Thirty-three years ago, Tri-Cities Baptist Church launched as a new congregation in upper East Tennessee. One family that has been a part of this church body from those early beginnings is Gene and Gayle Mermilliod. Over the last three decades, Pastor Gene has served as a consistent, steady, and wise pastor of the flock. Gene has faithfully taught God’s Word, cared for God’s people, served the body of Christ globally, led our student ministry, served on our elder team, provided oversight for the church’s finances, and he’s also led in worship with his acoustic guitar! Pastor Gene has been a rare example of servant leadership and integrity while serving for over 30 years at the same local church. What a gift!
A few weeks ago, our elders shared with the church family that Gene would be shifting from serving as our Stewardship Pastor to a new role as Care Pastor at TCBC. This role will include caring for our missionaries and partners serving across the US and around the world. He will also provide care for our very own staff team and leaders. Gene and Gayle are both gifted in unique ways that allow them to walk alongside families who find themselves in particularly difficult situations by providing a stable presence and biblical wisdom.
There is so much that we can learn from someone who has faithfully served in the same church for over three decades. As we recognize Pastor Gene’s faithfulness, I thought it might be enlightening to hear from him: how he views the past and how he is looking forward to the future.
Pastor Gene, what has been the most challenging aspect of serving at the same local congregation for 33 years?
Change – in that we have seen over the years many changes in personnel (staff), the makeup of our congregation, and our methodology in ministry. The Mission is still the same: “Go make disciples of all the nations” – it never changes, but the way we go about making disciples and expanding our influence around the world has changed dramatically. There is no telling how many lives we have impacted for Christ over the past 33 years, but there are always new people joining into the family of God at TCBC who we need to assimilate into the life of this body of Christ, and there are many who long to be better trained in their faithful walk of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is no small matter and we take it very seriously. It is the greatest challenge we will face till Jesus returns for His bride – the church.
What has been the most rewarding part of a 33-year tenure at the same church?
Seeing the faithfulness of Christ to build His church and to help us to become more like Him. I can remember when our property was nothing but pasture land. There were no roads, no buildings, no infrastructure – only grass and trees. But through the years the Lord has raised up a faithful body of believers who have sacrificially invested in this local church to erect buildings for ministry purposes, provide biblical training for all who desire to grow in godliness, and to send our folks out to their neighbors across the street and to the ends of the earth. We had big dreams when we first began as a church nearly 33 years ago, but the Lord has far exceeded them all.
What is at least one vital lesson you’ve learned during your time here at TCBC?
How to walk by faith! These buildings didn’t erect themselves. Like many other families in our church, Gayle and I have heavily invested in this church over the years by learning how to live generously. The same would be true regarding discipling men and women to walk in faithfulness to the Lord. It has also been our joy to participate in sending disciples to the ends of the earth. One of the great privileges I have received has been the Lord making it possible for me to represent our church in so many places around the world – Romania, Hungary, Portugal, India, the Amazon, Thailand, Laos, all over central America, and several countries in Africa. I would never have imagined as a young man what the Lord had in store for me and how He would use Tri-Cities Baptist Church in my life to broaden my worldview and to instill in me a passion for the nations. Not to mention in the midst of all that, God enabled Gayle and me to raise six children – now that will test your faith! The writer of Hebrews said in 11:6, that without faith, it is impossible to please God. If you want to please God, you have to not only believe that He exists, but that He is the rewarder of those who genuinely seek Him.
What would be your advice to young followers of Jesus and young leaders in the church about remaining faithful?
Faithfulness is the result of intentionally seeking the will of the Lord every day of our lives. Recognizing that we are completely dependent upon God to make us more like Jesus. Philippians 2:13 tells us that it is God who is at work in us both to give us the desire and the power to live for His good pleasure. All we have to do is to cooperate with God by surrendering our will to His, and to let Him do what He does best without resistance from us. It is always better to cooperate with God so that He doesn’t have to operate on us. Jesus said, “He who has My commandment and keeps (obeys) them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest (reveal, disclose) Myself to him. God desires to make Himself known to us. He does this through our daily walk of obedience. The old hymn writer got it right when he or she said, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus – but to trust and obey.”
What are you most excited about as you look ahead to your next season of ministry?
New challenges. I don’t want to get stale or complacent in my walk with the Lord. Life is too short, too precious to waste time just punching a clock and depositing a paycheck. I am interested to see what the Lord has yet for me to learn and to grow in His grace. I want to be like Caleb when the land of Canaan was being divided out, who said to Joshua at the age of 85, “Now therefore, give me this mountain (to conquer…) It may be that the Lord will be with me to drive them out (the inhabitants of the land) as the Lord said.” (Joshua 14:12) I heard someone once say, “We can rest when we get to heaven.” Certainly, there is still work to be done here in this life. I’m 68, but I have no intention of retiring so long as the Lord gives me strength and the mental capacity to serve Him. I don’t mean to say that it is wrong to retire from your vocation, but that doesn’t mean we should retire from serving the Lord so long as He continues to give us breath. Please pray for me that I will end my days well in my service to the Lord.
On behalf of the elders and a grateful church family, we love you Gene.
Elder Oversight Team / Lead Pastor, Global Outreach
Mike Laughrun has served as Lead Pastor at Tri-Cities Baptist Church since January of 2011. He and his wife Jennifer have been married since 1995 and have five children.