After serving in the ministry for 50 years, Dr. Joe E. Edwards, senior pastor at The Church at Liberty Square, will retire Dec. 6. Excited to embark on the next stage of his life, Edwards — who has led the Cartersville congregation for 28 years — feels confident the church will remain in good hands, with his successor being his current executive pastor, Dr. Jacob King.
“Knowing what is coming to our community, [such as] LakePoint [Sporting Community] ... means this area over the next five to eight years is just going to grow tremendously,” said Edwards, 76. “I’ve given three decades of my life [to this church], and I feel that a younger leader will bring the energy and now is the time for that.
“... [Once I retire] we probably will travel for about a year. I have an RV. So we will do the traveling that we have not done up until now,” he said, adding he also is looking forward to spending time with his extended family. “Three kids, six grandkids, 12 great-grandkids — I have a full-time job, and they all live here.”
Under Edwards’ leadership, The Church at Liberty Square has experienced monumental growth in membership and community outreach efforts. When he arrived in 1987, he said the church — then known as the Cartersville Church of God — on Old Mill Road featured about 800 members.
“I believe the Lord just brought me here,” Edwards said, noting he was the administrative bishop for the state of Ohio before serving in Cartersville. “It was just a truly God thing. The only thing we had then was a church building and Sunday school rooms. We then ... had 70 people serving on different committees. The goal was to answer the question, ‘Why is this church here?’ With scores and scores of churches, why another church? Out of that came the idea, we wanted to get out of the building and serve the people.
“In previous years of pastoring, I had child care [and helped feed] people, but it was nothing on the scale that we envisioned at that time. So [when] we started, people would bring nonperishable items, and we would just give [them] away to anyone that needed food. That has now grown to where we feed 3,500 to 4,000 people every month, and we give them food each time they come [to] Harvest House. From there, then we envisioned reaching from the cradle to the grave. We started day care that allows us to take children 6 weeks of age, and we have a cemetery and mausoleum. We want all of this to be in the shadow of the cross.”
As noted by Edwards, the church quickly expanded in size, opening a food pantry ministry — now called Harvest House, Family Life Center, Cartersville Child Care and Excel Christian Academy by 1993. Renamed The Church at Liberty Square in 2003, the church currently has three locations in Cartersville: a main sanctuary featuring more than 4,500 members at 2001 Liberty Square Drive; Faith Family at 17 Cedar Creek Road N.W.; and Graceland Church, 225 Old Mill Road. The Liberty Square Drive site also contains a cemetery and mausoleum, Harvest House, senior living facility, 52 town homes and more than 100 residences.
In addition to assisting his congregants through every stage of their lives, Edwards also felt led to reach out to the community, starting efforts like the Commissioner-Mayor Prayer Breakfast and the local National Day of Prayer event.
“We believe American history teaches very clearly that what made this nation great was Christianity modeled through elected and volunteer officials,” Edwards said. “The church in the early years was the center of a community. We want to strive in our community that the church remains foremost in people’s minds, which caused me to start the National Day of Prayer. It was to bring pastors together and obviously the people to convey we believe in one God, therefore we have so many things that we can do together. We have more things we agree on than those we disagree on. That has now grown to the largest National Day of Prayer in the state of Georgia.
“That was my dream to break down [any denominational barriers]. ... Churches have personalities. Churches have differences. But we all believe in the cross of Jesus Christ. ... [So] for the people that are coming that are hurting, people that are hungry, people that are emotionally challenged, people that are searching for truth, we can come together. That was the goal, and it’s been incredibly encouraging. In the midst of that, what I wanted to do was let the community know the churches don’t need, the churches want to give.”
Working alongside him in various community efforts, the Rev. David Franklin — associational missionary for Bartow Baptist Association — refers to Edwards as a “man of vision.”
“I’ve known him for eight years and worked together on a number of capacities from the National Day of Prayer to the tornado recovery to SPLASH Bartow to strategizing about how to make Cartersville and Bartow County a better community, and how the church can help make this a better community,” Franklin said. “I think one of the greatest contributions he has had is he’s a man of vision, and he’s had a vision for more than just his church, which what has happened at Liberty Square is just historic in the way the church has grown and things like that. But what he’s done way beyond that is to have a vision for the body of Christ having an impact here in Bartow County. ... He’s been also a huge leader in the state of Georgia and nationally in his denomination, which is just huge.
“What a lot of people don’t know is right now a lot of the stories of Bartow County are being told across the nation. So he’s had an impact, not just here in Bartow County, but across the state and across the nation. He’s been a real key from a governmental standpoint, helping connect the church to the government on what we could do to be a blessing. He knows a lot of the people in government and how to make an impact there as well as the business community. We celebrate the way God has used him in this community to do so many good things, but we also celebrate that he gets to retire.”
Echoing Franklin’s comments, King commends Edwards for the impact he has had on The Church at Liberty Square’s congregants and the community as a whole.
“Pastor Edwards [has] been very involved in the city of Carterville and county of Bartow since he moved here in 1987,” King said. “He established the National Day of Prayer, the Mayor-Commissioner Prayer Luncheon, as well as many other community events. He has fostered decades of relationships with the decision makers of our region, in areas of ministry, business, education and government. His wise counsel has provided a listening ear and a voice of discernment to those seeking his advice. The shadow cast by Pastor Edwards’ influence encompasses thousands of lives over several generations. He has been a source of encouragement and direction to sitting politicians, leaders of commerce and citizens of all walks of life.
“His presence in our community helped to foster unity as he modeled the path of working across denominational lines with other churches and organizations. Whether is was disaster relief after the tornadoes, economic challenges in the business community or just the everyday issues of life, Pastor Joe Edwards has been a stabilizing force in our community. Inside our church, Pastor Edwards has innovated so many ministries, mentored countless other pastors and leaders, and provided a great model of servant leadership to the body of Christ. He has led many people to the Lord and helped them to grow up spiritually into mature believers that could in turn shape the world around them.”
He continued, “His leadership has impacted so many, and I am one of the greatest beneficiaries of the investment he has made. It has been a joy and a privilege to serve alongside him at The Church at Liberty Square as his executive pastor for the past nine years. They say that leadership is more caught than taught. I think that is probably true. He has taught me by example over the last decade what it means to be a visionary leader, a forward thinker and a compassionate pastor. The shoes he leaves to fill at the helm of the church loom large, but his faith and confidence in me have propelled me forward into this new role. The future of our church has never been brighter, and I am excited about the opportunity of leading Liberty Square in the days ahead.”
Leading up to Edwards’ retirement, various groups in the community will hold events to mark this milestone, such as the Business Leaders Luncheon on Dec. 1 and the Community Pastors’ Luncheon Dec. 3. On Dec. 6, there will be a breakfast reception honoring Edwards and his wife, Becky, at The Church at Liberty Square’s gym/fellowship commons from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., followed by a retirement celebration at 10:45 a.m.
For more information about The Church at Liberty Square, call 770-382-9489 or visit http://www.libertysq.org.
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