From an early age, Mark Marshall knew, without a doubt in his mind, that he was going to be college basketball head coach.
He knew he wanted to lead a team to the national title, with chances of winning multiple titles over the course of his career like his idol John Wooden, who won 10 national titles as head coach of the UCLA Bruins.
"I wanted to be a college basketball coach," said Marshall. "That's just what I thought I'd always be doing."
But, a few years into his undergraduate degree, it was clear to Marshall that God had different plans for him and his life went into a new direction.
That path led Marshall, a Christian man, to becoming the new pastor of First Baptist Church of Conyers, 2100 Ga. Highway 138. He was hired Easter Sunday earlier this year and he and his wife of 30 years are ecstatic to be back in the metro-Atlanta area.
"This church gave us a call and it was an opportunity to come to a good church and come back home," said Marshall. "I felt like God was pulling us this way."
Making a ministry of disciples
Now, Marshall hopes to use his 28 years of a pastoring experience to create a ministry of disciples at First Baptist Church of Conyers. That's the only way he can truly do God's work and spread his teachings throughout the world, he says.
"As a pastor, I have a chance to... Train people up to do the work of a missionary," said Marshall. "At some level, we're all called to do that."
This is the biggest hurdle to overcome for Marshall.
It's not the speaking in front nearly 1,200 people of different ethnicities every Sunday morning, which would probably bother other self-proclaimed introverts, or writing speeches to say to the congregation every week that's the hurdle. The biggest challenge is getting different people with different backgrounds to buy into the same message of spreading God's word across the globe.
"The challenging part is how do we minister to the people here," Marshall said. "Not only how do we minister, but how do we get the people to minister to others. If I hope to lead a church to make an impact in the community, it's not going to be through me and my personality. I got to have that 1,200 people who shows up every Sunday understand that they are the church."
He views his congregation like his eyes and ears in the community, but when they see someone in need of assistance, they'll know how to handle the situation because of the guidance they already received from the church.
Everybody has been given gifts by God to minister to others. Marshall has the task of showing people how do you use that gift.
A family devoted to God
While Marshall has been a pastor for nearly three decades, the 52-year-old grew up in the church and by the teachings of God.
His father pastored at First Baptist Church of Lilburn when he was a child and, partly because of that experience, he decided that being a pastor wasn't going to be in his future.
"Growing up the last thing I wanted to do was be a pastor," Marshall said. "I saw the challenges that a pastor had. I saw that growing up with dad, and so, really, it took me longer to say yes to God than it would've otherwise."
Marshall's father, now 74 years old, still pastors at a church in Colquitt, Ga, which is near the Florida state line in the southwest region of the state. He recently announced his retirement after nearly five decades of being a pastor.
Marshall now admits that his father was kind of an inspiration to him.
"I'm sure God used all that to call me to pastor," he said. "Yes, he kind of became my rolemodel, my hero growing up. I'm sure that played a role."
Marshall says that has he grew up he realized that all jobs have their own hardships, but while being a pastor does have its challenges, "there's a lot of fulfillment."
Marshall's two daughters are also sticking with the family tradition. His 25-year-old daughter is engaged to a student pastor and his 30-year-old daughter will be doing missionary trips in the southern parts of Asia.
"That's been our purpose since day one," said Marshall. "They grew up in (the church). God's led them in that direction."
Going back home
Marshall, a native of Gwinnett County, graduated from Berkmar High School in 1980. After graduation, he elected to stay close to home and enrolled at Georgia State University, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1984.
He's spent the majority of his life living around Atlanta, except for when he lived in Texas to attend Seminary school and Tennessee to pastor a church with an average attendance of 1,400 people. He's lived in Gwinnett and Cobb County and is now looking to settle in Rockdale County at some point in the near future.
"We like it (here). I love the church," he said. We're just kind of getting plugged into the community. Trying to get know some people."
Marshall and his wife currently live in Loganville. They haven't completely settled into the new area yet and are still in the process of selling their house in Tennessee.
But once the sale of their old home is complete they want to move into Conyers/Rockdale County. "We want to be a part of the community."
A coach at heart
His dream of becoming a college basketball coach never panned out, but that doesn't trouble Marshall. He just uses the tools that God gave him to coach and lead his ministry instead of the college students.
"My heartbeat is to motivate people," he said. "I feel like I'm a natural leader. When there's a group together, I kind of wind up taking the lead, even though I don't want to. I feel that's what's God is using me for."