Resumes poured in from California to South Africa, but in the end the best man for the job was right here in Abilene. In fact, he was in the building.

“We bring to you the name of John Whitten to be the sixth senior pastor of Pioneer Drive Baptist Church.”


John Whitten

That announcement came in the form of a video that was emailed to members. It was narrated by Jimmy Pogue, chair of the nine-member search committee to name a successor to Stan Allcorn, who is retiring. Allcorn has been senior pastor at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church since 1998. No one is more pleased with Whitten’s selection than Allcorn, whose last Sunday in the pulpit will be Aug. 30. 

“I am looking forward to introducing him as my pastor,” Allcorn said.

Whitten has spent more than half his life at Pioneer Drive, Allcorn noted. Combined with his other traits and qualifications, that makes him the perfect fit for the job.

“He is definitely God’s man for this job,” Allcorn said.

The process the committee went through to recommend Whitten to the congregation as Allcorn’s successor is impressive:

10 months
20 meetings
46 resumes
4 finalists
1 nominee

Whitten currently is pastor of The Gathering, a contemporary worship service at Pioneer Drive, with two Sunday services. He has been associated with Pioneer Drive since his student days at Hardin-Simmons University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business management in 2007 and a master of divinity degree from the university’s Logsdon School of Theology in 2011. He added a doctor of ministry from Baylor University’s Truett Seminary in 2018. 

Whitten’s confirmation is pending a vote of the congregation, which is a little tricky thanks to social distancing and limited occupancy requirements brought on my COVID-19. The church’s bylaws require that the congregation vote by secret ballot at the end of a Sunday night service. 

No onsite services have been held at the church during the quarantine, but live worship is being phased in beginning June 7. Whitten isn’t concerned about the logistics of the congregational vote. 

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.

There is little doubt that the congregation will uphold the search committee’s recommendation. Whitten came to Abilene in 2003 as a freshman at Hardin-Simmons. He started attending Pioneer Drive Baptist Church right away and since then has been a volunteer, youth intern, student intern, church member, and a pastor. In other words, he knows the church top to bottom and in all directions.

“I’ve certainly seen it from a lot of different angles,” Whitten said.

At 35, Whitten may be the youngest “senior pastor” ever to serve Pioneer Drive Baptist Church. But church members and staff know he is “senior” enough to handle the job responsibilities. 

“I’ve already been called Old Man Whitten,” he joked.

On the announcement video, Pogue, the search committee chairman, noted that Whitten was the most vetted minister the church has had. His scholarship, preaching style, and knowledge of the Bible impressed the committee, Pogue said, and members know that Whitten is a good fit for Pioneer Drive. Despite his nearly 20-year association with the church, Whitten went through the same lengthy application and interviewing process as the other 45 applicants. 

Whitten’s long association with Pioneer Drive Baptist Church began in 2003, when he moved to Abilene from Klein, near Houston, to enroll at Hardin-Simmons. Growing up, Whitten loved to travel and thought he would be an airline pilot. But that changed when he was 15 and felt the call to ministry. His father was minister of Wildewood Baptist Church in Spring, near Klein, so Whitten understood the demands and challenges of the calling.

“I knew what ministry looked like,” he said.

At Hardin-Simmons, Whitten met his future wife, Elya. They have four children, Sam, Sarah, Savannah, and Simon. Even though Whitten felt called to ministry, he majored in business management as an undergraduate. He’s glad he did. As the lead pastor of the church, Whitten will need to know about finances. With 2,000 members, Pioneer Drive has a sizable budget and is in the midst of a building campaign. Knowing how to read financial statements will be a plus when Whitten steps up to senior pastor.

“I don’t get offended by numbers questions,” he said.

Overseeing a flock of 2,000 at a high profile church like Pioneer Drive could be intimidating, but Whitten isn’t fearful. In his lifetime, he often has thought, “I can’t do that” when challenged. But God has been faithful in showing him a way. The search committee has faith that Whitten “can do that,” as Jimmy Pogue, chairman, said in his video.

“I can come to you today,” Pogue said, “telling you with great assurance that John Whitten is God’s choice for Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in these times.”

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