By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
FREDERICK, Md.—Ken Stalls knows it was the long-time prayers of his grandmother, mother and wife that softened his heart for Jesus—and saved his life.
He had always heard of Jesus, but it wasn’t until he was working at a large construction job at a nuclear plant that God became real to Him. A carpenter foreman kept sharing about Jesus with Ken, who at the time was also a foreman.
“[The foreman] kept sharing with me in ways I could understand,” explained Stalls.
Then, at his wife’s request, he attended a service at a Baptist church in Wilmington, N.C., where they lived at that time. As he listened intently to the pastor’s message, he instantly knew the man “was talking to nobody but me.”
Stalls felt prompted to go forward during the pastor’s invitation, but didn’t. All the next week, he hated himself for not doing so. The following Sunday, when the pastor issued the invitation again, Stalls responded. It was 1974.
“It’s the greatest thing, obviously, that’s happened to me,” he shared. “I never ever regretted that decision.”
Stalls, now 64, is pastor of South End Baptist in Frederick, Md. He is serving a second term as president of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
Obviously a new man, Stalls got involved right away in the local church and parachurch ministries, such as Yoke Fellows prison ministry and beach ministries in Wilmington.
“I never, ever, ever thought I would be teaching,” he said. But one Sunday at the prison, the person supposed to speak couldn’t come. Stalls spoke instead.
Then, at a nursing home, Stalls shared the first sermon he’d ever prepared. Though he had a concept in mind, he was frequently interrupted by sincere questions of the seniors in the service, causing him to really think about every word he was sharing.
“This greatly influenced my later preaching,” he said. It also opened the door to his future in ministry.
“I had no idea what God was doing, in terms of calling, but I felt God was doing something in my heart,” he said. A little over a year later, Stalls found himself facing God’s call on his life.
During some downtime at work at a chemical plant, his supervisor gave him the opportunity to sit still. “I was sitting on a mountain of fertilizer—waiting—when God confirmed the call [on my life],” Stalls shared.
That encounter later led to a public profession of his call at Pine Valley Church in Wilmington. Eventually, Stalls went back to college, this time to Gardner Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., and then to seminary at Southeastern Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
Throughout the subsequent years, he served as pastor at churches in Zebulon, N.C. and Newport News, Va.; and as the director of missions/church planter in the Little River Baptist Association in Lillington, N.C.
In 1991 he accepted the call to South End Baptist, whose ministry “fit like a glove” for him.
“It’s been a wonderful church to serve,” he said, noting though the church leans more to the traditional side, it has helped start new churches in the area throughout her history.
But it hasn’t always been easy.
Stalls has faced several life-threatening health crises. At the age of 31, he had a heart attack. At 42, he had a quintuple bypass surgery. At 44, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which boasts a survival rate of two percent or less.
“That was a rough year with surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation,” Stalls recalled. “The church was so good to me during that time. They stepped up and ministered to my family and to each other.”
Ten years later, Stalls had prostate cancer. And just two years ago, he had kidney cancer and underwent cryotherapy, which froze the tumor and saved his kidney.
“I have not just walked into the shadow of death, I have been through it,” he said.
“I find myself quite often crossing paths with people with cancer,” Stalls noted. “I have a greater empathy for what they are going through. My struggles with cancer put me in the position for really sharing and caring.”
Accordingly, Stalls recognizes that life is short. His illnesses have given him a real appreciation for life itself. Knowing his life and ministry could have easily ended 20 years ago, he has a heightened sense about the priorities in his life.
“If things need to be done, I need to do them now,” he asserted, adding he feels he is at “the best church I could have and the best convention I could be a part of.”
He says he’s blessed to be working with a convention who has a history of seeing needs and acting upon them. He’s especially excited about the BCM/D’s efforts to strengthen churches and plant new ones.
“You’re not going to have a convention conducive to church planting unless you have healthy existing churches,” he said.
He’s also pleased with the convention’s effort to move more finances to the mission field. “Our leadership has set into place a selfless, sacrificial approach to move a percentage more,” he said. “It’s healthy, and a great, great move.”
Over all, Stalls says he hopes his mother and grandmother know “their boy has done okay and is serving our Lord.”
He smiled, “By God’s grace, I’ve continued to serve, and I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life.