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Get to Know Your 2018 Annual Meeting Presidents

November 8, 2017
Get to Know Your 2018 Annual Meeting Presidents

How well do you know your newly elected 2018 Pastors' Conference and Convention presidents? John McCallum, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hot Springs, and Greg Sykes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Russellville, took some time to chat with us so that you might see them as more than the men behind the podium. Following this year's Annual Meeting, McCallum and Sykes will work alongisde Executive Board staff and other pastors in the state in preparation for the 2018 Annual Meeting.   

Pastors’ Conference President—Dr. John McCallum, pastor FBC Hot Springs 

What was your journey to become a pastor?

McCallum: I was born in Little Rock, but really I grew up in Branson, Missouri. It was there that at the end of my senior year of high school I got serious about Jesus, and I started going to church with my girlfriend. (She’s the one who got me into the Baptist world; I was Presbyterian growing up.) I was probably more interested in Dayna than Jesus, but Jesus got hold of my life in new ways through that church, First Baptist in Branson, Missouri. It was there that people took an interest in me and I was called to ministry.

Where have you lived and served in ministry?

McCallum: God has allowed me to serve only in church ministry positions since I went to college. For college I went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I served my first three summers working for my home church, First Baptist in Branson. I also worked as a student minister for my college church, First Baptist Church Fayetteville, my senior year and the semester after graduation.

Later I went to Midwestern Seminary, and while there I served at First Baptist in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, where I served as associate pastor and youth minster. In January of 1982, I accepted a pastorate at First Baptist Church in Greenwood, Missouri, where I served for more than 13 years. I served there until 1995 when I came to First Baptist Hot Springs, and I’ve been here ever since.

Do you have a family and kids that keep you busy?

McCallum: My wife, Dayna, and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. We met in high school in Branson. (She was the girlfriend I alluded to who got me in church.) Our kids are grown; my son and his family live in Jonesboro, and my daughter and her family live in New Braunfels, Texas. Between them we have seven grandkids ranging from ages 16 to 14-months. They are a delight.   

Are you a fan of any sports team(s)? Maybe the Razorbacks since you attended the U of A?  

McCallum: Absolutely. I have been since I was a little kid! I also follow the Dallas Cowboys and the Baltimore Orioles.

Outside of ministry, what do you spend time doing?

McCallum: Well, I read. I follow my sports teams. I play golf, occasionally. I like to work and write. Actually, I’ve had one book published, “How the Lord Sent Christmas.” I preached the message as a sermon four Christmases ago, and some people in the church said, “You need to publish it.” So I did. I would describe it as seussical because it engages kids with the rhyming, but I think it also appeals to adults because of the message.  

What do you enjoy most about serving as a pastor in Arkansas?

McCallum: I love the unity of our State Convention—the spirit of it, the boldness of it, how we’re planting churches and trying to get the Gospel out to the state.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed working in the Delta. First Baptist Hot Springs sponsors a church plant, New Faith Baptist Church in West Helena, and I’ve done some work with the Delta Institute.

And, obviously, Hot Springs is home. Our church is really connected to the Garage Church here in town. But I’m also thankful that our church has a strong passion for missions; we have a lot of strategic partnerships around the world and have just called a missionary off the international field to help us start a church planting network in Hot Springs.

What are you most looking forward to as Pastors’ Conference president?

McCallum: I’m new at this, so I’m wide open. I would like to provide inspiration and education, and maybe something like a toolbox for local pastors. I’ve always pretty much tended to my own little patch of garden and done a good bit of mission work. But in this last quarter of my ministry, God has been prompting me to find ways to invest more in pastors leveraging my 36 years of pastoral experience. This may be one opportunity to do that. 

I also hope we can deal with pastors’ souls. Pastoral training has become highly leadership oriented and pragmatic—here are five tips to being a better leader, here are ways to catch millennials, etc. I fear we’ve neglected the pastor’s soul in the process, focusing more on doing than being and more on our work than the work the Lord wants to do in us.

