After 39 years of serving Grace Baptist Church, Pastor Joel Almaroad said that while many things can change in ministry, the message of the Gospel never will. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
After 39 years of serving Grace Baptist Church, Pastor Joel Almaroad said that while many things can change in ministry, the message of the Gospel never will. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
A Madison pastor who has served with the same congregation nearly four decades almost chose to pursue another path during his college years.

Joel Almaroad planned to pursue a career that would allow him to work with his father at the family farm in Georgia. Yet he heard a calling he just couldn't ignore.

"My dad was a pecan farmer," Almaroad said. "That was kind of my dream."

In fact, Almaroad spent a year in agriculture school before making a change to ministry.

"The Lord just kept putting it on my heart," he said.

Almaroad attended Bob Jones University in South Carolina before going to Temple Theological Seminary in Tennessee.

He served as an interim pastor in Georgia and youth pastor a short time before he and his wife moved to Madison to accept a full-time ministry position as a senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church.

"The Lord led us here," Almaroad said. "When I came here, it just felt right."

And it's felt right for the last 39 years.

Almaroad remembers his first trip to Madison and seeing the town as he traveled over the hill. It reminded him of Jesus looking upon Jerusalem, he said.

"When I first came to Madison, people were so friendly," he said. "And they still are."

Almaroad first began his ministry with Grace Baptist Church while the church was still called the Madison Independent Baptist and met in a rented building located in downtown Madison.

The congregation began looking for a permanent home just a few months after Almaroad joined the church as its senior pastor.

Members of the congregation agreed to purchase four acres on Madison's hilltop, where the Grace Baptist Church building is located on Montclair Street, off Wilson Avenue.

"We started here with $30 in a building fund," Almaroad said.

Twenty months later, the congregation held services in the new building - without any outstanding debt to be paid.

"The money just slowly started coming in," he said.

The church congregation recognized the need for a church building, and people stepped forward to help meet that need. That's one thing that hasn't changed during his 39 years at Grace Baptist, Almaroad said. The congregation has continued to provide assistance for projects throughout the years, including four expansions.

Almaroad said he has noticed changes in ministry throughout his years in Madison, such as the changes in the way people think and the different styles of worship in today's churches.

Worship services at Grace Baptist Church have remained primarily the same over the years, he said, and services aren't contemporary like other church services throughout the nation.

"It's not a lot of hype," Almaroad said. "We're not here for the purpose of entertaining. It's what the Bible says."

Even though Almaroad's preaching has changed a little over the years, he's never been a topical preacher, he said. Instead, he likes to delve into what the books of the Bible have to say and gain a greater understanding for what the words really mean to the congregation. He's currently teaching from the book of John during services - and he's been doing so for the better part of the year.

"Buildings and events are nothing compared to the gospel," he said.

Almaroad most relates to a verse in 1 Corinthians in his ministry, he said. Verse 16 in the King James Version says, "For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel."

"I do what I do because of necessity," not for glory, he said. "The objective is for people to see their need (for salvation)."

Still, delivering the word isn't the only part of Almaroad's work as a pastor.

The church holds prayer meetings and Bible studies throughout the week. He also works with the congregation for spiritual counseling and visits members of the church throughout the week.

"I think it means a lot to people to have their pastor when they're in the hospital," he said.

Almaroad said he has watched several members of the congregation grow, marry and raise children of their own throughout the years and performed many marriages throughout his 39 years with the church.

"I'll be marrying second generations before too long," he said.

Even though he planned to stay when he and his family first moved to Madison in 1973, Almaroad still considers it a privilege to be at the same church for nearly four decades.

"It's been a wonderful experience for me," he said. "I'm going to stay at it as long as the Lord lets me."