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Arnold honored for 20 years of service

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By Jennifer Caldwell

People are always making plans.  

But no matter how much time and energy is devoted to planning out the most minute details of life, careers and the future, hindsight seems to prove that the master plan of God often involves something much greater.

Looking back more than 20 years Ronnie Arnold, pastor of Cedar Hill Baptist Church, is able to see with great clarity that despite his own plans God had designs on his life, and grace is the resounding theme.

Last Sunday what Arnold thought was to be an old fashioned day turned out to be a day filled with surprises in honor of his 20th year with the church. And while he seems quite comfortable with the leaving the plans of his ministry in God’s hands these days, the soft spoken pastor said this was not always the case.

Before entering the ministry Arnold had a budding career with the promise of material wealth. Married to his wife, Kathy, whom he had met at church, the Knoxville native said they had decided against having children. When Kathy announced one day in 1980 that she was pregnant the first strand in Arnold’s carefully laid plan began to be unraveled by God.

Unnerved by his wife’s revelation, Arnold recalled confiding in a co-worker that he was contemplating divorce.

“He (the co-worker) said you don’t need to get a divorce, you just need to get your life right with the Lord,” Arnold said.

Following the birth of his first daughter in 1981, the father of four said it was his wife who was ready to call it quits.  

“In 1981 Kathy filed for divorce,” the veteran pastor said. “I had not been a very good husband.”

It was in the midst of those difficult circumstances that God arranged a divine appointment that would inevitably alter the Arnold family’s course.

During the time of their pending divorce Arnold said unlike his wife he was not involved in church. So when Charlie Grigsby, then pastor of Parkway Baptist Church, showed up at the door one evening Arnold said he had no idea the visit was intended for him.

On that first meeting Grigsby made subtle inquiries into Arnold’s spiritual condition, but didn’t press the issue.  Over time that seemingly chance meeting turned into a friendship that proved to be the balm Arnold said his spirit so desperately needed.

“He (Grigsby) was the only one through that whole period of time that said man I love you and I’m praying for you,” an emotional Arnold said as he spoke of the man who eventually led him to salvation.

Immediately following his conversion Arnold said he heard God saying “I’ve got more for you to do,” but the first order of business was putting his marriage back together. Once that was accomplished God really started getting busy, Arnold recalled.

While studying the book of Nehemiah in 1983, Arnold said God showed him that his business partner, Ray Hiller, would reveal what he was to do in the ministry.

Fast forward to May 1984 when Arnold received his divine message following a meeting with Hiller to celebrate a recent success.

“He (Hiller) looked at me and told me ‘you aren’t doing what God wants you to do.‘  He told me he and his wife had discussed it and if I wanted to go to seminary they would make a way for me to go,” Arnold said laughing at how stunned he was even though God had already told him what He was going to do.

Arnold and his growing family soon found themselves in Memphis at Mid America Theological Seminary where he earned a Master of Divinity degree.

Following a brief time as a church planter in Arkansas he soon found his way to Campbell County.

“Cedar Hill was my first paid position. We had a membership of about 65 when I started and I was the only employee,” Arnold said smiling as he recalled the time when he was responsible not only for preparing the sermons, but also typing the bulletins and running down to the Campbell County Baptist Association office on Saturday night to make copies.

While Cedar Hill Baptist Church has seen changes over the last 20 years including the addition more than 400 new members, a new parsonage, family life center, additional staff and construction of a new sanctuary Arnold’s commitment to the Lord, his congregation and community has remained the same.

Arnold’s passion for being a servant is evidenced by the testimonies of countless church members he has impacted throughout his ministry.

For Jeff Evans, who has attended Cedar Hill since 1992, it is Arnold’s commitment to reaching the lost and ministering to the community that has had the greatest impact.

“Ronnie is without question the best pastor I've ever had. He exemplifies a servant's heart and shows the love of Christ to everyone. He openly shares the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone he comes into contact with. Ronnie has poured himself into the folks at Cedar Hill and this community for 20 years,” Evans said.

Fellow church member, Pam Lay, echoed Evans’ sentiments.

“Ronnie loves God and it shows in everything he does.  He is just a spectacular man that God has blessed us with,” Lay said of her pastor of 16 years.

Cedar Hill deacon Larry Ogden said Arnold’s boldness in sharing the gospel and ministering to those in need is unrivaled.

Ogden recalled making a hospital visit with Arnold to a church member who was gravely injured.

“Ronnie just went through where he wasn’t supposed to be and sat on the side of Rusty’s bed and prayed for him,” Ogden said adding that the man who had been unresponsive and in a coma for several day as a result of being attacked by dogs responded to Arnold’s prayers and eventually made a full recovery.

When Georgia Valentour and her husband, Jim, were looking for a church home nine years ago, again it was Arnold’s servant-like spirit that drew them to the church.

“Ronnie is a real people person who never meets a stranger and is friendly to all. He has a servant's heart. He constantly puts his own needs, even his own health, aside to be with those in crisis. No distance is too far, no time is too long, no task is too great and no person too much a stranger for him to immediately go to them when he learns of a need. His ministry extends not only to Cedar Hill and all of Campbell County but across the nation as well,” Valentour added.

Although Arnold is completely at ease in his ministry he is far less comfortable with the accolades.

“This is not about me. It is about God, “Arnold said of the last 20 years adding that his wife has played a vital role in the success of both his ministry and their family.

With a faithful congregation and devoted family Arnold may seem to have reached the pinnacle of his career, but he is still approaching each new day the only way he knows how and that is through brokenness.

“If we are going to be totally used of God then we have to be broken before Him,” Arnold said.

As for now, Arnold feels like God has more work for him to do here.

“I can’t see that our work is done yet.  Whether it’s here or some place else my wife and I are going to keep ministering like we do,” Arnold concluded.