However God leads us in putting together the 2018 Pastors’ Conference, I pray we’ll be able to inspire pastors to be pastors when the work goes well—and when it feels like a dumpster fire.

Convention President—Rev. Greg Sykes, pastor FBC Russellville 

Where are you originally from, and where have you lived and served in ministry?

Sykes: My hometown is actually Cabot. I graduated from Cabot High, so I’m a panther. I attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and studied print journalism. While in college, I got involved with Student Mobilization and later took a job with them in Conway working for their media department.

I never saw ministry coming at all. I knew the Lord but really wasn’t thinking about ministry vocationally. After Student Mobilization, I joined the staff at First Baptist Church in Dover as their youth and associate pastor, and I was there for about three and a half years before I was called to First Baptist Church in Russellville to serve as the children’s and family pastor. That was 2001, and I’ve worked about six different jobs in the church since then. I became the senior pastor in 2011.

So why did you become a pastor?

Sykes: I’m thinking about how to answer that in a short way…I came to know Christ when I was 12, but I hadn’t grasped the idea of Christ being Lord until college. As I began to unravel what that looked like and meant for me, I had to figure out, “How does my life change if Christ is really the one calling the shots?”

For me, it meant walking away from a career in sports journalism, and I didn’t really receive a clear answer for what my next step should be until several years later. (Laughing) My worst class in college was speech and oral communications, so I didn’t see preaching coming for a really long time.

But God knew what He was doing, I guess. I studied political science and sports journalism, so a lot of what I learned about leadership and communications in those fields has translated really well to pastoral ministry.

Do you have a family and kids that keep you busy?

Sykes: Yes, I do. My wife, Jamie, and I met in Conway when I was working for Student Mobilization, and we got married in 1996. We have three kids who are in high school and middle school: Grace, Carter and Reed.

Are you a fan of any sports team(s)?

Sykes: I love the Baltimore Orioles and, yes, I’m a Razorback fan. I studied print journalism at the U of A and was heavily involved in covering the Razorbacks. I served as the sports editor for the Arkansas Traveler (the U of A student newspaper) and was actually the editor of the entire paper the year the Razorbacks won the national title.  

Outside of ministry, what do you spend time doing?

Sykes: I keep life really simple. I’ve got three kids I love, and my wife is my best friend so we do a lot together. Church things, obviously, but outside of that we’re going to athletic events and things our kids are passionate about.

Our family takes a lot of road trips around the state, too. I just love Arkansas. I like all the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Arkansas is just a beautiful state.

I also love to write Christian fiction, but that’s not something I’ve been able to do much lately. My Christian fiction is based around historical stuff and folk tales. Some are kind of spooky…

When did you first attend the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (Annual Meeting), and what kept bringing you back?

Sykes: I can’t nail down the year, but my first time was sometime in the late ‘90s. What initially kept bringing me back was the encouragement I received from preaching and teaching and the healthy reminders about how the Cooperative Program really works.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I got relationally connected, and that’s really what kept me coming back. I didn’t grow up Baptist and I didn’t really know Southern Baptists in Arkansas. So what I would say is really exciting is that I’m just as connected as anybody who has ever been in those Southern Baptist groups and grown up in it. In other words, it’s exciting that [Arkansas Baptist] is a place where you can get connected even if you weren’t already plugged in. I’m certainly a testimony of that.

What are you most looking forward to as Convention president?

Sykes: Well, I’ve just learned by experience that when you think you know a lot, you figure out real quick there is a whole new layer of stuff and experience. I’m excited to see—even deeper—what God is doing in Arkansas. I’ve heard stories about what He is doing in the Delta and our colleges, for example, so by being in the Convention I just want to know more about the people and see what God is up to.

I’m also a big believer that team work works and it matters. I want to come alongside the people that God is using, see what’s happening, encourage them, and enjoy it.