The congregation at Abba's House is welcoming Ronnie Phillips Jr. to the pulpit as lead pastor, a role his father, Dr. Ron Phillips, has held for nearly 40 years.
Ronnie Phillips is a native of Chattanooga and has been a part of Abba's House since he was born. He has worked for the Hixson Baptist church since 2007, but said he has felt called to serve since childhood.
"This is a childhood dream, honestly. I felt called by God to do this when I was 8 years old," he said.
But the journey to becoming lead pastor has been long, winding, and not always easy, Ronnie Phillips said. For awhile, he ran from the call, spending seven years working for Unum.
When he was 23, he felt a revitalized calling to the church, and realized his time in corporate America had honed his leadership skills, he said.
Phillips began teaching Sunday schools, or "LifeGroups," as they're called at Abba's House. He served in drug rehabilitation facilities and prisons, wherever would have him.
He returned to school "to get all the things the Baptists think you should have," he said. Phillips earned a master's in biblical studies and ultimately graduated with his Doctor of Ministry degree from Covington Theological Seminary in 2015.
In 2009, he served at a small, inner-city church in Atlanta, a time he said matured him as a leader, before gaining the 30-person support staff he has at Abba's House.
"I learned how to love people that are different from me, people in poverty, or on drugs, or homeless," Phillips said. "When I came back to Abba's House, everybody here could tell that I'd grown and matured."
Phillips' time in Atlanta continues to influence him. A few years ago, he helped start a program at Abba's House to feed the homeless. Twice a week, they serve 70-120 people from local shelters, he said.
Phillips wants the church to be known for its service, he said. He tries to reach everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status or background.
"That's the way our savior was; he came for the least of these," said Phillips.
The congregation is happy to have "Pastor Ronnie" as their new lead pastor, not because of who his father is, but because of his vision for the future of the church.
"Our people, from the young to the senior adults, have really rallied behind that vision," said Phillips, who was tapped by the church council in 2012 to start a five-year transition into his father's shoes.
"I knew my job was not to fill my dad's shoes but to walk in my own shoes," Ronnie Phillips said.
He describes his and his father's preaching styles as very different. Whereas his father is loud and strong, he takes a softer approach, he said. The elder Phillips is into theology and history, while Pastor Ronnie said he's more practical, preferring to focus on everyday experiences.
His father goes deeper, Phillips thinks, but that comes from decades of experience.
"My dad is larger than life. He has met presidents and traveled the world. And it can be hard when your mom or dad casts a shadow that large," he said.
Abba's House is located at 5208 Hixson Pike. To learn more, visit abbashouse.com.