From Aspiring Engineer to Pastor
The Call to Ministry
“I would rather wear out than rust out!” was one of my father’s favorite sayings. And he meant it! He was not in the ministry, but he and Mamma taught their children many Biblical principles to live by.
So, today I am still following Daddy’s advice, having completed fifty-one years of full-time pastoring. With no intention of quitting soon, I have accepted the challenge of becoming Resident Pastor of Liberty Church Orlando as of October 1, 2020.
My path to ministry began in the summer of 1963 when I attended the University of Illinois before my Senior year in Oakwood Township High School for a two-week engineering overview sponsored by JETS (Junior Engineering Technical Society). Having had an interest in Science and Math in high school, this was like offering honey to a bear cub. During my senior year, I began searching for engineering schools, and in January of 1964, I applied for GMI (General Motors Institute). I was tested and interviewed several times before being accepted after about 3 - 4 months. I was elated! All my dreams had come true. I could work six weeks with pay in a General Motors plant and then go to Detroit for six weeks of classroom courses. After five years I would graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering and would become a mechanical engineer designing new GM car bodies.
After high school graduation, in June 1964, I quit my job at Eisner Grocery Store and began working for General Motors as a GMI student and loved it. I was enjoying a good income of $2.79 per hour when the minimum wage was $1.35 per hour.
Simultaneously with the last two years of High School, my spiritual life had been changing. As a seventeen-year-old, loose-living, but Christian teenager I quit attending Christian Assembly where the Hadley family was quite involved and started going with my oldest brother and his wife to Edgewood Baptist Church in the spring of 1963.
Just a few weeks later I met Cheryl Hines on a blind date arranged by our mutual friend, Larry Mullins, on June 23, 1963. She began attending church with me instead of with her parents at St. Johns Evangelical and Reformed Church. Cheryl had already been saved and confirmed but was never immersed, so she was baptized at Edgewood Baptist Church where we both joined and served actively as teenagers.
The Lord was gently working in my heart. I could not escape the conviction about the ministry, though I was successfully pushing it aside. During the first part of 1964, the thought of earning a great income as a GM engineer while my passion increased for designing the molds that stamped out hoods, fenders, doors, etc. on the new car models. I would be able to financially support the church, evangelists, and missionaries in addition to supporting a wife and family. Needless to say that Cheryl and I both were looking ahead to marriage.
Did I mention that on the night of our blind date, we both “fell in love?” I share with you that even though we have weathered many storms in our journey together (soon to be fifty-four years), God has cleared the skies and caused us to sing to each other hundreds of times our favorite little song: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are blue grey, you’ll never know, dear, how much I love you; please don’t take my sunshine away!”
Back to my challenge from God. The second half of my High School senior year during a missionary presentation, I was again really burdened about the ministry. I had already prearranged an appointment with Pastor Sibert after church, but to this day, I cannot remember what I wanted to talk with him about. Because God’s burden on my heart to enter the ministry was so great, that is what we talked about. He said, "If you feel called to preach, I will help you prepare a sermon and let you preach some Wednesday night." However, I was so afraid of speaking in front of people although I had performed in several plays in high school, I put it off, and time passed by while pursuing my passion for engineering.
Then about the first week of August 1964, just two weeks before classes started at GMI, Pastor Sibert preached the sermon, "The Many Faces of the Reverend Mr. Black." I was the first one down the aisle, thinking he preached that sermon just for me. However, Pastor Sibert assured me he did not have me in his crosshairs. He counseled with me, telling me I could not go to GMI if I wanted to preach. I must enroll in a Bible School. I thought this was impossible because it took me about four months to be accepted at GMI and this was already into August. Secondly, I had only had experience with the University of Illinois where I attended for the JETS course in the summer of 1963 and had no knowledge of any Christian colleges, much less one where I could be accepted on short notice. He said, "Let me see what I can do at Bob Jones University." I knew nothing about the school except that he graduated from there, and at the time did not know he was personal friends with the BJU President, Dr. Bob Jones, Jr. I could not believe that within a couple of weeks at the end of August 1964, I was leaving for BJU rather than GMI, not even having a formal acceptance confirmation. But when I arrived at BJU there was waiting for me an acceptance of my application, and I became a ministerial student.
