The Rev. Mark Caldwell, pastor of New Providence Baptist Church near Loudon, has attempted to follow God’s plan since finding a passion for Christ in high school.
Caldwell did not grow up in a Christian family with strong, godly influences. He began attending church while in high school in Anderson County.
“I’ve always been a little bit spiritually turned, looking for something,” he said. “As I kind of discovered a small church of about 50 members, where my mom is still a member, the pastor just was a good guy. They had a youth minister that cared for students. He just loved me and just kind of blessed me. My father died young in my life, so I didn’t have that influence as an adult. A couple of guys kind of stepped in and were just kind of a blessing to me.”
Caldwell said he excelled in school and sports, which led to his youth minister assigning him the role of “peer teacher.” By 19, he was a volunteer youth director and his influence in the community drew more youth to the congregation.
Employed at SunTrust Bank, he worked for 15 years while serving various churches.
When he moved to a church in Clinton, he was ordained and became youth pastor. He served there for 10 years.
“I loved youth ministry,” Caldwell said. “That was my heart and my goal. I wanted to stay in that. God just continued to speak to me as he was maturing me, and I was getting more opportunities to go and speak at another church and speak at a youth rally or revival or some kind of overnight lock-in. The more I did it, the more God kept calling me and telling me I needed to do this.”
Caldwell eventually realized he had a spiritual gift for teaching and began taking Bible classes before he “felt God calling” him to preach. He and his wife prayed about that decision for more than a year.
By that point, Caldwell had climbed the ladder in the corporate banking world. But it was unfulfilling.
“It was confirmed in my spirit on an airplane on my way to a business trip, flying to Miami,” he said. “It was kind of a strange midnight encounter with the Lord in my spirit. I arrived at the hotel, called (my wife) at like 1 a.m. when I got there and said, ‘God just spoke and has confirmed.’ She said, ‘I agree’.”
Caldwell began preaching and traveling to various churches. After a year of thinking he was meant to become an evangelist, God spoke again.
“I love sharing the gospel and all that, but I really didn’t want to deal with the stuff in the churches because I saw the politics and fussing and fighting and the deacons meetings,” he said. “Well, I didn’t want any part of that. I just wanted to preach. God said, ‘It doesn’t really matter what you want. You surrendered to me.’ We went all in. … He was calling me to pastor.”
Caldwell approached his wife about the new calling. She also knew the demands of being a pastor. He waited a year before answering God’s call.
He was first called to preach as a supply pastor. Shortly thereafter, a search committee from Union Baptist Church in Wartburg asked him to be pastor. He preached a trial sermon before spending five years there as senior pastor.
Caldwell said he was “content” and “ready to retire” at the church until God stepped in again.
“Then somebody from this community came,” he said. “(NPBC) had a fire, lost the facilities and just rebuilt that sanctuary. They had some debt. The church had some problems. Everybody had left. When I got there, there were 70 people here for my trial sermon. Brought my family out here that Sunday morning. I laugh a lot. I use a lot of humor and all that. I preached and nobody even smiled in that first trial service. I thought, ‘Oh, my word. This is not good’.”
He knew the church needed him and has been preaching there for nearly 23 years.
At NPBC, Caldwell realized a passion for missions and became the “dreamer” he is today. The church now supports missions locally and internationally.
The Rev. Phil Holmes, church member, said Caldwell’s emphasis on missions is one of the reasons he and his family settled at the church about 10 years ago.
“The thing that sticks out the most is that he — and because of him — the church is very mission-minded and always looking out for ways of sharing the gospel with other people, including people all around the world, not just in a local setting,” Holmes said. “But certainly including the local setting. That would be one of the things that is dear to our hearts as Leslie (Holmes, Phil’s wife) and I and our original three children were southern Baptist missionaries to the country of Peru and have always been very mission-minded ourselves. That was a key component in our search for a church that was so focused on missions.”
Holmes said Caldwell also preaches in an honest, passionate way.
“He preaches the word of God, and I think it’s not just man’s opinion, but there’s a phrase, ‘Dividing the word of God correctly,’ which just basically means expanding upon what the Bible is saying and explaining it,” Holmes said. “He does that with a great passion. He’s very passionate about God’s word and that matters because it’s not just man’s opinion. It is God speaking through his servant to instruct us how to live. … He’s always concerned about people who don’t know Christ as savior.”