MARKED TREE – One of the great ironies of today’s world is that while we are more connected than ever – through the Web and social media – many people struggle to experience the face-to-face relationships that were common to the front porches and main streets of generations past.
Upon becoming pastor of First Baptist Church, Marked Tree, in 2016, Dale Noe felt God was not just calling him to serve as pastor of First Baptist, but as a missionary to the town of Marked Tree.
“I don’t feel like I was just called to First Baptist, Marked Tree. I was called to Marked Tree,” said Noe. “My prayer has been, and my heart has been, that we would see the church revitalized and that that would pour out into the streets. And then we would see this town revitalized.
“We all have brokenness because of sin. So when you engage people and you start talking about, ‘How can I pray for you?’ many times they will tell you where they are broken, and that opens a gospel conversation. But it also gives me the chance to pray for them, to love on them, to meet them where they’re at,” said Noe.
“And I think that’s, to me, the ministry of Jesus. He didn’t stay in one location and have people come to Him; He went out to where the people were and then He met them where they were at,” he said.
Take a walk with “Bro. Dale,” as he is known, in downtown Marked Tree, and you will quickly realize his evangelistic and pastoral strategy. Noe’s unpretentious compassion for his local community is uplifting and infectious.
“If I can just encourage any pastor who might hear this, it’s great to put in your study time. It’s great to have that sermon down and locked up and to be expositional and biblical – it’s awesome. But if you’re not loving on the community, feeding the community, working with the community – who are you going to preach that sermon to?” said Noe.
“He (Noe) has a heart for Jesus and a heart for the people,” said Robin Foster, associational missionary for Trinity Baptist Association in Trumann. “There are a couple families that are driving from Jonesboro (to attend First Baptist) now, just because of what is going on there in Marked Tree.”
“To me the greatest feat is what he is doing with bringing down the racial tensions that we see in our nation,” said Foster. “If you go to First Baptist Church, Marked Tree, you see the gospel breaking that down.”
Growing up in east Tennessee, Noe and his brother were the only two white kids in a majority black neighborhood. “When the white community didn’t want anything to do with us because we were so poor, it was our brothers and sisters – and particularly for me, some of the other children in the African-American, or black, community – who were my friends. When I would get picked on, they would step up.
“It instilled in me a love for people that transcends color. … It really made me understand that people are not defined by white or black … It’s being defined by (the fact) that these are precious souls,” said Noe.
Before Noe and his family stepped foot in Marked Tree, God impressed upon his and his wife’s hearts that they would be used by God to bring about racial reconciliation in the community.
“I praise God that we have now become an integrated church,” said Noe. “Later this month we are going to celebrate 110 years, but it’s only in the past year-and-a-half that we have gone from that ‘rich white church’ to a church that welcomes everyone.”
“We want to welcome precious souls into our congregation. … That to me is just a picture of the kingdom,” said Noe.
Following the call
While he felt a calling to ministry as a young child growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks” in east Tennessee, Noe said he ran from his calling and did not surrender fully to ministry until decades later.
At 18, Noe began selling cars in Florida, where he had relocated during high school to live with his father, and eventually worked his way up to the role of vice president for a tire company. Noe surrendered to ministry at age 40. A short time before, he had lost his dream job on the same day that he was diagnosed with stage-three kidney cancer.
“That’s a rough day, but it was during that time that God reminded me of my calling. He said, ‘I am going to get you through this, but I own you now,’” said Noe. “When God gets you to that point, you really don’t have a choice other than to submit.”
After surrendering to his call, Noe continued to work in the secular world but began supply preaching within his local association in northern Illinois, where he and his family were living at the time. Soon after, Noe was called to pastor Victory Rock Fellowship, a small, struggling Southern Baptist congregation about 60 miles northwest of Chicago in Marengo, Ill.
“They actually had a closure date set, but God started to move and work, and we saw that church come to life,” said Noe. “Over the course of a couple years, we went from about eight to as many as 70.”
Noe served Victory Rock Fellowship in a bi-vocational capacity. While he served there, Noe’s daughter began praying that God would allow her father to move into full-time ministry in the South. After going through multiple rounds of interviews with a church in Amarillo, Texas, Noe was contacted by First Baptist Church, Marked Tree.
At home in Marked Tree
“God shifted our direction, brought us here, and we have seen this church go from 40 or 50 to as many as 200 now on a regular basis,” said Noe.
First Baptist recently had to expand its parking lot to accommodate its increased attendance. The church was gifted a building across the street from the existing church facility. The building, currently being renovated, will eventually serve as a multi-use community center and fellowship hall, according to Noe.
More than the quadrupling of regular church attendance or the expansion of the church’s facilities, Noe is most excited that lots of people are becoming Christians and getting baptized.
“It’s great to celebrate who’s there on Sunday mornings, but we’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of God’s grace and mercy in leading many people to Christ and salvation,” said Noe.
The Annual Church Profile (ACP) year ends in September. During the current ACP year First Baptist has baptized 56 people. Last year the church baptized 47 people.
“There is just this movement of God; we just can’t fight against it. His outpouring of love towards this community, towards this county has been just unfathomable at times,” said Noe.
Most church revitalization experts might argue small, rural, impoverished and racially divided towns like Marked Tree are more often catalysts for church decline than revitalization. To Noe, the uncommon nature of the church’s growth, in just a few short years, is evidence that God is alive and at work in his community.
While Noe said that he is naturally introverted, he cited Matt. 9:36 (NASB) as a verse that led him to pushing himself out of his shell and into his community in order to better reach and serve them.
“This compassion that Christ had for the people has to override the introverted part of me,” said Noe.
“If I am truly in love with Christ the way I say I am, then how can I not live out that great love that He had for me and model it for others?”
Contact Caleb Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.