Wayne Barber said he's never heard of a situation where a pastor successfully returned to serve a congregation he'd previously served, but he's hoping he'll be the exception.
The Roanoke, Va., native was senior pastor of Chattanooga's Woodland Park Baptist Church from 1981 to 1999, and last week he was called again to the same position.
Barber relocated to Reno, Nev., in 1999 to start To Live Is Christ, a national church conference ministry. In 2002, he became senior teaching pastor at Hoffmantown Church in Hoffmantown, N.M.
"I loved where we were," he said of the suburban Albuquerque congregation. "We had a wonderful time there. God did some awesome things there."
However, Barber said, he had no option.
"God told us to come back," he said. "I fought it. But as I told them out there, 'The cloud moved. I've got to move with it.'"
Woodland Park, which grew and thrived under Barber's leadership, has had its ups and downs over the past decade. It continued to grow under Barber's successor, John Meador, and even relocated to a new campus in East Brainerd on property bought while Barber was pastor.
However, Meador left in 2006 and what was
reported to be a $12 million to $18 million project was never adequately financed and has yet to be totally completed.
Barber said he hopes "a fresh wind will blow in the congregation again."
"It's about Christ," he said. "I want that to be the draw. I want to add to that breath [of wind]. It's an exciting time."
The husband, father of two and grandfather of five said he believes he's a different pastor than when he last was in Chattanooga.
"I'd hope so," he said. "I'm a work in progress. I feel God has done something in my heart, my life. Certainly knowing what I'm not [and] who he is has been a blessing."
Barber said he won't be quite the globetrotting pastor he was when he was in Chattanooga before. At that time, he taught around the world for Chattanooga-based AMG International and was a sought-after teacher at Chattanooga's Precept Ministries International.
While he has trips planned to Romania, Uganda and Singapore, he said communication by Internet has replaced the need to travel so much.
"It'll be a ton less [travel]," Barber said. "I've enjoyed not doing it as much."
The pastor will be 68 later this year but says he has no timetable to how long he'll remain at the church.
"I didn't know I was that old until they told me," he said. "I want to finish it out here, bring in somebody new, mentor them and then turn it over to them."
However, Barber said leaving's not on his mind.
"I'm excited as I've been in years," he said. "I just want to preach Christ, and [let him do] the reaching."
Barber said he and his wife were sad to leave their daughter and son-in-law in New Mexico - where their son-in-law is the associate teaching pastor at Hoffmantown Church - but happy they'll be closer to their son and daughter-in-law in Scottsboro, Ala., where their son is the teaching elder at Riverside Community Church.
For now, he says the 1,590-member church on Standifer Gap Road - albeit a different place on Standifer Gap than when he left - just feels like the right place to be.
"In my heart," he said, "I never really left it. The first Sunday back, it was just like a shoe that fit."