PENSACOLA—Standing on the rooftop of Olive Baptist Church’s sanctuary with its iconic cross beckoning in the background, Pastor Ted Traylor boldly preached the gospel of the resurrection this past Easter at the cusp of the pandemic.
Televised on local stations and across the church’s digital platforms, the cross illuminated one of the busiest intersections in Pensacola, calling the northwest Florida community to hope and faith as the virus shuttered churches and life in the western gateway to the state.
Traylor’s 30-year ministry at Olive has been characterized by boldness—boldness in racial reconciliation, meeting social needs, evangelistic zeal, and cooperation.
On Sunday, Nov. 1, Olive members will celebrate their beloved pastor’s three decades of ministry at the church that boasts 3,000 in weekly attendance.
“If you stay somewhere 30 years, the church changes,” said Traylor. “I like to say I have pastored three churches in 30 years; they are all named Olive, but they are all different.”
Arriving at Olive in 1990, he found “a suburban, middle-income blue-collar church.” The second phase of his ministry was ushered in when the church started the Ministry Village in the mid 2000’s, providing compassionate outreach to ‘the least of these,’ and bringing the needy to the church. Then in the past decade, the congregation made a concentrated effort to reach into the business community, which once again changed the church profile.
“If you’re not changing to stay somewhere 30 years, I don’t think you’re going to be very healthy,” said the Pisgah, Ala., native. “It is easier to stay like you are. You have to make tough choices along the way and make changes for the church to remain healthy and reaching into its community.”
The church’s most radical changes came after hurricanes battered the Gulf Coast.
The vision for the Ministry Village resulted from Hurricane Ivan’s devastating blow on Pensacola in 2004. Olive served as the command center for Florida and Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts that marshaled citywide feeding and recovery ministries.
“We had 26, 18-wheel trucks on the back-parking lot and we were feeding people,” Traylor recalled.
“The spirit of God whispered in my heart, ‘you do not have to have a storm to do this ministry all the time.’ I didn’t know what that meant but I knew I had to do something.”
The Ministry Village, located in a separate facility on Olive’s property, hosts The Charis House, a residential ministry for women struggling with addiction, and four unique ministries.
The Ministry Village, the pastor said, continues to be “a hallmark of who we are.”
After Category 5 Hurricane Katrina came ashore in New Orleans in 2005 claiming lives and communities with widespread flooding, the church called Leo Day, a young African American, as worship pastor. The gifted singer served on the faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary when he lost everything in the storm. Having worked with Day on an interim basis, Traylor brought him on full time. “Being my partner for seven years signaled a new mark in racial understanding for the community,” the pastor said.
Traylor continues to develop strong relationships with pastors of predominately black churches in the community, sharing pulpits and bringing congregations together for worship.
Traylor’s boldness in evangelistic preaching has resulted in more than 7,000 new believers being baptized in the past 30 years at Olive, making the congregation a perennial leader in baptisms among Florida Baptist churches.
Brian Nall, executive director of the Pensacola Bay Baptist Association, called Traylor “a strong force of hope in the city. Though political leaders have come and gone, Dr. Traylor has continually lifted up the unchangeable gospel in Christ-centered yet practical ways–both in the pulpit and in ball parks, all of which have given clarity, calmness and truth throughout the years.”
“His preaching, always rooted exegetically from Scripture; leadership, strong and clear; and community participation, from government to recreational, has helped to shape how many pastors lead their churches – in both days of calm and disaster.”
Olive has been strongly supportive of Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program through the years. “That’s a big part of who we are,” said Traylor.
The Southern Baptist statesman has served in numerous denominational positions both in the SBC and Florida Baptist life. Known as a strong conservative voice in the community and denomination, he is called to preach in churches large and small throughout the SBC.
Tommy Green, Florida Baptist’s executive director-treasurer, said Traylor is “a tremendous leader” within the state. “He has faithfully served in many capacities in convention life. He is deeply respected by pastors throughout our convention. Ted has led Olive Baptist Church to lead our convention in baptisms, Cooperative Program giving, and other Kingdom initiatives. I am appreciative of his friendship and support,” he added.
“It is a powerful testimony that for 30 years God has blessed Dr. Traylor and Olive Baptist with productive ministry in Christ.”
Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, called Traylor, “one of the most loved pastors in our Southern Baptist family. He loves all people, and all people love him. He is a wonderful preacher of the gospel and a powerful prayer warrior.” Noting his “legacy that demonstrates a high commitment to evangelism and the Great Commission,” he added, “under Ted’s ministry at Olive, the church has become one of the leading churches across the nation in their giving through the Cooperative Program.”
Looking toward the future, Olive now serves as a sending church for new church planters and Traylor is mentoring a next generation of ministers from within his congregation.
Traylor’s “passionate preaching and commitment to truth,” has inspired Tim Hunter, one of ten young men the pastor mentors, “to model his preaching in the same way.”
As he reflects on the blessings of the three decades of leading Olive, Traylor said he is grateful for the “Godly men in this church,” adding that he inherited many of these from his predecessor, Jerry Passmore, who is still a member of the church. “Great men make the church successful,” he said.
Six generations are represented in Olive’s congregation, said deacon Steve Butler, adding that the pastor’s leadership has touched every one of the generations.
He characterized Traylor’s tenure as “one of love. First and foremost, Pastor’s love of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Pastor’s message has always pointed those who are without Christ in their lives, to Him. He has used the inspired Word of God as the foundation and has never added to that Word,” he said.
“Secondly, the love of his family. He has shared and we have witnessed that love over the years as his family has grown and Pastor continues to share that family love today. Thirdly, his love of the church and what it has meant to him throughout these 30 years.”
Traylor and his wife Liz have been married for 43 years. They have two young adult children and two grandchildren, who continue to live in Pensacola. The pastor said he was blessed his family could plant lifetime roots in one community.
“The Traylors have been very intentional about the purity, transparency and testimony of their lives over a long stretch of time,” said family friend Kim Jernigan. “We have been part of their lives up close and personal and recognize that their private lives are very much a reflection of their public lives. I am very grateful for a pastor who has stood for truth and lived truth in his life for 30 years.”
Reflecting on his life and ministry, Traylor said, “God has been good.”