Rev. Nelson Grist has accepted a call to pastor Rocky Creek Baptist Church in Monroe County and is embracing the challenge to revitalize a congregation in the midst of a pandemic that has been without stable leadership for several years and is also facing major repair to its building after broken pipes flooded it. He has no doubt that God is calling him to be at Rocky Creek Baptist right now and that He is using him in His plan.
Grist most recently pastored Orchard Hill Baptist Church for 11 years. He retired from that position because God told him it was time. He said the congregation at Orchard Hill was in a good place, and he left feeling good about his tenure there.
“I couldn’t continue because God had released me,” he said. “I told them I would help with whatever I needed to do, but to stay would be out of His will.”
Grist said that on the Sunday that Orchard Hill voted for their new pastor, 20 minutes later he got a call that Rocky Creek had voted unanimously to call him as its new pastor.
“I was praying for affirmation,” he said. “It was a sweet moment. It was exciting.”
Grist spent years as a high school coach before entering ministry full time, and he loves challenges. He describes himself as “ADHD,” always active and rushing with all his energy into the task at hand. He stands a tall 6’3’’ or 6’4” and was a college 7’ high jumper. And he says being a coach and being a pastor have a lot in common.
He says that one thing he is never distracted from is God’s scripture. He said God’s plan and direction is in the Bible, and whoever reads it will know what they should do. Grist grew up in East Point; he went to DeKalb Community College and then to North Carolina State on a football scholarship. He changed from football to track, finished his degree and began teaching history and coaching football and track in Clayton County. He moved to Stockbridge High School and then McIntosh High School in Fayette County, where he stayed seven years.
Then he began teaching at Landmark Christian, which is known for its success in track, and taught and coached there for three years, twice being named Coach of the Year over coaches from larger schools. While he was at Landmark Christian, he felt God calling him into full-time ministry. He resigned and went to seminary.
“I thought I would be a hip youth evangelist,” he said.
He pastored a church in Jonesboro, but he found he had his priorities wrong. He loved God’s people, but he had to love God first and let Him make the decisions. When he put God first and the people second, things began to fall into place.
“It’s not my church; it’s God’s church. He called me to lead under His direction,” said Grist. “Pastors are sheepdogs of God’s church. Without the team you have nothing. There’s not a lot of difference between coaching and preaching.”
Subsequently he pastored a church in Valdosta for seven years before coming to Orchard Hill. In 2010 he was asked to help coach the football team at Faith Christian Academy in Griffin and saw the “little eight-man team” go to state playoffs. He said that wrapped up his passion for coaching and let him know that preaching is his heart’s desire. He said he knows there is always someone else who needs to hear God’s word.
He works part time at a fitness club where he works out daily; God opens doors for him there to talk to people about their spiritual health as they work on their physical health. He said physical, spiritual and emotional health are tied together, and one must keep the three aspects balanced and each healthy for the whole to be healthy.
Grist has been married to Kim, his high school sweetheart, for 39 years. They have three sons, 37-year-old Christopher, who lives in Texas; Zachary, 27; and Micah, 26; and two granddaughters, 13 and 9. In addition to working full time and helping Grist with his ministry, Kim has written a series of about 12 historical Christian romances and is a successful author.
Zachary has Down Syndrome. Christopher was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago and initially given only two years to live. Another aspect of his family is that they raise champion Rottweilers. He said they keep his home well protected. In fact his male dog had a featured role in a Stephen King film. But mostly the family enjoys the big dogs as good companions.
Recently Grist’s whole family, including him, Zachary and Christopher, had COVID, but all have recovered. Grist lost 14 pounds before the virus ran its course. He sees it as a sign that the Devil is worried about all the good things that are about to happen at Rocky Creek.
“I haven’t missed a day of preaching or school in 20 years and then I’m sick for two Sundays,” said Grist. “The Devil is messing with us. God has a plan for Rocky Creek.”
He said there is a good foundation to build on at the church and some good people ready to do God’s work at the church. He invites everyone to come see what God is going to do. The church is off Johnstonville Road west of I-75, at 225 Rocky Creek Road.