When Jay Miller applied for Parkway Presbyterian Church’s open lead pastor position, both were in need of a new start.
After almost seven years as an associate pastor at Redeemer Church, a Presbyterian church in Evans, Georgia, Miller was getting signals from friends that he was ready for a bigger role.
During that same timeframe, Parkway’s membership had declined, from about 600 six years ago to around 150 today, much of it due to inconsistent leadership. By last summer, the church had been without a senior pastor for a little over two years.
“They needed someone to come and be a consistent presence,” Miller said.
That falls to Miller now. The 41-year-old officially joined Parkway on Sunday, Feb. 10, along with his wife, Amy, and four kids, Grant, Lily, Lyla and Hazel.
On that Sunday, Miller felt it appropriate to preach from Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd, Miller read to them. Even though I walk through the darkest valley. Miller thought Parkway could relate: six years of turnover at the pulpit and declining membership had probably felt like a dark valley for the congregation.
Miller could relate, too. He had a “spiritual awakening” on Sept. 11, 2001. At the time, he was a sportscaster at the local TV station in Augusta after graduating from Florida State University in 2000. He was covering college football and the Masters golf tournament. “Kind of a dream job,” he said. Yet, pretty quickly, the job wasn’t fulfilling Miller. The demand for sprints of perfection sapped him. “It’s pretty exhausting, making sure everything is perfect,” he said.
Then came the images of people falling from the World Trade Center towers. Miller put himself in their situation, saw himself falling, dying, and wondered, what would happen next?
“Something opened up in me,” Miller said. “Like, I don’t know that I would go to heaven.”
Soon after, a friend invited Miller to church, to First Presbyterian Augusta. Miller started to attend a Bible study. One night, he returned to his apartment, on Broad Street, and prayed, “Jesus, I get off the throne,” he said. “I crown you king of my life.”
He got involved in a men’s Bible study. He started to volunteer in youth ministry. He led a discipleship group. He taught Sunday school. A few years later, Miller left his sportscaster job and became a teacher in an inner-city Augusta school.
In 2004, he became an intern in pastoral youth ministry at First Presbyterian Augusta. In 2010, he enrolled in seminary, at Erskine Theological Seminary, in South Carolina. He graduated in 2013, and became associate pastor at Redeemer.
Last summer, a “faithful remnant” at Parkway set out to find
a lead pastor, said John Burkhalter, a ruling elder at the church. The church formed
a search committee and sought out a candidate who was a dynamic preacher,
passionate and believed that the Bible was the “inspired word of God,” he said.
They received dozens of applicants, but “Jay was it,” Burkhalter said.
After rounds of phone calls and video chats, one interaction still stands out to Burkhalter. Parkway would be different, the committee told Miller. The congregation had become more ethnically diverse. What did Miller think about that?
“Oh, you mean kind of like how it’s going to be in heaven,” Miller said.
Now, together, they are setting out to put Parkway on firm footing again. Miller sees the challenges ahead. Parkway opened 22 years ago, Burkhalter said, but its membership is smaller, older.
“There have been some rough days,” Miller said. “I’m not a church revitalizer. I don’t have any best practices. I don’t speak in tweets. But I want to preach, and I love people.”
He added, “We’re going to figure it out.”