about my church, I would say that I was “Southern Baptist.”
After all, my church had “Baptist” on the sign and I had been raised in the Southeastern United States. Southern and
Baptist just seemed to fit together naturally. However, “seeming” and actually “fitting” are two different things.
The reality was and still is…I am an Original Free Will Baptist. So, what did that mean and what has it
come to mean for me today? I have studied the history of this tradition, our structure, and essential teachings, and
while there are similarities with other communities of faith, we are unique. Our affiliation is unique just as our
specific congregation is unique. While time will not permit me to provide an exhaustive description of who we are
as Original Free Will Baptists in this context, I do wish to spend some time during this year offering a bit of insight
into our history and heritage as a people of faith. While I do not believe we should dwell upon denominational titles,
it is important to understand from whence we have come so as to appreciate our heritage and be able to articulate it
in various ways. Yes, tradition does show us how denominations have developed through matters of difference
when it has come to biblical interpretation, essential doctrines, and practical matters. No, the Bible in no place
identifies one group by name or as being over/against another. However, we live in a world of Christianity, a
“family tree” if you will, that is structured as it is within this life. When we get to heaven, there will be no
segregation between races, ethnicities, or branches of Christianity. We will together worship as the people of God’s
But before we get to heaven, we live in the here and now. In the here and now we are Original Free Will
Baptists. To be of such a designation does more than differentiate between one congregation and another, but it
provides a structure or sense of community in which people work together for the common good. We support
various ministries through our financial responsibilities each month. We create ministries that would be beyond the
capabilities of individual congregations. We offer a support system for churches going through various cycles. We
provide a space in which even the smaller congregation can make a difference in the world. We engage in
conversations related to theology and life. We establish accountability for ministers and congregations to be
responsible to their calling as God’s people. Christianity does go beyond the realm of denominationalism, but the
structure enables us to put our best foot forward as we work together.
Together in Christ,

The Rev. Kelley Smart