After a lunch of fried chicken (a breast and two legs), double rice and gravy (he's not much of a vegetable fan) and cornbread, Dr. Clint Miller was asked if he wanted dessert.
"I hear they have good banana pudding," one of his dining companions said.
"No thanks," Miller said, "I'm trying to cut back on sugar so I can lose a few pounds."
"How much are you trying to lose?"
"Well, I'm trying to get below 300 pounds," he said, smiling.
At 6-feet, 320 pounds, the new pastor of the First Baptist Church is a mountain of a man. He's also a football coach, weightlifter, husband of almost 23 years and the father of two teenagers.
And, yes, he loves to eat.
He might not look like a pastor. One time, a guy lifting weights with Miller asked him what he did for a living. Miller told the man he was a pastor. The guy said, "No, you're too big to be a pastor."
Miller faces a large task as he comes to one of Milledgeville's most historic churches from the Mableton First Baptist Church. He hopes to stem the tide of an aging, dwindling congregation and bring new, younger families into the flock.
He showed the numbers relating to the church's attendance decline during a recent sermon.
"Depending on what study you read, anywhere from 80 to 85 percent of traditional churches — not just Southern Baptists, but all the churches in America — are either plateauing or declining," Miller said. "Many churches are going to be dead. The buildings will be sold. The trustees will have to liquidate. I'm not even sure what has to be done business-wise. But there are going to be a lot of empty churches.
"That's what we have to acknowledge and admit where we are. That's why I shared the statistics. A lot of people want to be the ostrich. They want to stick their heads in the sand and say, 'No, it's not as bad as it is.' Well, it is. It is what it is."
HOW TO CHANGE?
So what are Miller's plans at First Baptist?
"I believe the church has a very long history of loving the Lord and Bible study," Miller said. "The church is extremely friendly. They love each other, and I feel like they love me and my family, which I'm very thankful for.
"It's not so much a doctrinal change (that is needed). I think the church is pretty strong doctrinally. We have to minister to our senior congregation and we also have to look out and realize that young families have different styles of worship, they like different songs, different sounds. They like different sites, even the actual architecture — that matters.
"We're not changing the message, so what do young families want? They want good youth programs. Families are always looking for good youth sporting activities, art lessons, swimming lessons — things like that for their children. They want clean facilities, they want safe facilities and oftentimes they want new facilities."
First Baptist owns property on Highway 441 near Lake Sinclair, and Miller hopes that can be developed.
"A new, clean, smaller footprint in terms of the building, that's up-to-date and state-of-the-art in technology," he said. "All those things are secondary. The primary thing is the Gospel. But in our culture, the secondary things have been elevated to the point where you don't even get to share the primary point if you don't get the secondary things right."
COACHING AND PREACHING
This past season, as head football coach, Miller led Peachtree Academy in Covington, Ga., to its second consecutive state championship in the eight-man division of the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools (GAPPS).
His son Clinton, a senior, was the starting center and a defensive lineman on the team. Miller's wife, Tammy, and his daughter, Madison, were the water girls. Clint and Clinton already had championship rings from the year before. The pressure was on to repeat, so Tammy and Madison could get rings, too, Miller said.
Asked to compare being a coach to being a pastor, Miller said, "there are a ton of similarities. The ability to motivate and encourage, and the ability to lead. The ability to get people to do things that are good for them, but that they sometimes don't want to do.
"In coaching, nobody likes to run, especially in August, but everybody wants to be in good shape for the games, so you've got to motivate the kids to do something they don't want to do. There's a motivational peak for players on a Friday night, but I never use profanity. I don't think there's ever a use for it.
"You have to be a little more guarded with your emotions in church. You can't yell at them — like, 'Come on boy, what are you doing out there?’," Miller said with a big laugh. "You need good people skills and you need to be able to recruit people to come to your church."
Miller, who played football in high school but not in college because of shoulder injuries, is proud that as a coach he was able to pray every day and to share his faith. At least once a season he gave a specific gospel presentation to his team.
"I mean, what could be better? To be able to share Jesus and to always have the support of my athletic director and coaches," he said.
Clint and Tammy met in southern Mississippi, and it was love at first sight.
Tammy is from Pascagoula, Miss., which was made famous in the Ray Stevens song about a crazed squirrel.
"I think I was the family prayer request," Miller said, laughing.
He was visiting his brother in Mississippi, who attended the same church as Tammy.
"My brother invited Tammy over, knowing I would be there," Miller said. "We met, got engaged a week or two later and got married a few months later. We'll be married 23 years in May. She's my absolute best friend in life."
And it doesn't hurt that Tammy makes the best lasagna Miller's ever had. It’s No.1 on his all-time list of favorite foods. Second would be fried chicken — “crispy." And third, would be a meat lover's pizza from Pizza Hut — “thin crust."
Miller calls his son Clinton, 18, "analytical," while daughter Madison, 16, is "artistic, flowery, loves to draw and loves animals." Madison named the Miller's shih tzu "Sparkles" when she was a child.
The Millers also have a rambunctious 1-year-old black lab named Scout, who has not, so far, been welcomed by Sparkles.
Miller works out several days a week, including at BodyPlex in Milledgeville. He bench presses 460 pounds. He said he tries to work out four days a week on weights and three days on cardio.
"I think a lot of people, they don't think preachers are real humans," Miller said. "I have the same fears, the same aggravations, the same concerns, the same desires, the same wants. I love my family. I love my wife, I love to eat, I love to go on vacation. I'm as human as anybody else.
"Some people think we're some special class of humans, but we're not. We do have a special calling, a serious calling. But I am in need of God's grace as much as the people I am preaching to.
"And I'm very thankful for His grace."