By Laurie D. Willis
After the Rev. Chad R. Armstrong became pastor of Phillips Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in 2007, it didn’t take long for his congregation to notice his humility.
“During the first dinner we had at the church after he became pastor, we were planning on feeding him and his family to welcome him,” says Yvette Gray, a member of the church for ten years. “But he was asking us, ‘What can I do. Can I serve you?’ We were used to pastors expecting to be catered to, but Pastor was very humble and he and his wife served food.”
Apparently, Armstrong wasn’t just trying to make a good first impression. Members say he remains a servant leader at Phillips Chapel, which will celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary July 8-10.
“He has the heart of a servant,” says Gray, co-director of Youth Church at “The Chapel,” as Phillips is affectionately called. “He’s humble, but he’s a great leader. That’s important because you can’t lead if you can’t serve – or at least you can’t be an effective leader if you won’t serve.”
Suffice it to say, Phillips Chapel members consider Armstrong effective. Membership has grown during his tenure and the church is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to construct an annex to the North Glenn Avenue edifice. A banner at the rear of the pulpit bears a rendering of the anticipated addition and proclaims Nehemiah 4:6 – “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof; for the people had a mind to work.” Completion is expected in 2020.
“He’s a visionary,” Gray adds. “It’s going to take quite a pretty penny to get it built, but I think with his leadership we’ll be able to do it. I think Pastor Armstrong is the person who’s going to be able to propel our ministry from the traditional setting into a forward direction.”
Dr. Dorothy Bailey agrees that Armstrong is the right man for Phillips Chapel. She says she joined the church in 1971 when the Rev. Charles W. Leak was pastor and has worshipped under four pastors since.
“When I first met him I thought God sent him and he was for real,” says Bailey, the church historian. “He has a humble attitude and a humble spirit and people really flock to him. I liked him from the outset and I think others liked him right away, too.
“I truly believe God anointed him to keep us on the move,” she adds. “He’s been good for the church because he’s determined to forge a spirit-filled path for us and he keeps pressing forward with our mission of changing lives by moving from membership to discipleship to ministry in the spirit of excellence.:
‘A dynamic preacher-teacher’
Armstrong, who has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from N.C. A&T State University and a master’s in divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, isn’t overly flamboyant in the pulpit, which seems to suit his congregants just fine.
“I think he’s a dynamic preacher-teacher,” Gray says. “I like that he’s kind of traditional in the Baptist sense with his preaching style, but he’s also a teacher. That’s important when you’re thinking about your spiritual walk and your growth. You want to have a preacher that can actually teach you and not just point the finger at you.”
Armstrong might not carry a “fire and brimstone” message like some preachers, but he packs a good punch in the pulpit, nonetheless. On a recent Sunday, he delivered a powerful message from Timothy 2:14-19 titled “The Power in Knowing,” which prompted some to stand to their feet, elicited shouts of “Amen” from others, and seemed to resonate. His command during that May 22 sermon belied the uneasiness he sometimes feels while preaching.
“I still get nervous because of the inadequacy I feel in speaking on behalf of a perfect God,” Armstrong says. “It’s always my hope and intent that as I teach-preach His word, those who hear it will be encouraged, changed, challenged and even provoked to accept His message for a new life.”
Armstrong, who lives in Pfafftown with his wife Angela and children Chassity and Kyla, has been a pastor since 1999. He wasn’t receptive to preaching when he first got the call at 16 but says by the time he turned 27 he’d “yielded to the purpose of God” and hasn’t looked back.
“The hardest part of pastoring is trying to create oneness amongst a diverse group of people at various stages in their spiritual journey to focus and fulfill a greater purpose,” Armstrong says. “My greatest reward is seeing people transform from living lives of despair to victorious lives.”
Greater appreciation for diversity
Armstrong said Phillips Chapel has developed a greater appreciation for diversity and “a greater demonstration of love that reaches beyond the exterior and touches the essence of people’s existence” since he arrived. It’s important to him, he said, to pastor a church where members talk about love and openly express it.
Armstrong believes churches should make people feel welcomed. Yet, he cautions against straying from God’s word.
“Due to the liberal thinking in the political arena and the separation of church and state, we’ve created a society with a deteriorating spiritual fabric,” Armstrong says. “Because of many benefits granted to the non-profit organizations, particularly churches, they’re quite often challenged when it comes to standing on their beliefs.
“With respect to gay rights,” he says, “we’re currently discussing the need to address the various ideals that have become more prevalent in this day and time. Yet, we’re certainly under our convictions that God’s holy Bible has not changed, and as we dialogue about where we stand as a church, it’s clear God’s word will be the dominant factor and govern our position.”
Phillips Chapel has about 750 members on the roll and 275 or so who attend regularly. Sunday school begins at 9:30 a.m. and worship begins at 10:45. There’s also a noon Bible study and Wednesday night Bible study at 7 p.m. The church has five choirs, several configurations of praise teams and fourteen associate ministers serving in various capacities. The average membership age is between 45 and 55 years.
“We’ve got a lot of young people but we’ve got some seniors at our church, too,” says Clyde Glenn, a church deacon. “Pastor Armstrong can relate to people on all age levels and he doesn’t show any partiality toward any individual. He treats everybody the same, and so does his family.”
Glenn and his wife Emma have been members of Phillips Chapel for forty-four years and he’s been a deacon for forty-two of those years. He says Armstrong delivers pragmatic messages with power, authority and clarity, and is approachable and lacks armor-bearers.
S.C. shooting raises awareness
Although Armstrong doesn’t have bodyguards, the church is more vigilant in wake of last year’s massacre at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.
“The horrific event certainly caused us to raise our awareness on campus to ensure the safety of members and visitors alike,” Armstrong says. “We’ve made some changes within the church facility and added more personnel to our security team to give us more coverage during on-site activities. We’re more diligent and intentional in creating a place of worship that enables worshippers to do what they came to do – worship and praise God.”
A former executive with John Deere, Armstrong serves fulltime at Phillips Chapel, where he’s usually at work unless he’s visiting sick church members. When he’s not working, Armstrong enjoys reading, traveling, exercising and spending time with his family, which includes young adult children Malai and Asa who live in Charlotte. He’s been a diehard Washington Redskins fan since age 7, and he enjoys watching college basketball, particularly the North Carolina Tar Heels.
“Because of the demands of the ministry, sometimes it’s challenging to find time for my hobbies,” Armstrong says. “However, I’ve grown to realize it’s vital that I etch out some time to maintain a balanced life.”
When he deems it appropriate, Armstrong incorporates sports into his message because he fervently believes it’s critical to connect the scriptures and listeners to show God’s relevancy.
“The world is in a chaotic state and until we return to the biblical principles of God’s word we will continue to experience devastations,” Armstrong predicts. “I do understand that times change and we are a progressive nation. However, God changes not, and His will is clear…”
Armstrong is excited about Phillips Chapel’s future, particularly next month’s anniversary. Plans are for a dinner featuring a gospel artist on July 8; a free Friends and Family Day at the church on July 9; and a seventy-fifth anniversary worship service at 10:45 a.m. on July 10.
Tickets costs $35 for adults and $25 for children up to age 11 and can be purchased at www.phillipschapel.com, where more information about the anniversary is located.
“As we look to share our past and envision our future, I’m excited and thankful to serve God in such a wonderful capacity,” Armstrong says. “Serving God’s people at Phillip’s Chapel has been a wonderful journey and I look forward to the continued growth, progression and empowerment to fulfill our assignments.”