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Gwinnett native returns to area to pastor First Baptist Church of Conyers

Gwinnett native returns to pastor Conyers church

Pastor Mark Marshall began as pastor of First Baptist Church of Conyers on Easter. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)

Pastor Mark Marshall began as pastor of First Baptist Church of Conyers on Easter. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)

People find it hard to believe the Rev. Mark Marshall ever had a fear of public speaking. But the man who has preached to thousands said he still gets “butterflies” every time he gets up to speak.

Now the new senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of Conyers, Marshall was in seminary planning to become a Christian counselor when a classmate, who was pastoring a church, asked him to fill in for him when he was going to be away.

“I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “I really have a fear of public speaking. A lot of people don’t believe me, but I did. I got up there and made it through. It was a little, tiny country church with probably 20 people there.”

It was through that experience, however that Marshall said he began to understand God was calling him to become a pastor. For this son of a longtime preacher, it was not something he was anxious to do.

“Being a pastor was the last thing I wanted to do,” he said. “I saw the difficulties and struggles my dad had dealing with a lot of people and trying to minister to a lot of people and not being able to make everybody happy. That’s why I went to Georgia State and worked for Turner Broadcasting. I thought I was going to go into business and make a lot of money. That was my goal.”

A native of Gwinnett County, Marshall graduated from Berkmar High School and got his undergraduate degree from Georgia State University. He was in college when he met his wife, Leigh Ann, and said through that relationship and through much talking and praying, he began to sense God was calling him into some type of ministry.

“I probably had known it for a while, but didn’t want to acknowledge it,” Marshall said. “God moved in my heart and I thought I was going to be a Christian counselor. I changed my degree to psychology because I thought that would be a good start.”

The son of the Rev. Carl and Sally Marshall spent his high school and college years at what he calls his “home church,” the First Baptist Church of Lilburn, where his father served as pastor in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a church known for baptizing many people and for sending a great number of people to serve in some type of ministry.

Marshall said when he enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, there were at least half a dozen other students there from FBC Lilburn. He received his master of divinity degree four years later and came back to Georgia where he was called to pastor Calvary Baptist in Cobb County. He left there 10 years later for a job with LifeWay Christian Resources in 1997.

At LifeWay, Marshall directed the training and events areas, which included Living Proof, such as the Beth Moore events, Fuge Camps and church leadership training which involved more than 350,000 participants each year. During the 10 years he spent at LifeWay, Marshall was also called upon to serve as an interim preacher for area churches.

One such church was ClearView Baptist in Franklin, Tenn., who asked the temporary pastor to become their own.

“The 10 years at LifeWay was more of an odd time than anything else,” Marshall said. “But it was a great time to be at LifeWay. I sensed it was a great time to learn. With the responsibilities I had, I got to be with a lot of churches and pastors around the country. I had zero to do with the stores. My job was to relate to churches and pastors…

“It allowed me a chance to learn and to rest a little bit from church. I had over 100 employees at LifeWay, but it was a great time to rest. It’s easier to do that than what I’m doing. All that time, I felt God was going to call us back into ministry. I went to ClearView to preach for a few Sundays. Their pastor had left and they asked me to stay. It felt like a great place to step back in.”

Marshall served as pastor of ClearView for seven years and in his last year there, he baptized more people than had ever been baptized in the history of the church.

During the time he served the Tennessee congregation, more than 100 members were sent out to plant a new church and more than 500 ClearView members took part in mission trips. Under his leadership, the Southern Baptist Church, which averaged around 1,350 in Sunday morning worship grew significantly.

Through the years, Marshall has become a published author, having written “Mapping Your Church Strategy,” a resource for churches. He has had dozens of articles published in numerous church leadership magazines and has served in many denominational leadership roles.

He was serving on the executive board for the Tennessee Baptist Convention prior to moving to his most recent call. Marshall is now on the advisory board of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Marshalls celebrate their 30th anniversary this year and are the parents of two daughters. Tiffany is a third-year student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and will become a missionary serving in India with the International Mission Board. Daughter Brittany married earlier this year to Josh Duncan, who is the student pastor of the First Baptist Church in Hazel Green, Ala.

Marshall’s father continues to serve as a pastor and he and Mrs. Marshall are serving the First Baptist Church of Colquitt.

When God called him to serve as senior pastor at FBC Conyers, Marshall said he and his wife were excited to be back home and ready to serve the congregation, which numbers around 1,200 in Sunday morning worship attendance. How has he been received?

“It’s Georgia — everybody is going to be nice here,” he said. “We already feel loved and welcomed and even the people I’ve met in the community outside of the church have been very welcoming and friendly. We have been welcomed with open arms.”

Marshall began serving the church on Easter and said he is finishing a sermon series this Sunday on “This Changes Everything,” which focuses on Christian truths, such as God as the creator of everything, Jesus being raised from the dead and other biblical accounts.

In two weeks, he will begin preaching “ACTionS,” a study in the Book of Acts and the early church. He said the sermons will help FBC Conyers as it prepares a vision for the future modeled on the early Christian church.

“There’s still just a little bit of butterflies in the stomach every Sunday before I get up…” he said. “It’s still a part of who I am, but week to week I over prepare and I’m very meticulous about my preparation, which gives me some confidence when I get up to speak. Preparation has been the key for me to get over that fear of public speaking.”

Marshall said as he begins a new ministry, that others who are looking for a church home will come join him at the same time at FBC Conyers.

The church offers Sunday School at 8:15, 9:30 and 11:10 a.m. Sunday morning worship is at 9:30 a.m., which offers a blended service and a service at 11:10, which is contemporary. FBC Conyers is located 2100 Ga. Highway 138 in Conyers.

Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. Contact her at bethslaughtersexton@gmail.com.