This decision would also affect my future with Cheryl who on Baccalaureate Sunday of my High School graduation, she accepted my proposal to be married. Our wedding was to be in the summer of 1964 after she graduated from high school. Plans changed, however, as we learned that a student at BJU could not marry until his twenty-first birthday. Either marriage had to be postponed or I must drop out of school until I reached twenty-one. After much prayer for God to show us His will, we both decided I must not drop out of school. So, she completed her High School education, applied for, and was accepted at BJU for the fall of 1964. As God gave us grace to patiently wait, we then married on December 20, 1966, four days after my 21st birthday.
God had drastically changed our lives and thinking. I lost my passion for engineering and gained a passion for serving God full time. Cheryl had agreed with my decision to preach despite some family members who said to her, “Why would he want to turn down the money for the ministry?”
The Course of Ministry
Cramming a four-year education into five years, in May 1969, I finally received a BA degree in Practical Christian Training concentrating in Bible with two minors – music and Christian education. My transition from part-time to full-time ministry had begun three months before commencement when Cheryl and I candidated at Smyrna Baptist Church, Tampa, Florida. I accepted the position of Associate Pastor with responsibilities in youth and music ministries. Cheryl and I ministered to and with the Junior age and teenagers. I also conducted the youth and adult choirs as well as a small orchestra. Serving under two different senior pastors between 1969 and 1971 and as interim pastor between their tenures I encountered some serious church problems which I could not resolve. I resigned and began searching for a church to pastor.
In May 1971, I became pastor of the small, one-year-old Calvary Baptist Church in Pine Hills, a suburb of Orlando, Florida. After struggling for a year with the problems initiated by the founding pastor and the inexperience of my first pastorate I was advised by three seasoned pastors to reorganize, rename, and relocate. So, we did. In the spring of 1972, Calvary Baptist Church became Hope Baptist Church under a new charter in Forest City, Florida, which is now in Altamonte Springs.
Unfortunately, the three families who said they would move with us changed their minds leaving Cheryl and me with one very dedicated lady who began to visit families almost daily. While canvasing 465 homes in the Weathersfield subdivision we were meeting for Bible study on Wednesday nights in the homes of a few interested people.
Hope Baptist Church held her first Sunday service on July 2, 1972, in the Forest City Community Center with twelve people attending. During July and August 1972, 47 first-time visitors attended the church. By September 1972, the church’s average attendance was in the 30’s and growing.
In addition to the church growth, my family grew. In December 1972, we received a call from the adoption agency which had approved us almost a year previous that they had a big baby boy almost seven weeks old waiting for us if we wanted him. So, two days before our seventh wedding anniversary Raymond Hadley, Jr. entered our lives and the life of HBC as well. He served faithfully in the ministry in several positions. After college he and his wife, Tammy, gave us two beautiful granddaughters, Lyndsey and Katelyn.
During 1973, God’s blessing was upon us as we won people to Jesus and built a solid foundation in the lives of the members through God’s Word. The growth demanded that we find our own facility. The search ended when by God’s grace and the generosity of our members, the church purchased the property and moved into a remodeled house at 2475 East Semoran Blvd., Apopka, on the second anniversary Sunday, June 30, 1974.
The church continued to grow and more room was required! The Semoran property was sold in 1986, and Hope Baptist Church moved to 129 South Wekiwa Springs Road, Apopka, in 1988. The success of the church has been the result of God’s power on the people who were willing to work, much the same as the “wall builders” in Nehemiah 2:18, “...Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.”
Throughout his years of pastoring, Pastor Hadley has taught at Altamonte Christian School; maintained a daily radio broadcast for three years; managed a large house used for vacationing evangelists, missionaries, and pastors; President of Sheltered Community Residents, a ministry for mentally challenged adults; officiated many weddings and funerals; counseled scores of Christians with various needs; earned a Master of Ministry degree in 1995; and assisted other pastors in their ministries. Now I accept Resident Pastor part-time at Liberty Church Orlando and minister where needed.
The Conclusion of the Story
I have vowed to Him, I will not “rust out!” I will work for Him as long as He gives me strength. I have written prolifically about my call to the ministry to challenge Christians to answer God’s call on your life. Paul said in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works….” Remember Jeremiah 1:4 & 5, “Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, ‘Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.’” Could it be that you have not been listening to God’s call for you? Surrender your life to Him and experience the joy of serving Jesus until He calls you home.
Raymond B. Hadley