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The Gentles

Program to be named for former pastor

By Michael Butler

Pastor Derek and Sheila Gentle spent 24 years in Tallassee at First Baptist Church. Now, the church is showing its appreciation for the Gentles with a new theology center that will bear their name.

Gentle's successor as pastor, Trey Waldrop, spoke about the advent of the program within the church.

"Church leadership began discussing how we could honor Derek and Sheila," Waldrop said. "As we prayed and thought through it we knew naming Derek as pastor emeritus would be appropriate."

Since retiring in 2020, Derek and Sheila have been living in the Birmingham area - closer to their grandchildren. The couple made a return visit for the church's recent homecoming and the designation was bestowed upon them.

"That was a total surprise to me," Derek said. "I wasn't aware that was even in the works, so it was a bit overwhelming. First Baptist has been lavishly generous to Sheila and myself."

Waldrop explained what the new ministry will entail.


"We began looking into establishing a pastoral residency program," said Waldrop, "to help younger ministers learn, develop, and be involved in a local church setting which would hopefully contribute to their longevity in ministry and effectiveness in leading. As we explored and prayed through several options, we learned of a possible partnership with New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary which would afford seminary students to serve in Tallassee and take classes on our church campus while serving the church.

"A seminary student could earn up to 25 credit hours through 10 or so course options while serving the church and growing in leadership and ministry capacities. Once we decided we decided to officially establish what is known as a school of ministry with NOBTS we felt it only fitting to name it in honor of Derek and Sheila as a means of honoring them and continuing the effectiveness of their ministry influence in the next generation."

Gentle is all in with First Baptist's vision.

"This is such a good concept. It used to be that the vast majority of our ministers came from small town areas. More come from suburban areas and from large churches now. This will give more young ministers the opportunity to have hands-on experience and some of them their first exposure to a small town. (Trey) is really onto something here and will be a big blessing to these young brothers.

"Small towns are the greatest place on earth. Their churches "punch above their weight class" in effectiveness and community impact. A lot of guys will come out of this program with terrific practical experiences. You don't conjugate rare Hebrew verbs every week in the local church, but you do plan, promote, invite, and have caring conversations every single week."