Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher



January 2013



First Baptist Church of Durham: A Brief Introduction

Written by , Posted in History, Ministry, Missions, SBC, Theology

As some readers may know, I serve as a non-staff elder at the First Baptist Church of Durham, North Carolina. I’ve been a member at FBC Durham since October 2005. As a historical theologian by paid vocation, I’m very interested in our church’s history. In this post, I want to provide a brief snapshot of our church’s history, priorities, and some of our present ministries. I hope you will find this helpful.

FBC Durham was established in 1845 and is the oldest church in Durham. It was originally called the Rose of Sharon Baptist Church before changing its name to Durham Baptist Church in 1877 and then First Baptist Church of Durham in 1878. Over the years, our church has planted about a dozen other churches in and around Durham, most recently South Durham Church. We helped found the Yates Baptist Association, though in 2009 we left that body due to doctrinal concerns. Over the years, several FBC Durham pastors have served as key leaders in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the Southern Baptist Convention. In past years, the church has hosted state convention meetings, statewide Woman’s Missionary Union meetings, and numerous denominational conferences. Dozens of FBC Durham members have served as trustees or board members of state convention or SBC ministries.

Like many Southern Baptist congregations, especially older urban churches, FBC Durham went through its own version of the “conservative resurgence” in recent years. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, the church was served by some pastors who identified with conservatives in the SBC and others who identified with the moderates in the Convention. Because the church’s membership was relatively engaged in denominational affairs, the same division was evident  among the church’s deacons, WMU officers, staff members, and other key leaders. In 1990, Allan Moseley became the pastor of FBC Durham and helped to prevent the church from affiliating with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Allan left in 1996 to become the dean of students and an Old Testament professor at Southeastern Seminary. He is still a SEBTS colleague, as well as the senior pastor of Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh.

In 1998, after a prolonged interim pastorate by SEBTS preaching professor Wayne McDill, Andy Davis became the new senior pastor of FBC Durham. Under Andy’s leadership, the church went through a period of significant turmoil between 1999 and 2003. You can read about that story in an article Andy wrote for 9 Marks Ministries. You can also listen to Andy’s interview with Mark Dever about the revitalization of FBC Durham. During this period, the church developed stronger ties with Southeastern Seminary, which is located about a half hour from the church’s building. Several professors and administrators and numerous SEBTS students have joined FBC Durham since the late 1990s. The church also developed ties with Southern Seminary, where Andy Davis earned a PhD in church history. By 2003, the church had become definitively, intentionally conservative in its doctrine. In 2008, the membership approved a change in the church’s polity from a committee-driven congregationalism to a plural-elder-led congregationalism.

In the past decade, the church has renewed its commitment to evangelism and missions. The church has always had a track record of emphasizing global missions. Over the years, dozens of members have served as overseas missionaries, including at least two pastors (Andy Davis served in Japan with the IMB in the mid-1990s). The church has also been committed to short-term overseas mission trips since the 1970s. We currently have five families and two single women serving with the International Mission Board. Another couple serves with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Numerous members have served as Journeymen with IMB in recent years. Members continue to annually participate in numerous short-term trips, most of them sponsored by our church. We are among the top 100 churches in the SBC in giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. In terms of North American missions, in recent years we have sent domestic church planters to southern Durham and Boston, as well as a NAMB-sponsored church revitalizer to Worcester, MA. We have sent short-term teams to Boston and Gulfport, MS. Many of our members are also involved in disaster relief ministries through North Carolina Baptist Men.

In and around Durham, we seek to share the gospel and meet physical needs through a variety of ministries. Our church works with Jobs for Life to provide basic vocational skills while sharing the good news with those who are without work. Several of our members partner with Child Evangelism Fellowship to work with inner-city children. We operate a Caring Center, which is a clothes closet serving those who live in the inner city. Once a year, we host a large cookout at a low-income apartment complex a couple of blocks from our church building. Twice a year, we host a Health Fair on our church’s campus, which provides free medical and dental services to folks in our community. Some of the church’s men have led Bible studies at a local prison for nearly four decades (they’ve never missed a week). We have a thriving ministry to internationals, most of whom are graduate students at Duke University and their families. Around one hundred internationals are in our church building and/or member’s homes every week for Bible study, corporate worship, ESL classes, or other ministries.

Our church has influence beyond our immediate area, in large part because of Andy Davis. Andy serves as a council member of The Gospel Coalition. He has a widely regarded expositional preaching ministry that has taken him all over America and to numerous other countries. He serves as a visiting professor of historical theology at SEBTS, where he teaches classes on the Reformation, the Puritans, and Jonathan Edwards. He regularly teaches missionaries overseas and helps walk churches through the process of reform and revitalization.

Andy is the author of a well-known and widely used booklet on Scripture memorization. He has also contributed to numerous books, including Why I Am A Baptist (B&H Academic, 2001), Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry (Founders, 2004), Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (B&H Academic, 2012), Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy (Founders, 2012), and The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (Crossway, 2012). He has also contributed articles to  the 9 Marks Journal, The Gospel Coalition website, Between the Times, and The Journal on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

We’ve also had a number of our members go on to serve in various full-time ministries. In addition to the aforementioned missionaries and church planters, numerous former members, most of them college or seminary students, have gone on to serve in various pastoral ministry positions. Several men serve as pastors or other ministry staff leaders in churches in North Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Florida. Current and former members serve as faculty members at Southeastern Seminary and Southwestern Seminary. Several former members serve with collegiate ministries such as CRU, Baptist Collegiate Ministries, and InterVarsity. Others have served as state convention servants, including a state paper editor.

God has blessed FBC Durham in numerous ways. We’re grateful for almost 170 years of gospel ministry. We pray for even greater faithfulness and fruitfulness in the years to come. If you live near Durham and you are looking for a good church home, I’d urge you to visit FBC Durham. You can find directions to our building and service times at our website.

(Image credit. For lots of great older pictures of FBC Durham’s buildings, check out this website as well.)