People around Eric Lee always told him that he would be a preacher. His father has been the pastor of a church in McDonough for 34 years and his grandfather was a pastor.
"The call to the ministry for me was a whisper that turned into a loud voice," Lee said, adding that he had to distance himself from those voices in order to hear God’s plan for him more clearly.
Lee graduated from Morehouse College in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in history. Before graduating, one of his professors invited him to preach at Butler Street Baptist Church in Atlanta. At age 21, Lee knew he would follow in his father’s footsteps.
In 1996 Lee received his Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt University and is currently studying for his Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological School.
After graduating from Vanderbilt, he and his wife and first-born son moved back in with his parents. Between jobs and with a young family, Lee patiently listened for God’s directions.
God led him to Springfield Baptist Church in Conyers, where a lead pastor position had opened. After guest preaching, Lee was hired for the position in May of 1999.
In his 10 years as a head pastor, Lee has gained invaluable knowledge not only about the area but also his chosen profession.
"Pastoring is a people business," Lee said. "It involves assets, buildings, concrete, mortar, asphalt and acreage, but by in large it is the managing of people. If you take care of the people, everything else takes care of itself."
Apparently, Lee has a gift with managing people because the church has physically grown from 162 members to 3,500 during his tenure. In 2008, Lee was selected as one of Atlanta’s 100 most influential pastors and also was honored by the 14th annual Gospel Choice Awards. However, he doesn’t take all the credit for the success of his church.
"The people of this church wanted to see it grow," he said, "and they sacrificed to see it grow."
He said he encourages others to use their own gifts whether it be dancing during worship or coaching boys’ basketball as a way to reach out to the youth of the church. Springfield offers its members 29 different ministries, so everyone can be involved with something they enjoy while applying the gospel.
"The largest thing we’ve done is to make sure the church is a community resource," Lee said.
Members of Springfield have participated in the 2009 Literacy Festival and they regularly help out at the homeless shelter and with FaithWorks as well as operate a food bank at the church’s historical location on Harold Dobbs Road.
On the first Saturday in January Springfield members join with several other churches in the Walk by Faith event. Though the coldest time of the year might seem like an odd choice, he said the timing has significance.
"It’s harder than you might imagine to bring churches together, so we like to start the year — symbolically — together," he said.
Lee said that he has grown from a boy doubting his destiny to a man who embraces the path God has chosen for him.
"The great blessing of being in this position is being able to make a difference," Lee said. "For all the problems and fears we have as a community, it’s good to know it’s still possible to influence for good — to shape the community in a positive way."
He said that a community needs strong churches and he encourages people to find churches in the communities where they live. A resident of Newton County, Lee said he has found lots of love, loyalty and respect here — more than he’s seen in neighboring counties to the west.
"I think Newton will be a model for diversity," Lee said. "I think this eventually will be the place where we all get along. I think we can find a place that is what it looks like in heaven."