A light for Jesus
by Sherrie Norris
“I remember as a little boy, coming up Boone mountain with my mom and dad, and looking over on the hill behind the church at the three crosses that were lit up at night,” he said. “I always thought that was a place that stood out as a light for Jesus.”
The lights on those crosses were extinguished for several years, but they are now burning brightly once again — and under the leadership of its new, young pastor, Brushy Fork Baptist is definitely a beacon of light.
Other than passing by the church on his way to and from Boone from his childhood home in western Watauga County, Oliver had no physical connection to the church.
Later, as an adult, he said, there were times when he passed, that he often prayed for the church, for reasons he never understood.
As pastor of that church today, Oliver said even then, God had been preparing him for something far greater than he ever imagined.
On Aug. 1, 2011, Oliver accepted the call as church pastor, following service as interim pastor for seven months prior.
He hadn't come out of seminary with the degree that most modern churches require and he hadn't planned to become a preacher, but he had known for some time that God had a special plan for his life.
Oliver was raised in church and in a good Godly home, he said.
“It's all I had known as a young boy. I have great parents who provided a good upbringing and taught me the basic truths that are lacking in many homes today,” Oliver said.
His paternal great-grandfather, the late Barney Oliver, was a well- known pastor in the area, as is his recently retired maternal grandfather, Bill Warren.
“When I was a little boy, I followed pretty close behind my Papaw (Warren) to visit people in their homes and in hospitals and nursing homes,” he said. “Papaw has always been a great encourager and role model for me. I saw how it was supposed to be done by watching him.”
After Oliver married Hailey Townsend, his high school sweetheart, in 1999, he joined her at Poplar Grove Baptist Church and, for eight years, “I learned under Rev. Herbert McCoy, who taught me what a man was supposed to do,” he said.
Oliver eagerly served in various roles in the church — from custodian to youth leader to Sunday school teacher and superintendent.
“Looking back now, I know it helped prepare me and helped me learn to appreciate each servant in these roles at Brushy Fork today,” he said.
Beginning in 2007, Oliver said, “In the back of my mind, I wondered if God might be preparing me for the ministry. I felt that I was growing spiritually and kept thinking there might be something more.”
The Olivers eventually moved out of their comfort zone and for a brief time, they attended Mount Vernon Baptist Church, where, he said, “We received good, Godly counsel and support.”
During a Sunday service at his home church, Union Baptist, in July 2010, Oliver “surrendered to the call to the ministry.” He delivered his first message the following Wednesday evening.
“From that point forward, I've been so blessed,” Oliver said. “God was waiting for me to take that first step. From then on, he opened one door after another to bring me to where I am today.”
Oliver preached at Clark's Creek Baptist Church's homecoming services that fall; special music was provided by a bluegrass group from Brushy Fork Baptist Church, among which were a deacon and member of the pastoral search committee.
“At that time, Brushy Fork's pastor had suffered a stroke and was unable to continue fulfilling his duties,” Oliver said.
A short time later, Oliver received a call from the church's deacon chairman with a special request. “I was scared to death,” Oliver said, as he said he agreed to “fill in.”
“We were made to feel so welcome right away,” he said. “They just opened their arms to us and provided such a peaceful, warm homelike atmosphere.”
When offered the position of interim pastor the following January, Oliver knew it was part of God's plan.
By the following spring, he said, it was evident that God was “moving.” The church began to experience growth and more decisions were being made for Christ.
“In the bottom of my heart, I still knew there was more,” Oliver said.
In July 2011, he was presented the opportunity to serve as the church's full-time pastor.
As a successful insurance agent, Oliver was concerned that the church would not be willing to accept its first bi-vocational pastor.
He and Hailey had built their dream home together. Would the church accept them not living in its parsonage? Would their children adjust?
“God knew what Brushy Fork needed and he knew what my family and I needed — and he worked it out for all of us,” he said.
Oliver continues to perform both of his jobs and the parsonage is being used as a ministry tool to house missionaries on furlough, as well transitional lodging for employees of Samaritan's Purse relocating to Boone.
His family felt loved from the beginning.
Brushy Fork Baptist Church continues to grow under Oliver's leadership with renewed focus on missions, the family and children.
He hasn't slowed down since he came on board and he has no plans to do so.
“There is such a great group of people here who love the Lord and love each other,” Oliver said. “We have a wonderful leadership team and are seeing new life in many of our programs. Our Sunday school is growing, we've baptized several people since I've been here and overall, it's just awesome to see what God is doing.
“Brushy Fork Baptist Church is committed to spreading the gospel outside the walls of this building,” Oliver said. “We are a light shining for Jesus. We are more than the three crosses on the hill, but that's a big part of who we are. We have had some amazing people who came before us — the rocks, I call them — who blazed the trail. They passed the torch to us and now, our job is to take it and run with it.”
Rick Greene, lifetime member and a long-time deacon at Brushy Fork, said that Oliver has affected the church “in a refreshing, positive way.”
“Toby is wise beyond his years,” Greene said, “in not only how he relates to people of all ages, but also in his knowledge of the Bible and the way he delivers the gospel message.
“He is genuine and has a love for the people in our church that comes through in everything he says and does. People like that about him— they respond to that,” Greene said. “It's amazing how God has led him to Brushy Fork. We are so blessed to have Toby as our pastor and we hope to have him with us for many years to come.”
Oliver had heard “the not-so-pleasant stories” of young pastors and the experiences they had with their first church.
“I have had nothing but a wonderful introduction to the ministry,” he said. “It's been amazing how God has blessed me and my family through this pastorate. I count it a great honor to be here among His people, to be one of them, to serve them and to be loved by them.”
The support of his wife is “a tremendous blessing,” too, he said. “Knowing she's always there for me is such a comfort. I can do what God has called me to do and she's right there beside me. Even though she once said she wasn't cut out to be a preacher's wife — she's the best.”
Oliver is the oldest of three children born to Dewayn and Lottie Oliver of Zionville. He is a 1998 graduate of Watauga High School and completed “a few college courses,” he said, before entering the workforce; he was employed with Steel Masters for seven years before joining N.C. Farm Bureau in 2006.
While in high school, he began working at Hampton Funeral Home, which he did for six years, considering that line of work, at one time, as a possible career.
He and Hailey are the parents of two children, Grant, 10, and Payton, 5, both students at Cove Creek Elementary School.
“Pastor Toby” invites guests to join his congregation at Brushy Fork Baptist Church, located at 3915 U.S. Hwy 421 N. in Vilas.
For service times and more information, call (828) 297-2524.