Upon accepting his new role as pastor of First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs, Shivers chose to step back into a world once intimately familiar. The symmetry in that decision lies in the fact that the 54-year-old grew up in this same house of worship — led by his late father, E.B. Shivers, who was its pastor from 1959 to 1980.
“It’s definitely a different world [here] than the one I grew up in, that’s for sure,” said the married father of two, whose first service was Aug. 11.
These days, Shivers finds himself embracing more and more differences.
For starters, he opted to leave the quiet rural environs of the Indiana church he pastored for the past 15 years — it stands in a cornfield — for the change of pace that is hustling, bustling metro Atlanta.
The laidback, third-generation man of the cloth delivers sermons with the patience and skill of a natural-born storyteller. Restoring his church to what it was in its heyday is a cross he bears gladly.
“There a lot of great churches in Atlanta, but we’ll find our niche. We’ll find out how to minister to our community,” Shivers said.
“The church I grew up in Sandy Springs was like your family …and we want to make it that way again.”
Again, things have changed around here — not all for the better.
When the younger Shivers left Atlanta, the First Baptist congregation numbered in the several hundreds.
By the time he was offered the position of pastor earlier this summer, its membership had dwindled to a few dozen.
Consider his arrival the shot in the arm the church has been missing.
David Beasley has never changed his membership from First Baptist of Sandy Springs. He routinely makes the drive from his home in Cherokee County to Sunday worship services.
He grew up in the church along with Shivers and was among the first to welcome his old friend back.
“It’s worth the drive to come back and be a part of it — helping David rebuild the church to its former glory,” said Beasley. “It’s just a very special experience.”
Attendance there has doubled in that time — more than enough cause for optimism.
Still, First Baptist’s easygoing leader is taking it all in stride.
“We still have a long ways to go … baby steps, like my wife [Jeanne] said,” Shivers said. “The only way to eat an elephant is a bite at a time.
“It’s almost like we’re starting a mission church all over again … and that’s exciting.”