As a member of the Pastor Search Team of Grove Avenue Baptist Church, I gladly covenant to participate in the work of the team according to the following agreements:

Covenant of Ethical Behavior
I agree to relate to each member in a manner consistent with the ethical standards characterized by Jesus Christ.

Covenant of Spiritual Preparation
I agree to make Bible study and prayer ongoing priorities in my life.

Covenant of Prayer
I agree to pray daily for each team member and for the work of the church.

Covenant of Unity
I agree to work in unity, not regarding myself as of more value than others, “diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us” (Eph. 4:3).

Covenant of Honesty and Openness
I agree to be honest and open with others on the team, always seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance so that the fruit of the Spirit identified in Galatians 5:22-23 will characterize my participation.

Covenant of Confidentiality
I agree to refrain from discussing with persons outside the team information shared in team meetings, unless the team agrees to release information to other church members.

Covenant of Faithfulness
I agree to remain faithful to the church and its ministries so that church members will have confidence in the team and so that I can effectively and honestly interpret the work of the church to prospective pastors being considered by the team.

Team Profiles:

The nine members of the Pastor Search Team were chosen by the Nominating Committee after considerable prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit. The slate of nine members was presented to the Church membership and elected.  The Search Team began meeting in early February 2019. The Search Team members are:

Ralph Cantrell, Chair
Ralph has been at Grove for over 5 years and previously served on the Personnel Committee. He has held several high-level leadership positions in government and private industry, and he served four years as Church Administrator at another church.  Ralph is excited to be serving with the other members of the Search Team and serving the Lord in this capacity.

Heather Howells, Vice Chair
Heather has been a member at Grove for over 5 years.  Her husband, Chase Howells currently serves as a Deacon, and the Howells host a small group on Sunday mornings. Heather also serves in the nursery rotation on Sunday mornings. Heather is grateful for this opportunity to serve and support Grove on the Pastor Search Committee.

Elbert Smith, Prayer Chair

Bonnie Northen, Secretary
Bonnie began attending Grove at the age of six when Byron Wilkinson was the pastor.  Through the years, she has been a regular part of the ministries here at Grove. At the age of 25, Bonnie was saved and baptized. Bonnie loves the Grove family. Her entire family (parents, sister’s family, children and grandchildren) have participated in many aspects of ministry here.  She sees it a privilege to serve on the Pastor Search Committee seeking God's leadership for Grove.

Mathew Cherian
Mathew has been attending Grove since 2000.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, are blessed with two children (Rebecca and Jeremiah) who attended Grove Christian School.  Mathew serves in the Deacon Ministry, AWANA, and six years on the Grove Christian School Board.

Kathy Macon
Kathy has been a member of Grove since relocating to Richmond in 2011.  She has served on the nominating committee of a previous church in NC. Kathy has been serving at Grove in the AWANA ministry and as a 2nd grade Sunday School co-teacher. She is passionate about helping children learn to trust the God of the Bible and in His loving rescue plan through Christ our Savior. Kathy is honored to represent the Children’s ministry while serving the Grove body on the Pastor Search Team.

Teresa Custalow Hobbs

Ryan Baham

Mike McGraw

Pastor Search Process

The Search Team has divided its work into four distinct steps, or phases.  They are the Preparation, Search, Interview, and Calling phases.  In the following explanation, each of these phases is described in more detail.  The CURRENT STATUS section will provide the reader the ability to track the work of the Search Team.

Preparation Phase

  • Members read Pastor Search Committee Handbooks provided by Lifeway
  • Members were trained by the State Association
  • A Communication Plan was developed to keep the membership informed
  • A Survey of the membership was conducted to gather information about the members, and about what they wanted to see in a new pastor
  • A detailed Search Process was designed to guide the work of the Search Team
  • Data was collected about the Church and the Community to provide information to the pastor candidate


  • Send letters to State Missions Directors, Seminaries, and selected individuals asking them to recommend a potential pastor that would fit with the needs and culture of our Church
  • Conduct resume reviews and listen to sermons
  • Narrow list to 5 and rank them in order of preference
  • Begin collecting additional information about the top candidate

Interview Phase

  • Conduct phone interview with the top candidate
  • Conduct an in-person interview with the candidate and his wife in the Pastor’s city
  • Arrange to hear a sermon in the Pastor’s church
  • Conduct background checks including references, criminal, and credit
  • Conduct financial negotiations with Pastor and include the Chairs of the Personnel and Stewardship Committees
  • Introduce the candidate to the Grove membership through a presentation after the worship services
  • Alert the Grove Membership to an impending visit
  • Candidate meets with interested groups within the Church
  • Church-wide reception
  • Preach Sermon at Grove

Call Phase

  • Congregation votes immediately following the sermon (secret ballot)
  • Pastor gives decision
  • Pastor/Church Covenant signed
  • Assist with relocation
  • Welcoming Reception

Current Status

  • March 31 - The Survey of the Congregation was completed. The results are posted here.
  • April 10 - Using the information from the Survey, the Pastor Search Team sent a letter to seventeen leaders and pastors within the Southern Baptist Convention asking they pray about a potential pastor for Grove. Then, if God laid someone on their heart, please refer that name or names to us and we will then contact them.
  • Early August- The Pastor Search Team narrowed the list of candidates to three.  We were very interested in one candidate, but the timing was longer than desired. A second candidate wasn't certain that he was being called away from his existing church. While we were very interested in him, we felt led to continue our search. The third candidate impressed us from the very beginning. Once we interviewed him, we felt unified that God had led us to His man and, therefore, we wanted to work exclusively with this candidate.
  • Late August- The Pastor Search Team concluded we would recommend the third candidate to the Grove membership, pending background/reference checks and approval of a benefit package. The background/reference checks are proceeding at this time and a benefits package has been agreed upon. We are extremely grateful to the Personnel Committee Members for the work they did in seeing that the candidate and his family will be taken care of while serving at Grove. We believe that Grove has a very bright future with this man as our Pastor. There will be an exciting announcement in early October.
  • LATEST UPDATE: The Pastor Search Team has unanimous conviction that God's man to be pastor at Grove has been identified.
    • October 6 -  Dr. Ben Gutierrez was announced to the Grove Family. Click here to learn more about Dr. Ben Gutierrez.
    • Saturday, October 26 - The Grove Family will have an opportunity to meet Dr. Ben Gutierrez and ask questions.  There will be a morning and an afternoon session to give as many as possible the opportunity to talk with him. 
    • During the month of October, there will be other meetings for those who are serving in various capacities at the church to meet Dr. Gutierrez in a smaller setting.  Click here to see the schedule for meeting Dr. Gutierrez. 
    • Sunday, October 27, Dr. Ben Gutierrez will preach. Afterwards each Grove Family member will be asked to vote their preference whether or not Grove should call Dr. Gutierrez to be our Pastor.