By Marlana Ward
As the class of 2017 prepares for their lives outside of high school and beyond Johnson County, representatives of the Johnson County Ministerial Alliance celebrated the graduates’ achievement with their annual Baccalaureate Service on May 11th. Eighteen Johnson County High School (JCHS) seniors were in attendance along with supportive friends, family, teaching staff, and school board administration.
The evening began with Pastor Ricky Campbell of First Baptist Church, which served as the host church for the night, welcoming those in attendance and praying to begin the event. Pastor Dwayne Dickson of First Christian Church then gave special recognition to guests from the school system who made it a priority to attend the service.
Cora Hayworth and McKenzie Robinson provided the music for the night by performing the contemporary Christian hits “I Will Trust in You” and “Oceans”. Following the musical performance, Pastor Con Sauls of Mountain City Presbyterian Church took to the podium to introduce the guest speaker for the service, Haley Wherry.
Wherry serves as Executive Director of First Priority Blue Ridge. First Priority is a non-denominational ministry that focuses on helping students with their Christian faith as they face opposition from the world. Wherry carries a special burden for those in local colleges as he and his wife have two children of college age themselves. By offering students a safe place to ask questions and study God’s Word, First Priority hopes to positively affect not only the lives of students seeking counsel but also the world as a whole.
The message of the evening was entitled “What’s N.E.X.T.?”. The first point of the acronym was “N” for the fact that nepotism must die. Wherry’s statement was that while an individual may be born into a Christian family, their parent’s beliefs was not simply bestowed upon them by association and would not provide salvation for the their own lives. As the student enters into adulthood, their relationship with God would now be completely up to them to pursue and build. Wherry used the passage Matthew 7:21-23 to show how even if you knew who Jesus was, you did not have the proper relationship with him unless you had accepted him as Savior for yourself.
Eagerly pursue Christ was the next point in the message as letter “E”. Wherry explained to the students that as soon as they stepped onto a college campus, it would not be the Christian-minded groups or ministries pursuing them but rather the world pursuing them. “The world pursues you and the world is relentless,” Wherry expressed. “You must pursue growth of your faith yourself.” He encouraged students to not become part of the statistic that shows between 60 and 80 percent of Christian youths lose their faith during their years at university. “The ones that pursue their faith are some of the most dynamic people I know,” added Wherry. “They ask questions and find their faith. Those that remain in faith are changing the world.”
The following point in the message was to expect exponential pressure and attacks on your faith represented by the letter “X“. Wherry cautioned the future college students to be ready to withstand attacks on their faith from the world. He shared how attacks may not always come in the form of an open enemy but may be brought by trusted advisors, professors, and other would-be mentors. “You will experience challenges you have never experienced or thought about before,” said Wherry. “When a professor is telling you that God does not exist, if you don’t have a relationship with God, they can convince you.” Wherry pointed everyone to Romans 12:2 which states: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Wherry also gave 1 Corinthians 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” to give hope that no matter what they may face, God is with them and will give them what they need to maintain and build their faith if they will seek relationship with Him.
The final letter of the message’s acronym was “T” which stood as a symbol for the cross. Wherry shared how the cross was a symbol for execution and the fact that one must die to self and selfish, worldly lusts. He used the scripture “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) to show how though God gives us freedom to choose what path we take, the ways of the world are not of God and should be abstained from. Wherry encouraged the young adults to follow God’s plan and path as they set out on their lives being responsible for themselves with Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Following the message, Pastor James Bowman of First Christian Church and Pastor Joshua Giddings of Hammons Chapel Christian Church presented the graduates with a copy of the book Truth Matters as well as a notepad portfolio and pen from the Ministerial Alliance. Upon receiving their gifts, each graduate faced the crowd and shared what their future plans were for college and career. After the service, a reception in honor of the class of 2017 was held in the First Baptist fellowship hall.