One of Ky.’s largest churches has one of youngest pastors

Published 6:15 am Sunday, June 17, 2018

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Blake Hodges sometimes feels like pinching himself to make sure he’s not dreaming.

Six months ago, at 24, he became pastor of Highview Baptist Church’s expansive East campus in Louisville.

Hodges brought a humility into the role that contrasts with the enormity of the church building, one of only a handful in the state big enough to host the annual meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the state’s largest religious organization.

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“I understand the graciousness of Christ to place me here,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the Highview community, how well I’ve been loved, how well I’ve treated, how well I’ve been encouraged.”

Hodges and his wife, Devan, had chosen Highview as their home church three years before he was called as pastor. They started attending when they moved to Louisville to begin his graduate studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He received his Master of Divinity degree earlier this month.

When only a member of Highview East, Hodges, who turned 25 in January, had been called on to fill in occasionally. People quickly recognized his giftedness.

“When I first heard him, I was amazed that such wisdom came from such a young man,” said Garnetta Smith, a longtime member of Highview. “It was obvious to me, and others, that God had gifted this man to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with urgency, compassion and conviction. He is truly one of the best expositors I have heard.”

Highview has a history of topnotch preachers, among them, Kevin Ezell, who is now president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, and Kevin Smith, who is now executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Ezell was Highview’s senior pastor from 1996 to 2010. Smith was teaching pastor there from 2013 to 2016.

Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood said he’s pleased to be hearing good reports from Highview East and the new campus pastor.

“Blake should serve as a reminder to everyone that age is no obstacle to preaching the gospel anywhere at any time,” Chitwood said. “There are no limits on how God will use people who are wholly sold out to Him.”

Hodges grew up at First Baptist Church in Princeton, where his father, Dane, is worship pastor. And, during his college years, he attended Hardin Baptist Church, another of the state’s largest congregations. Both are conservative, evangelical congregations where Hodges routinely saw lives changed through the preaching of God’s word.

Highview’s senior pastor, Aaron Harvie, said Hodges had the characteristics needed to lead the East campus. Harvie said Hodges is kingdom focused, intrinsically motivated, humble, courageous, loyal and faithful.

“Blake clearly demonstrates all of these characteristics in leading people to Jesus,” Harvie said. “Blake is a servant and he has great relationship skills. His character and his capacity became evident and God turned my attention to him. His age didn’t present a problem. God is more than capable to use anyone, even someone young.”

Harvie said scripture is filled with examples of God using the young to accomplish big tasks, including Timothy who the Apostle Paul exhorted to not allow his age to be a hinderance.

“But I had to be honest with our people and not ignore his age, and we developed a clear plan to hand over all responsibilities to Blake,” Harvie said. “Blake is doing a fantastic job. He is leading people to Jesus, and we are seeing God move in incredible ways at East.”

Being pastor at Highview East had not even been on the radar for Hodges, who, with his wife, had been praying about whether to become either church planters or international missionaries. But Hodges said the Lord made clear to them both that they were destined to serve at Highview East.

Early last year, Hodges had told the Lord privately in prayer that he would gladly serve as pastor at Highview East. A few months later, Harvie approached him about the possibility, triggering tears of joy.

“I broke down in thanksgiving that God would use us here,” Hodges said.

Smith, director of the Center for Student Success at Southern seminary, said Hodges is “highly relational” and has quickly gotten to know the names of everyone at Highview East while also working hard to bring new people in.

“Blake is intentional about evangelism and puts himself in places to influence the lost,” Smith said. “I am seeing a lot of new faces and many of them young families, which I see as a sign of health and growth.”

Smith said no one considers Blake’s age as a hindrance.

“Blake is younger than my youngest son,” she said, “but I gladly follow his leadership because he is following Christ.”