Frank Barker: 1932-2021
By Robert Tamasy

Update: A Remembrance Service celebrating God’s glorious blessings through Dr. Barker’s life and ministry will be held Saturday, January 8 at 2:00 in the Worship Center. A visitation time will follow in the Fellowship Hall.

From the earliest days of the Presbyterian Church in America in the 1970s, few men were more influential than Frank Morehead Barker Jr.

Frank Barker was a member of the Organizing Committee, a group of 20 teaching elders and 20 ruling elders assigned the responsibility of defining standards and principles of the new denomination. The committee also drafted constitutional documents that served as a foundation for establishing the PCA in its mission to lead a return to biblical orthodoxy and Reformed doctrine. 

Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where Barker was senior pastor, became the host church for the first PCA General Assembly in 1973. He was also honored in being elected Moderator of the 14th General Assembly in 1986, held in Philadelphia.

Barker was called home to be with the Lord on Dec. 27 at 4:10 p.m. Born on Jan. 31, 1932, he was pastor emeritus at Briarwood at the time of his passing.

Briarwood, where he spent his entire ministerial career, was planted under his leadership in 1960 as a storefront church with less than 20 members. However, by the time it became one of the PCA’s pioneer congregations in 1973, the membership had multiplied to more than 1,500. Barker attributed this growth to concerted prayer, with a Saturday men’s prayer breakfast being a primary catalyst.

“Frank loved what has been the DNA of the PCA – depth of Reformed theology, with evangelical breadth of ministry impact and influence. He was an excellent example of being a true churchman with a kingdom heart.” – Harry Reeder

Briarwood also founded a Christian school that grew to some 2,000 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. A number of those students – along with members of the church – went on to attend seminary and assumed roles as pastors, as well as missionaries with Mission to the World and Mission to North America.

While Briarwood was growing in PCA prominence, Barker and his congregation also became known for work beyond the traditional church walls. They created a prototype for church planting, sponsoring and helping to start hundreds of other congregations. 

He became chancellor and a faculty member of Birmingham Theological Seminary, which the church founded, and regularly lent his support for a variety of parachurch initiatives. These included Campus Outreach, a college ministry that expanded onto more than 80 campuses; the Christian Medical Ministry of Alabama; Young Business Leaders, a marketplace ministry; and a unique partnership between the church and Birmingham’s urban community to transcend ethnic and economic boundaries.

Barker graduated from Auburn University in 1953; Columbia Theological Seminary in 1960, with a bachelor’s degree in divinity and master’s in theology; and Reformed Theological Seminary in 1988 with a doctorate in divinity.

He served in a variety of PCA leadership roles, including MTW and MNA committees, and General Assembly subcommittees.

Barker was the author of several books, including “A Living Hope,” “Encounters with Jesus,” and “First Timothy.”

In an interview with byFaith several years ago, Barker commented on his involvement with the PCA for more than four decades: “It has been amazing to see what God has done through our church and the PCA. He has greatly blessed our stepping out in faith. Our denomination has had a real heart for missionaries and church planting, which is a great way for multiplying the Lord’s work.”

Regarding his vision for exploring opportunities beyond the church walls, he commented, “I always had the attitude that if someone came to me with a creative idea, we’d explore it and see how God led. I’ve always been interested in reaching out in ways other than just what we call ‘church.’”

Barker (front row center) with fellow General Assembly moderators at the 2014 General Assembly.

Dr. Harry Reeder, who succeeded Barker as senior pastor at Briarwood in 1999, praised his “clear commitment to biblical and confessional integrity. He both modeled and motivated the PCA to be passionately committed to the Great Commission, the basic work of evangelism, and discipleship.”

Reeder said he always appreciated Barker’s “gracious, humble and encouraging support of me to follow him. Few men would have demonstrated the humility he did while still on campus with his successor. There are inherent difficulties in following legend, as he was, but Frank made it easy with his gospel-character and Christ-centered nature in ministry and his love for the Lord’s church.”

Reeder also commented on Barker’s “extraordinary vision” for ministry that reached far beyond the church walls. This included the seminary, which provided education not only for aspiring pastors, but also for laymen and bi-vocational pastors.

“Frank loved what has been the DNA of the PCA – depth of Reformed theology, with evangelical breadth of ministry impact and influence. He was an excellent example of being a true churchman with a kingdom heart.”

Randy Pope, founding pastor of Perimeter Church outside Atlanta, talked about how Barker became an informal mentor for him, especially during his early ministry as a PCA pastor. “He was a strong example of what a pastor and godly man should be. I saw in him what the walk of faith was like.”

ByFaith will provide service times as they’re available. 

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