Popular Charlotte pastor resigns

The Rev. Joe Brown ROBERT LAHSER -
The Rev. Joe Brown ROBERT LAHSER -

The Rev. Joe Brown, who was one of Charlotte’s most popular preachers for many years, has left Northside Baptist Church, where he became the senior pastor two years ago.

Brown, 68, announced his resignation during the church’s May 28 service, but also told his flock from the pulpit that it wouldn’t become effective until Dec. 31.

That effective date was later moved up to June 1 – the same day the church’s board of deacons met. According to a letter sent to the congregation on Thursday, the board was presented with a recommendation that Brown’s resignation become effective immediately, “which would allow more time for Dr. Brown to focus on his family.”

Brown told the Observer on Friday that he offered to stay on until the end of the year because “I didn’t want to leave them in the lurch. But they said they had it covered.”

A search committee to find a new pastor has already been mobilized and will update the congregation every week, said the Rev. Steve Goode, who was tapped to be the church’s interim CEO.

In that letter to the congregation, the church announced not only Brown’s June 1 exodus, but also the departures of four other high-profile leaders. Those included Brown’s son, Timothy, who had been a pastor at Northside Baptist, and Tony Fajardo, who will leave as the head of Northside Christian Academy at the end of the current school year.

Joe Brown came out of retirement in 2015 to take the helm at Northside Baptist. His hire was greeted with great fanfare, with the congregation voting “by overwhelming majority,” in the words of the church’s Facebook page, to give him the job.

Brown had previously been pastor for 26 years at Hickory Grove Baptist, which grew during his tenure to become the largest Protestant church in Charlotte and the biggest Southern Baptist church in the Carolinas. Brown was a famous face for years on local Charlotte TV, which aired his popular sermons and services every Sunday morning from 17,000-member Hickory Grove Baptist.

Brown retired in 2011, but agreed to take the post at Northside Baptist four years later.

Northside Baptist has also played a prominent role in the religious history of Charlotte. It was once the city’s largest church. And for a long time, it led conservative campaigns against liquor-by-the-drink, abortion and homosexuality.

By the 1970s, it had grown to 6,400 members and launched Northside Christian Academy. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the nationally renowned preacher who founded the Moral Majority, spoke at the 1990 funeral of the church’s founding pastor, the Rev. Jack Hudson, a fundamentalist preacher who’d once been a dirt-track racer.

When Brown arrived at Northside Baptist, it had lost many of its members and was trying to rebound.

“I told them when I came that this is not going to be something long-term,” Brown said Friday. “I’d be there two years and help them get into shape to become a healthy church.”

Brown said his son, who had also preached at Northside Baptist, is a professor of theology at Southern Evangelical Seminary. “He decided at this point in his life to go ahead and concentrate on that,” his father said.

The church’s letter also announced the resignations of Andy Williamson, who had been chairman of the board of deacons, and business administrator Pamela Wedding.

Replacing Fajardo as head of Northside Christian Academy will be Van Wade, who is an alumnus, the church’s letter said.

“Everybody decided to leave at the same time,” Joe Brown said. “They didn’t fire any of us.”

Though he has left his job as a full-time pastor, Brown said he is available to fill in as an intern pastor at churches who could use his help.

“I’ve already had calls from guys to fill in.” he said. “My specialty is to go in and apply leadership skills – put the right people in the right jobs.”

And Brown said he has not lost his desire to deliver sermons. “That’ll never change,” he said. “God called me to preach.”